The contexts in which posttraumatic stress can occur are many and varied and can range from individual experiences to mass casualty events to disasters that affect entire communities and even countries. In this edition of the Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies, a series of papers that discuss intervention programs that cover this spectrum of consequences are presented.
Oncu, Akman, Guler and Karaaslan discuss how human figure drawing can be used to identify the emotional state and psychosocial needs of children recovering from a traumatic event. Satapathy and Walia continue the theme of investigating therapeutic programs for children with their case study analysis of the use of play therapy for burn victims. They describe the therapeutic advantages for child and parents that accrue from extended home-based psychosocial intervention that encompasses both child and family members.
In their article, Prince and Davies discuss the implication of events whose size and implications fall at the other end of the spectrum. They present a narrative analysis of disaster survivors interpretation of events and experiences. Their identification of cultural and religious influences on interpretive processes provides valuable insights into the need for intervention to accommodate these characteristics of community diversity in intervention planning and delivery.
The next article continues the focus on large-scale events, this time on one that had national implications. While the devastating consequences the 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic in the UK had for individuals and communities has received considerable attention, Convey, Mort, Bailey and Baxter highlight the need to expand the training, support and therapeutic web to encompass the members of professions and occupations that respond to such incidents. This work highlights how the perceived similarity between routine and crisis tasks can lead deploying agencies to assume that workers are well prepared for working in atypical and physically and psychologically challenging circumstances. This assumption is unfounded. While workers possess the requisite technical skills, it is erroneous to assume that this automatically renders them immune form the pain and suffering they encounter when performing their role, and additional training is required to enhance their safety and facilitate their ability to perform effectively under exceptional circumstances. This paper posts several important lessons for the response agency community.
As countries around the world come to terms with their potential vulnerability to events that range, for example, from bird flu pandemic to terrorists deploying biohazard weapons, Convery and colleagues paper flags the urgent need for more attention to be directed to disaster readiness training and development in occupational and professional groups beyond the emergency, protective and health professions normally identified in this context. Furthermore, it is important that deploying agencies acknowledge that the circumstances in which they could find themselves operating can be qualitatively different from the routine and that ensuring their resilience requires new ways of thinking and responding (Berkes, Colding & Folke, 2003). Consequently, they too must consider their cultural, systems and procedural needs to ensure that their operating procedures not only facilitate an effective response to exceptional circumstances, but also safeguard the well-being of those they deploy. The development of organizational and employee resilience is particularly important in the context of prolonged events that may call for a professional response that is measured in weeks or months.
The final paper in this edition continues the theme of developing staff to provide an effective response to complex, large-scale emergencies. In the context of identifying how deployment of inadequately trained staff can contribute to survivors mental health problems, Newport and Padma discuss the development and deployment of the Environment, Livelihood, Infrastructure and Institution (ELII) re-building model and how it can be used to inform comprehensive community rehabilitation following disaster. The focus on re-building has important implications for emergency management planning.
Contemporary conceptualisations of disaster tend to focus on destruction and loss. While attention to encouraging people to adopt the plans and resources that facilitate their ability to adapt to and cope with adverse hazard consequences must remain a planning priority, the growing emphasis on community resilience raises new possibilities. In keeping with the salutogenic paradigm that underpins thinking about resilience, a disaster can be conceptualized as a catalyst for change. If mother-nature does the demolition work, society can make choices about how to re-build itself in ways that contribute to the physical and social capital of its members. With regard to the latter, opportunities for development also extend to the social context (Paton, 2006). For example, disasters can generate a stronger sense of community amongst those affected than had prevailed prior to the disaster. Decisions can be made to reorganize social and institutional relationships in ways that sustain this new quality of life and so contribute to the social capital of the affected area in ways that will endure long after the disaster has passed into history. None of these outcomes will happen by chance. People, communities and societal institutions must choose to make it happen, and it is important that readiness planning models create the conditions in which these informed choices can be made.
Berkes, F., Colding, J. & Folke, C. (2003) Navigating social-ecological systems: Building resilience for complexity an change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Paton, D. (2006) Disaster Resilience: Building capacity to co-exist with natural hazards and their consequences. In D.Paton & D. Johnston (Eds), Disaster Resilience: An integrated approach. Springfield, Ill., Charles C. Thomas.
Massey University, New Zealand
November 6, 2007