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Volume 2009-1

The Australasian Journal of Disaster
and Trauma Studies
ISSN:  1174-4707
Volume : 2009-1

Volume : 2009-1

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

Douglas Paton

School of Psychology,
University of Tasmania
Launceston, Tasmania

Responding to the Unexpected:
Emergency response, community and societal implications

As this edition of the Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies goes to press, health agencies around the world are grappling with a pandemic that shows no sign of disappearing and, indeed, shows indications of becoming a more significant threat to communities around the world. Pandemic hazards pose several unique challenges to emergency management. Notable amongst these is the fact that as the intensity of the threat increases, health care staff members are increasingly likely to be amongst those affected. Thus, as the numbers requiring care increase, the resource available to respond to the threat may dwindle. This reminds us that protecting the physical and psychological well-being front line emergency response staff should remain a priority in emergency planning agenda. In this edition, Prati, Palestini and Pietrantoni discuss this issue from the perspective of how the coping choices made by emergency responders contributes to either their risk of developing posttraumatic stress reactions or to enhancing their quality of life by increasing the likelihood of their experiencing compassion satisfaction as a result of fulfilling their disaster response role.

Understanding how responders cope is especially important given the possibility that they are responding to an event that, by definition, presents a level of demand that exceeds the capacity of available resources to respond. Responding under this circumstance makes substantial demands on coping resources. The increased level of demand associated with response to disaster makes the development of effective coping particularly important. It is not, however, the only approach that can be adopted to pursue the goal of promoting more effective response to disaster.

While it is not possible to alter the demand side (i.e., the hazard characteristics people will experience) of this equation, it is possible to do something about the supply side. One way in which the latter goal can be accomplished is by engaging volunteers. If the benefits that can accrue from pursuing this strategy are to be fully realised, it is important to be able to retain recruits during periods between hazard events, when their services are not required, to ensure that a trained resource remains available to respond to the unexpected. Responding to this challenge is the subject of Steerman and Cole’s article on Red Cross volunteers. Another way in which the supply side of the response equation can be influenced is by developing alternative approaches to providing structured community support.

Drawing upon experiences of communities in countries that were directly affected by the December 26 th Indian Ocean tsunami, Dash outlines an approach to developing long-term community based psychosocial support. Recognition of the fact that the widespread impact associated with disasters such as this tsunami affects not only people, but also the institutions and economic activities that contribute to the social capital of affected areas and populations. In this context, it is important to consider how response and recovery activities take place within a wider social context whose social capital can also influence the effectiveness of response and recovery processes. One approach to mobilising the wider social resources to facilitate resilience and sustainability is discussed by Raquib, Murad, Anantharaman and Eze in the context of their social business partnership model.

The development of societal and social resources to assist community recovery is an important activity that can complement individual-level intervention, particularly for those relatively more vulnerable members of the community. In their article, Oncu, Akman, Guler and Karaaslan discuss the therapeutic application of human figure drawing from assessing emotional and behavioural problems in children affected by disaster. In the final article in this edition, Feng Cao, Zheng Guo, Weiping Liu, Kai Liu and Lize Xiong consider the response issues associated with meeting physical and medical needs of populations affected by disaster. They discuss these issues in the context of the earthquake that struck Wenchuan County in Sichuan Province, China in May 2008.

The articles that comprise this edition highlight the importance of developing strategies to promote adaptive capacity and well-being in professional and volunteer emergency responders, design interventions to cater for the needs of those adversely affected by traumatic experience, and develop the social and societal resources necessary to ensure sustained recovery and build future capacities to adapt to and recover from disaster impacts. The emergence of swine flu reminds us of the need to be proactive in our efforts to develop these capacities and resources. The potential for a pandemic had been recognised in health and emergency management circles. However, attention had been focused on a bird flu pandemic emanating from Asia rather than swine flu originating in Central America. While many of the strategies and resources developed for the former may be applicable for the latter, this turn of events reminds us of a need for vigilance and creativity to be able to respond to the unexpected.


Douglas Paton © 2009. 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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