The phases of the disaster that are critical for planning, including psychiatric support, include the warning of threat, and the onset and tempo of its onset.

The warning of threat ranges from no advance notice (as in tsunami) to days to weeks for hurricanes. The actual onset and tempo is variable. The 2004 tsunami struck with enormous impact, resulting in 230,000 deaths in a few days with 1 million persons displaced, but three months later there were an additional 1300 deaths from one aftershock. The events of bioterrorism may linger over days and months, as they did with anthrax in the US in 2001.

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