Disaster worker self-assessment and self-care

Emergency responders do their best to meet the needs of people in distress while surrounded by confusion, destruction, uncertainty, and emotional instability. Working in these conditions is difficult. Using self-care can prevent a responder from becoming a secondary victim.

Self-assessment before assignment

Health, finances, and personal life are important to consider at every stage of being a disaster response worker.


Disasters are very demanding. If you are not healthy when you are sent on an assignment, you might unintentionally tax the resources of the community you have been asked to help.

  1. Are there any health hazards associated with this disaster response (for example smoke and poor air quality in forest fires) that would exacerbate any pre-existing health conditions?
  2. Have you had a recent surgery or recently undergone any extensive medical treatment?
  3. Are you on any medications that may make working long hours without regular sleep and/or meals difficult?
  4. Is acquiring sufficient medication to take with you on this disaster assignment a problem?
  5. Would you have any difficulty working long hours or walking a fair distance if regular transportation is not available?
  6. Would an inability to acquire tobacco and/or alcohol create stress for you?
  7. Have you had a recent medical check-up? Would your doctor approve of you going on this assignment?
  8. Have you had a recent dental check-up? Is there any reason to suspect any dental problems may surface?

Your agency or organization might pay your wages while you are on assignment or you might be going as a volunteer. In either case, it is important to ensure your finances are looked after when you are on assignment.

If you are a volunteer and are employed

  1. Will your employer be reluctant to allow you to take this assignment?
  2. Will taking this assignment jeopardize your job?
  3. Are you in midst of any projects that would make it difficult for you to leave the office?
  4. Have you recently been promoted?
  5. Have you applied for another job and is it likely you would be asked to an interview in the near future?
  6. Will your employer pay for your time away? If not, will it be financially difficult for you to take this assignment?
  7. Have you talked to your colleagues about the assignment? Will they be able to cope while you are away?
  8. Will you have to take holiday time to go on assignment? If so, will this disrupt a vacation with your family?

If you are a volunteer and are not employed

  1. Are you looking for employment? If so, will this assignment jeopardize job offers?
  2. Will it be financially difficult for you to take this assignment?
  3. Will taking this assignment affect your eligibility for Employment Insurance or BC Employment and Assistance?

In either case

  1. Will there be any problem paying bills while you are away?
  2. Will there be any problem making bank deposits during your absence?

A disaster assignment is demanding enough without having to worry about what is happening at home.

  1. Has your life situation changed recently? Have you experienced a separation, divorce, or a period of marital discord? Have you married or decided to live common-law? Has there been a birth in the family? Has a family member been seriously ill? Is anyone in your family undergoing medical treatment?
  2. Have you returned recently from another disaster assignment?
  3. Have there been any recent traumas or critical incidents in your life?
  4. Have you recently moved?
  5. Have you recently lost your job or been laid off work?
  6. Are there any significant financial stresses in your life?
  7. Are there any important family occasions in the near future such as a graduation, birth of grandchild, wedding anniversary or birthday?
  8. Are there any religious observances you follow that might make this assignment difficult?
  9. Do you have plans for a family vacation or anticipated trip?
  10. Have you made any important commitments that would be difficult to change or postpone (e.g., providing child care, caring for an elderly parent)?
  11. Has it been a long time since you have had time off?
  12. Has it been a long time since your Will and other personal affairs have been updated?
  13. Will taking this assignment be an escape from problems at home or in the workplace?
  14. Will your family disapprove of you going on this assignment?


Self-care for disaster workers

Use these self-care tips to help as you labour for long hours in difficult conditions.

Stress relief

You may be able to reduce your stress by:

  • Talking about your feelings and experiences
  • Doing deep breathing exercises
  • Eat nutritious food
  • Avoid too much caffeine and alcohol
  • Exercise
  • Sleep

Rest often

You may become a secondary victim in an emergency by performing hard work for long hours under dangerous conditions.

Try to remember that the work you do has extraordinary value to the people you serve, even if they are not able to tell you so themselves.

Unexpected emotions

Feelings or mood swings might surprise or frighten you during or after a disaster response. If you need extra help managing your emotions, speak with a loved one, health professional, or contact your Emergency Social Services director to find help.

You may be disappointed if people express anger that you were gone. It is important to understand that everyone deals with change differently, and it takes time to get back into routine.

Family and friends’ problems may seem trivial compared to those of the victims you help, and complaints may make you angry. Try to remember they don’t share your experience and that their problems are important to them.

People’s actions or characteristics may remind you of a victim. You may react to that memory in surprising ways. Try to help them understand the reasons for your response.


Explain to your children why you were away. Tell them about the emergency and involve them in preparedness efforts for your family. This will help them be a part of what you did and reduce their fears.