Get Yourself into the Flow of Information After a Disaster

Ending Isolation & Joining the Recovery

In the aftermath of an emergency that affects many people, a real danger to individuals is isolation: feeling cut off.

"It doesn’t have to be that way. If you start to reach out, you’ll begin finding help and solutions — emotional as well as practical," notes Ken Curtin, who helps FEMA respond to disasters by coordinating the agency’s liaison with voluntary agencies.

“Get yourself into the flow of information,” he advises. As an artist, you may have much to contribute to that flow, and to the emerging network that supports a community’s recovery.

Emotional isolation is the first kind many people face. But, Curtin adds, "as soon as a major disaster is declared, FEMA provides funding through the state for “beefed-up” crisis counseling programs." Call your local or state mental health agency to find out where and how these are being provided.

“That’s the entrance to get emotional care,” Curtin says. “The crisis-counseling program is going to be able to lead you to other mental health resources.

“It’s also incredibly comforting to know that some of these reactions are the most normal in the world. After 9/11, we had a subway sign saying, ‘It’s normal to feel this way.’ Just those signs were comforting.”

It’s also normal to feel the need for spiritual support and community. If you have a religious or similar affiliation, Curtin says, “that’s the way to go.” If you don’t, look for a congregation or community that suits you.

“People get a lot of value out of this,” Curtin says — “but you’ve got to do it your own way.”

People responding to a disaster are going to be trained, he adds, to respond in ways that will help you network to find solutions. 

“If you call and say, ‘The hurricane ripped my roof off, the rain is falling on my kids and me,’ the proper response for disaster mental health is not, ‘How long have you felt this way?’ but, ‘Have you called these numbers to get your roof fixed?’”

“Why Not Participate?”

So networking is good. But where to start?

About 2-1-1

The United Way and AIRS have spearheaded a system of 2-1-1 referral numbers around the United States to connect people who need help or wish to volunteer with organizations and agencies who provide services in the community. This includes but is in no way limited to services provided in the wake of a disaster. Financial counseling, housing assistance, drug counseling, after-school programs, and unemployment counseling are typical services that you may be connected with independent of a disaster.

To see if there is a 2-1-1 system in your area, just dial 2-1-1 from a landline phone, and a call specialist will direct you to the information and services you need.

You can also check out the national 2-1-1 information and referral site. Some local areas also have an online search available.  You can find out by following the links at the above site.

Watch a video about 2-1-1

Important:  Calling 211 DOES NOT register you for FEMA or other Federal assistance! To register for Federal assistance go to

“If a community has a ‘first call’ for help or a 2-1-1 number, that’s great to call, to get all the information and referrals,” Curtin advises. Your local newspaper will provide a lot of information.

The United Way is also an excellent resource. “They can point you toward individual solutions,” Curtin says. “They can also point you toward multi-agency recovery efforts that you may want to get involved in.

“Find out who’s getting together, what organizations. If you’re a member of a church or an arts organization, why not participate? If you’re involved in the multi-agency coordination, you are going to be at the crossroads of all the information and organizations. That’s good for you, it’s good for your fellow artists or the people in your church — and it’s good for the whole community.

“If you’ve got an arts organization — or if you can put one together — you can bring the information to your fellow artists, plus you can represent their interests,” he points out. “It’s much better for the artists of an affected community to be developing and articulating issues and services where they are needed. If you band together and decide who’s going to do what, everybody’s going to be better off.”

As time goes on and the recovery work continues, Curtin adds, keep checking the information sources you’ve found. 

“Some resources will be community-invented, others will come from afar, through the state rather well after the disaster. Resources can come along a year later. You’ve got to keep on top of these things.”

In sum, Ken Curtin says, “If you suffer in silence, you suffer separately. Why not come to the table, both to give and to get? Artists bring a lot that they can contribute to recovery efforts.”

Artist-to-Artist Video

You don't have to be a feel emotional about it

Russell Karkowski talks about the flood that affected his Iowa City studio