Psychiatric Disorders Among Adults Seeking Emergency Disaster Assistance After a Wildland-Urban Interface Fire

Published in: Psychiatric Services, v. 58, no. 4, Apr. 2007, p. 509-514

Posted on on January 01, 2007

by Grant N. Marshall, Terry L. Schell, Marc N. Elliott, Nadine Rayburn, Lisa H. Jaycox

Read More

Access further information on this document at

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

OBJECTIVE: This study estimated the prevalence of psychopathology at a three-month follow-up among persons seeking emergency relief services after a wildfire and identified a practical screener for use in these disaster assistance settings to aid early identification of persons at risk of subsequent psychopathology. METHODS: During the October 2003 California firestorm that occurred at the wildland-urban interface, 357 persons who were seeking assistance from adjacent American Red Cross and government relief centers were recruited for this study. Within days of mandatory evacuation, participants completed baseline self-administered questionnaires assessing demographic characteristics, initial subjective reactions, and degree of fire exposure. At the three-month follow-up, symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression were measured via a mailed survey. RESULTS: At follow-up 33% showed evidence of probable major depression; 24% exhibited probable PTSD. On a bivariate basis, seven initial reaction and fire exposure items were significantly associated with subsequent psychopathology. Best-subsets logistic regression analyses revealed that property damage and physical injury were the best multivariate predictors of psychopathology at follow-up. No additional items provided a significant incremental improvement in prediction. CONCLUSIONS: Individuals seeking immediate emergency assistance related to the wildland-urban interface fire were at elevated risk of psychopathology in the weeks after the fire. A short, easily administered, two-item screener, composed of items assessing fire exposure severity, appears to hold promise for aiding early identification of persons at risk of postfire psychopathology. These findings may also have implications for other mass disasters.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.