The Disaster Council: NASW-CA Chapter Announces Formation Of Newest Council

By: Tracy Harrison, LCSW & Shelly Keenan-Kalmer, LCSW, ACSW

That’s right, California Disasters. We’ve made the world news in the last few years more than we are comfortable to admit. Unpredictable and tragically devastating. Unfortunately natural (et. al.) disasters are becoming commonplace in California with a sharp increase in the last few years. Hundreds of communities ravished by fires, floods, social unrest, mass shootings and even earthquakes. The list of possible disasters seems to continue to grow. Unfortunately, we do not anticipate disasters to decrease in frequency or intensity. In fact, it seems apt and appropriate that this council was conceived and approved during the year of the supreme world disaster (COVID).

Disaster in this context is defined by a sudden event, accident or natural, that causes great damage or loss of life. WHO (1998) defines a disaster as “a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or society causing widespread human, material, economic, or environmental losses that exceed the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources.”  Helping out in an event of this nature is called for by our NASW code of Ethics.

Value: Service

Ethical Principle: Social workers’ primary goal is to help people in need and to address social problems. Social workers elevate service to others above self-interest. Social workers draw on their knowledge, values, and skills to help people in need and to address social problems. Social workers are encouraged to volunteer some portion of their professional skills with no expectation of significant financial return (pro bono service).

Ethical Principle: Social workers recognize the central importance of human relationships. Social workers understand that relationships between and among people are an important vehicle for change. Social workers engage people as partners in the helping process. Social workers seek to strengthen relationships among people in a purposeful effort to promote, restore, maintain, and enhance the well-being of individuals, families, social groups, organizations, and communities.

The mission of the Disaster Council is to provide disaster related supportive resources to California social workers, NASW members, through elected regional and Chapter leaders when (and thereafter) a disaster occurs to further the Association’s purpose of working to enhance the professional growth and development of its members and assist in enhancing professional standards, ethical practices and the advancement of sound social policies.

Furthermore, the mission is to empower leaders, and therefore our social work communities, to move through the feelings of overwhelming helplessness of a tragic or disastrous event to a more empowered, helpful paradigm to help themselves and their communities heal.

During our tenure (2012-2019) on the NASW CA Board of Directors as Regional Directors representing Regions A and D, we experienced devastating fires, floods, and dam breaks within our communities.  We realized as leaders, how unprepared and utterly overwhelmed we were for the role of supporting our local social work professionals and our community while also experiencing the unfolding of these disasters. 

Through each of these disaster, though, we learned valuable lessons that we intend to pass on to ensure future leaders can succeed.  Many of the lessons learned go beyond disaster mental health resources; they include understanding legal access for assistance with insurance companies, construction companies and more; organizing community rebuilding efforts; assisting with collaborative efforts to support animals in need of shelter; and much more.

As founders of the Disaster Council, we believe it is important to put specialized effort into supporting leaders who will ultimately support community practitioners within the entire recovery process following a disaster, not just in the crisis.

The goals of the Disaster Council are varied and include things such as solicit and collect expert information of special interest topics related to immediate, short and long term disaster recovery; establish a Speaker’s Bureau to provide access to immediate information and possible training support to practitioners in all stages of disaster recovery; provide, or coordinate, annual disaster relief training to CA Chapter leaders, as relevant; and more.

The Disaster Council is interested in your feedback, comments, and participation.  Please reach out to us at