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Volume 2006-1

The Australasian Journal of Disaster
and Trauma Studies
ISSN:  1174-4707
Volume : 2006-1

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

Volume : 2006-1

Douglas Paton

School of Psychology,
University of Tasmania
Launceston, Tasmania

Disaster Response and Recovery:
Considering volunteers, displaced communities and cultural heritage

The impact of cyclone Larry in northern Queensland earlier this year provided an unfortunate reminder of the fact that, around the Asia-Pacific region, societal decisions to develop in areas susceptible to experiencing natural hazard consequences must be matched with a capacity to deal with these circumstances. In the wake of Cyclone Larry, evidence of one facet of this capacity was readily forthcoming in the form of the many volunteers who stepped in to assist the recovery process. At a time when there is concern about the decline in levels of volunteerism, it is important to understand whether the quality of the experience of volunteering contributes to decisions to volunteer and to continue to volunteer. This is especially important when responding to assist others takes place under circumstances that are both physically and psychologically challenging. Shipley and Gow explore this issue from the perspective of how volunteers cope with this experience.

Shipley and Gow discuss how adaptive coping can facilitate volunteers’ ability to adapt through greater use of adjustment strategies such as rest and relaxation, humour, and seeking to re-establish routines and a sense of control. These strategies not only protected the well-being of a group that provides an essential component of response by providing a capability for the selective and flexible use of coping strategies to match situational demands, they also played an important role in determining self-reported levels of satisfaction with the work performed. Understanding the predictors of satisfaction may inform our knowledge of factors that contribute to peoples’ decisions to remain as volunteers. Importantly, these findings identify competencies that can be learned, reiterating the need for psychological preparedness to be built into the training provided for volunteers and professionals (Inzana, Driskell, Salas, & Johnston, 1996; Paton, 2006). Effort expended on this task may increase the likelihood of sustained volunteering. Shipley and Gow also discuss how their findings can inform the selection of volunteers.

Shipley and Gow’s study once again highlights the need for more longitudinal research into the nature and consequences of volunteer and professional engagement in disaster and mass emergency contexts, and this will be important if Shipley and Gow’s argument for the need to examine how the organisational scaffolding of education, support mechanisms, and debriefing contribute to the overall utilisation of coping abilities and adjustment strategies and how factors such as resilience, hardiness and social support systems contribute to adaptive capacity.

The impact that Cyclone Larry had on the economic base of affected areas highlighted a need for more research into the economic consequences of disaster and its implications for adaptive capacity in communities affected by disaster (Rose, 2006). The loss of economic base can threaten the ability of an area to sustain a population. Disaster planning must accommodate the implications of re-settlement of those displaced by loss or significant contraction of factors that contribute to the economic vitality of a region. A need for resettlement can, however, arise for reasons other than displacement by natural hazard activity.

Knight presents a case study of the plight of Zimbabwean farmers who confront the experience of displacement in the context of their being victimized by political instability in a climate in which democratic principles no longer apply and human rights abuses prevail. In her case study, Knight discusses the developmental nature of the relationship between the experience of physical and psychological displacement and posttrauma outcomes. Her phenomenological-interpretative approach describes how the nature of this experience can extend beyond the pathological and include resolving this experience as psychological growth in the aftermath of the trauma of political displacement. For many of those displaced, either by natural or political hazards, they leave behind or lose elements of their life (e.g., a farm, a way of life that had persisted for several generations) that means that disaster can be accompanied the loss of a sense of history and continuity that can compound the consequences of the disaster itself. Similar outcomes could ensue for communities who lose significant icons.

This issue was touched upon in a recent ABC (Australia) broadcast of a program about the importance of protecting St. Paul’s Cathedral during the blitz for the resilience of Londoners to the relentless bombing that they endured. St. Paul’s became a rallying point for their resilience. The potential of iconic architectural heritage to influence adaptation was specifically emphasised in coverage of how rebuilding the Frauenkirche in Dresden acted as a catalyst for the development of a sense of community between citizens of two cities (Dresden and Coventry), both of which experienced intensive bombing during World War Two. These anecdotal accounts highlight the potential of architectural heritage to play a role in facilitating citizens’ capacity to confront and adapt to adverse circumstances.

This topic is discussed by Graham & Spennemann. They argue that, in the process of protecting life and property during any disaster, consideration should be given to environmental and cultural heritage issues. Graham & Spennemann discuss this issue in the context of limited understanding of the role of cultural heritage in planning for community resilience, the barriers that limit disaster planning for cultural heritage resources, limited exposure to dealing with such resources in disaster situations and limited communication between heritage and disaster management agencies. Given the potential of environmental and cultural heritage resources to contribute to the resilience and recovery of those affected, this issue should be afforded considerably more prominence in disaster response and recovery planning than has hitherto been the case.


Inzana, C.M., Driskell, J.E., Salas, E., & Johnston, J.H. (1996) Effects of preparatory information on enhancing performance under stress. Journal of Applied Psychology, 81, 429-435.

Paton, D. (2006) Posttraumatic growth in emergency professionals. In. L. Calhoun and R. Tedeschi (eds) Handbook of Posttraumatic Growth: Research and Practice. (pp. 225-247). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.

Rose, A. (2006) Economic resilience to disasters: Towards a consistent and comprehensive formulation. In D.Paton & D. Johnston (Eds), Disaster Resilience: An integrated approach (pp. 275-303). Springfield, Ill., Charles C. Thomas.


Douglas Paton © 2006. 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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