Mobile App Reviews: PFA Mobile

Reviewed by Ambra Gagliardi (June 2014):


PFA Mobile is a free app produced by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in collaboration with the Center for PTSD, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and the DoD’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology. The app provides guidance and resources for mental health providers and responders assisting affected children, families, and adults during an organized emergency response effort.  This app is supplemental to professional psychological first aid (PFA) training and is adapted from the Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide (2nd Edition). The app has three main objectives: educate on PFA techniques, facilitate the evaluation of PFA readiness, and assist in tracking the needs of the survivors. A majority of the app is text-based, but also includes such features as audio clips, interactive forms, and some endearing clip art. The app is available via Google Play and the iStore.


Upon downloading the app, the VA gets straight to business with a detailed end-user licensing agreement. The agreement makes  it pointedly clear that the VA is not liable for results achieved by the end-users of the app and that it should be used strictly as an informative tool and not as a substitute for professional medical advice or training. The agreement also notes that data usage is collected anonymously, a feature that can be disabled by the user if desired, and has a privacy notice assuring that “no individually identifiable data is transferred or transmitted to the VA in any way.”  

The PFA Mobile app has a clean and organized design. The “Home” page consists of six categories from which users can choose. With these a user can learn more about PFA and the recommended guidelines, review information about the eight core actions for handling a response, access tips for working with survivors of various ages who are dealing with stress, obtain guidance on keeping track of survivor’s needs, use the provider self-care tool to assure the responders are staying healthy themselves, or view a link to further resources on PFA. These categories provide the user with a plethora of PFA information and tools. 

Success and Barriers

The PFA Mobile app succeeds in a number of ways. It maintains an intelligible and clear tone throughout and provides information in simple terms so it is comprehensible to the average person. This is extremely important in emergency response, as stressful situations are likely to affect a person’s comprehension. It also helps responders maintain an even temperament by providing actions, guidelines, and tips in a tone that can best be described as calm and collected. Secondly, the app provides detailed information in amounts that are not overwhelming. A resource such as this could easily be filled with too much text, thus making it virtually unusable in a situation that demands quick action. Instead, the PFA app effectively limits information to that which is most essential and useful. Third, the information found in the app is broadly applicable to a multitude of response situations. The app has been designed and adapted for various settings including shelters, schools, acute care facilities, disaster centers, crisis hotlines, and other community settings.

What works for the app may also work against it. The information on the app has great versatility, but there will inevitably be crisis situations requiring more information. Users will reach a point where no more tips, guidelines, or information is available to them. Although the app is only intended to be a guideline, this could still prove to be an issue for some users. Also, the app only has English and Japanese language options, a barrier that limits its use.  


To truly test if the PFA Mobile app is useful would require it to be used in a real life emergency response situation. Since I have not tested it in the field, I only have one minor recommendation: placing a shortcut button to the Home page so that the user doesn’t have to wade through several back buttons before returning to it. Beyond that, I think the app is great. For the breadth of the information it provides, the app maintains a usability that can work with a wide range of users. I consider it a worthwhile download for both those interested in understanding PFA and for those who are simply curious. 

Ambra Gagliardi is an MLS student at the University of Maryland iSchool enrolled in the eGovernment specialization. Ambra is a recipient of a Laura Bush 21st Century scholarship funded by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.