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Volume 2005-2

The Australasian Journal of Disaster
and Trauma Studies
ISSN:  1174-4707
Volume : 2005-2

Douglas Paton, School of Psychology, University of Tasmania, Locked Bag 1342, Launceston, Tasmania 7250, Australia.. Email: Douglas.Paton@utas.edu.au

Volume : 2005-2

Douglas Paton

School of Psychology,
University of Tasmania
Launceston, Tasmania

Positive adaptation to disaster and traumatic consequences:
Resilience and readiness

The past 12 twelve months have borne witness to several examples of mother natures fury as tsunami, hurricanes and earthquakes have devastated communities in many countries. These events have highlighted how ill-prepared most communities, including those countries with well-developed emergency management systems, are to confront large-scale hazard consequences. The significance of this issue was heightened by a recent statement by Professor Bill Maguire, head of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre at University College, London who stated odds of another ocean-wide tsunami in the next 70 years as 2:1, and odds of 3:1 against an earthquake with worldwide economic consequences. The gaps and inadequacies in land use planning and community readiness revealed by recent events highlight the need for more effort being directed to better planning and facilitating community capacity to adapt to adverse hazard consequences.

In addition to its role in promoting resilience, a need to divert more resources to primary prevention strategies has been signalled by the fact that several commentators have remarked on the decline in international aid flowing to disaster victims since the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami. While the UN and other agencies will continue to respond to meet the humanitarian needs of those whose lives and communities have suffered substantial losses, there is considerable merit in attempting to do so against a backdrop of greater community capacity to make use of resources intrinsic to affected communities. Building community capacity will have benefits that will extend well beyond any specific hazard event.

If the goal of promoting greater self-reliance is to be realised, more research into the resources and processes required is needed. The Boxing Day tsunami and the earthquake in Sri Lanka highlighted a need for readiness and resilience planning to accommodate considerable cultural diversity. While research on readiness and resilience in western populations has flourished over recent years, fundamental research into these processes in other cultures is sparse. Similarly, little research has been undertaken into identifying resilience in indigenous populations. We may be doing affected populations an injustice if assistance is provided in ways that fail to complement these intrinsic capacities. If the research and practitioner communities are to confront this issue, more attention needs to be directed to understanding the relationship between cultural, ethnic and religious characteristics and adaptation to natural hazard consequences in the context of hazard impacts. These are not the only issues to have been illuminated by recent disasters.

While events such as the Boxing Day tsunami captured the attention of the world during and immediately after the impact, considerably less attention tends to be paid to subsequent stages of what can be a very long and complex recovery period. Nor do they consider how the context of impact and recovery can create other demands for survivors.

Rees, Pittaway, and Bartolomei discuss a hidden consequence of disaster. They discuss how pre-existing social and cultural predispositions towards gender inequality and marginalisation can interact with disaster to further marginalize women and increase the risk of violence against them. They describe a community based and developed program to support women and reduce the incidence of sexual and gender based violence in post-tsunami Sri Lanka. They discuss how the success of such programs derived from their ability to bring women together, identify needs and response strategies, formally document violations, and centralise the social and political involvement.

While responding to the needs of disaster affected communities can exact a toll on the well-being of emergency workers, Brough reminds us that their needs can also arise from circumstances much closer to home. While research on traumatic stress in protective service professionals has often focused on the consequences that derive from the characteristics of the events they respond to or the needs of the survivors, Brough considers the impact of violence directed against members of this group. In her analysis of an Australian paramedic (ambulance officers) population, she discusses the nature of this violence and its consequences for well-being and satisfaction. She also discusses the ameliorative role of social support and training in this context.

Brough’s discussion highlight the range of factors that impinge on work and organisational experience and the need for intervention to be developed specifically to accommodate these diverse influences. There is a growing body of work that attests to this diversity being the norm rather than an exception, yet their remains an abiding legacy of early work into posttrauma crisis intervention for emergency populations that characterises their experiences in more homogenous ways.

In the final article in this edition, Wagner critically reviews the argument that emergency workers share common personality characteristics that increase the likelihood that they experience critical incidents in relatively homogenous ways. A review of the available literature both fails to offer unambiguous support for the existence of a unique “rescue personality’. Rather, Wagner’s review highlights the contradictory nature of available evidence for entry into high risk emergency profession reflecting common personality characteristics. Wagner links this discussion back to its origin and discusses the implications of these findings for crisis intervention.

When the outcomes of Wagner’s work is added to the debate on how best to manage posttraumatic stress in professions for whom critical incident exposure is an occupational reality, the argument for a more holistic and comprehensive approach is strengthened. The argument for reliance on posttrauma intervention would be strengthened by personality evidence. It focuses attention on the causation of posttrauma reactions deriving from the relationship between the event and the person. In addition, if it resulted in greater homogeneity in reaction, which would be expected in personality type were a dominant influence, a more prescriptive approach to management at the level of the person would be justified. Wagner’s discussion adds to the growing weight of evidence that casts doubt on the feasibility of these assumptions. When added to the growing evidence for a significant influence of organisational characteristics on posttrauma outcomes, it is becoming increasingly evident that the management of critical incident consequences in emergency professionals requires approaches that integrate personal experience, dispositional factors, team identity and processes, and organisational culture and managerial behaviour. When the contents of the latter list are considered, it also becomes clear that primary prevention offered within a salutogenic paradigm represents the most effective option.


Douglas Paton © 2005. 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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