The San Diego Psychologist is grateful to Dr. Mary Mulvihill of the SDPA for guest editing this important issue based on the SDPA Spring Workshop entitled, “Preparing for the Unthinkable: Mental Health Provider Roles in Disaster Recovery.”  She was responsible for curating the content, gathering and writing the transcripts, and doing the initial edits for this issue. She has written the Editorial for this issue. 

The featured articles in this issue are not verbatim transcriptions of the authors’ presentations. The transcriptions have been edited for content, length, copy, and grammar for the purposes of this publication.

Please give us your feedback in the comments section of this or the other articles in this issue, and as always, thank you for reading. 

Gauri Savla, Ph.D., Editor, The San Diego Psychologist


Dear Readers,

The San Diego community is on the leading edge of disaster response. In 1984, a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, a border town in San Diego was the scene of one of the earliest mass shooting incidents in our country’s recent history. Twenty-three people, including many children, were killed by an active shooter. This incident caught the Disaster Response community completely off guard, since mass shootings were rare at the time. After careful study of the emergency response to the event, ways to minimize casualties in similar events were devised in order to increase readiness.  Some of the changes instituted included having SWAT teams carry their weapons with them in their vehicles for faster response, and developing robots to retrieve the wounded from the disaster site when unsafe for medics to do so. These “lessons learned” were applied nationwide to different extents, but particularly here in San Diego, where a shocked and saddened community took the need for improved disaster response seriously.  Every disaster, although unwelcome and terrible, is an opportunity to study potential challenges and find ways to anticipate and solve them when the next disaster occurs.

The lessons learned from this and other incidents that followed have informed the “best practices” in the field of mental health disaster response field. The current issue of the San Diego Psychologist highlights the program from the SDPA 2018 Spring Workshop, Preparing for the Unthinkable: Mental Health Provider Roles in Disaster Recovery. The goal of the workshop (and this issue of The San Diego Psychologist) is to help you understand how the local San Diego County disaster response system works, where you fit in, and how you can help as mental health professionals.

The workshop was carefully planned and executed over 18 months by the Chair of the invaluable SDPA Disaster Psychology Committee, Dr. Deb Hopper and her team, which included SDPA members, Dr. Bob McGlenn, Dr. Glenn Lipson, Dr. Wendy Tayer, and Mr. Bo Robertson. Based on their knowledge of the field, they determined the agenda and assembled a first-rate team of speakers. They were also integral to the preparation of this issue of The San Diego Psychologist.

The conference, held on May 19th, 2018 at West Auditorium at Scripps Mercy Hospital was a tremendous success, attended by 90 mental health professionals and graduate students. The dynamic speakers, all experts in the field of Disaster Response, were led by keynote speakers, Drs. Chip Schreiber and Melissa Brymer. All speakers had extensive, first-hand experience on the front lines of many recent local and national disasters.

Dr. Schreiber is one of the nation’s leading “second responders,” i.e., the mental health professionals participating in the recovery efforts on site. Dr. Brymer was the lead mental health professional in the 5-year post-Sandy Hook school shooting recovery effort, as well as many other school and workplace shootings across the country. She also worked with Dr. McGlenn as a second responder after the shooting at Santana High School in Santee, in 2001.

From our local resources, Ms. Crawford, head of San Diego County’s Emergency Response Command Center, is the one who takes command instantly when local disasters strike. She is capable and knowledgeable, and we were fortunate to hear her speak at the workshop. Dr. Lipson has extensive experience in our local Red Cross shelters and shared many tips about what to expect and what is most helpful in the immediate days after an event. Dr. Tayer applies the CBT model to explain why people do what they do when challenged by a disaster and the pitfalls of stress-induced, maladaptive thinking that one must be aware of. Dr. Hopper shared excellent, pragmatic tips on how to prepare for a disaster and cope when the “unthinkable” happens, both at home and work, including with our clients.

If you were not able to attend the event or if you just want to review some of the informative training provided, this issue of The San Diego Psychologist is for you. Through this issue, the experts in the mental health disaster preparedness field, will answer many of your questions about how you can prepare yourself, your family and your practice for the “unthinkable”.

We hope that you will be inspired to take a leadership role in your own community to help prepare and if needed, respond, when your mental health skills and expertise are called for.

Please refer to the list of Resources, compiled by the SDPA Disaster Psychology Committee, for additional, up-to-date disaster preparation and response information and the list of local mental health-related disaster response organizations, should you be inspired to consider the volunteering options available to mental health professionals.

Mental health professionals play a vital role Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery – be part of the solution!



Mary Mulvihill Ph.D.

SDSU Graduate School of Public Health

Guest Editor, Disaster Preparedness Issue of The San Diego Psychologist

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