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National Disaster Mental Health and Wellbeing Framework 2021

5.4 Workforce planning, development, and support

Ensuring an appropriately located and skilled workforce is one of the main challenges in disaster-affected communities. This includes the permanent workforce, any surge workforce needed, and both volunteer and paid staff. Pressing health workforce shortages often exist in rural and remote areas where the majority of natural disasters occur.19 Given the increasing frequency and scale of major disasters, coordinating the sharing of temporary workers to go where needed and operate safely and effectively has become an increasingly important function. Consequently, disaster-related workforce management is complex and an area where advance planning is highly beneficial.

Disaster mental health workforce planning needs to consider:

  • • the capability and capacity of existing services and providers;
  • • surge workforces (where needed) and how they ‘fade in’ and ‘fade out’ of disaster-affected regions; and
  • • training, including orientation to local conditions.

The following tasks need to be part of mental health disaster workforce planning:

  • • Identifying areas of workforce capacity and gaps for all components of care.
  • • Planning for the deployment of the local primary health care workforce.
  • • Identifying where surge workforces will be needed and from where they will be sourced. For example, recently retired professionals or students and staff at rural and regional tertiary educational institutions.
  • • Considering the needs for specialised surge workforces, for example, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers or speakers of certain languages.
  • • Providing universal and specialised training.
  • • Implementing measures to attract and retain new staff for longer-term positions.

Some capabilities are needed by all workers. This includes orientation to the local situation and population needs, understanding emergency arrangements, ability to work cross-culturally, and the ability to use digital health technology. Psychological First Aid training will also be widely needed. Other specialised skills need to be learned or reinforced. See Table 1 on page 21.

Housing, employment conditions, insurance, and schooling arrangements for children also need to be addressed to attract and retain temporary staff. Flexibility in Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) for registered providers and for service users is also needed. (see chapter 4 Roles and Responsibilities).

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Acknowledgement of Country

The Commission acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands throughout Australia.
We pay our respects to their clans, and to the elders, past present and emerging, and acknowledge their continuing connection to land, sea and community.


The Commission is committed to embracing diversity and eliminating all forms of discrimination in the provision of health services. The Commission welcomes all people irrespective of ethnicity, lifestyle choice, faith, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Lived Experience

We acknowledge the individual and collective contributions of those with a lived and living experience of mental ill-health and suicide, and those who love, have loved and care for them. Each person’s journey is unique and a valued contribution to Australia’s commitment to mental health suicide prevention systems reform.