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Volume 2001-1

The Australasian Journal of Disaster
and Trauma Studies
ISSN:  1174-4707
Volume : 2001-1

Douglas Paton, School of Psychology, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand. Phone +64 6 350-5799 Ext 2064   Fax +64 6 350-5673   Email: D.Paton@massey.ac.nz

Volume : 2001-1

Douglas Paton

School of Psychology,
Massey University, Palmerston North,
New Zealand

Reducing the consequences of disaster and trauma:
Readiness and therapeutic perspectives

Welcome to the first edition of the Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies for 2001. This edition appears shortly after recent earthquakes in El Salvador and Seattle provided little-needed reminders of the suddenness with which natural disaster can strike, the devastation they wreak on affected populations, and the damage to social and physical infrastructure they leave in their wake.

The unpredictability of such events reiterates the importance of good preparedness. Preparedness, or readiness, should not be regarded as a homogenous process. In this edition, this issue is discussed from school, community, economic and therapeutic perspectives. Becker, Smith, Johnston and Munro discuss the consequences of a volcanic eruption and its implications for readiness. A key issue in remedying shortfalls in readiness involves understanding community and business perspectives and tailoring the readiness information and strategies provided to their needs and the longer term objectives of community members.

This article also discusses the potential merits of tackling this issue from a growth perspective. A legacy of response-base thinking has been a focus on managing loss and devastation, with subsequent readiness and risk communication programs being framed in ways intended to reduce these potential losses. Becker, Smith, Johnston and Munro discuss how hazard exposure can leave a positive legacy for those affected; from new business opportunities to a stronger sense of community and greater self-reliance. While managing losses will remain important, expanding analytical frameworks to identify positive and potential growth outcomes could be used to design readiness programs that focus more on such beneficial consequences. Given that most readiness activities occur during periods of hazard quiescence, providing people with positive targets may help increase the perceived relevance and effectiveness of risk management initiatives.

Children are recognised as being especially vulnerable to the psychological consequences of hazard activity. Ronan, Johnston, Daly and Fairly discuss the evaluation of a school-based hazard education program on risk perception and preparedness. This paper highlights the importance of systematic, child-oriented risk reduction programs for promoting greater understanding of hazard phenomena and preparedness. The central role that schools play within any community have led to considering the capacity of school-based programs to promote better community preparedness. Ronan, Johnston, Daly and Fairly discuss this process, problems in regard to realising the anticipated benefits accruing from it, and outline some future issues for consideration.

Ronan, Johnston, Daly and Fairly's work also reminds us of the psychological toll that exposure to disaster can have on highly vulnerable populations, and the need for mental health professionals to develop their skills to manage these consequences. Traumatic stress reactions can also emanate from exposure to many other kinds of adversity. The implications that managing these consequences has for mental health professionals is an issue of increasing concern. Steed and Bicknell discuss this issue from the perspective of therapists working with sex offenders. The management of this vicarious trauma is crucial to quality of the service provided and, equally important, to protecting the well-being of the therapist. Steed and Bicknell discuss the relationship between aspects of the therapeutic relationship and vicarious trauma. In the context of the above comments, this work has implications for the training needs of mental health professionals, and the management of this service, when providing mental health services in the aftermath of a major disaster.

Of related interest is the issue of providing mental health services for populations outside the country of origin of the mental health professional. The substantial relief effort triggered by the earthquake in El Salvador brought this topic to the fore. Steed and Bicknell's paper provides a timely reminder of the need to address this issue in those providing disaster mental health services in this context. This topic is also covered in a book that is reviewed in this edition of the journal. The lack of resources, and often the complex cultural and economic environment within many Third World countries, adds considerable complexity to the process of promoting and maintaining readiness. This journal would be interested in submissions on this issue.

The journal welcomes contributions on disaster and trauma-related topics. Interested authors should send manuscripts to the editor. We are also keen to receive suggestions for special topic editions based on specific themes. The editor will be happy to discuss potential submissions with any prospective authors.


Douglas Paton © 2001. The author assigns to the Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies at Massey University a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to Massey University to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and for the document to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the author.

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