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Volume 2011-1

The Australasian Journal of Disaster
and Trauma Studies
ISSN:  1174-4707
Volume : 2011-1

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

Volume : 2011-1

Douglas Paton

School of Psychology,
University of Tasmania
Launceston, Tasmania

Risk and Resilience in Turbulent Times:
Recent insights into managing hazard effects and traumatic stress

The Australian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies would like to express its deepest sympathy to the people of Christchurch and Canterbury and to the people of Japan who have lost so much in recent disasters.

The events in New Zealand and Japan were memorable not only with regard to the suddenness and scale of their impact on affected populations but also because the tragedy and its aftermath, particularly the coverage of the tsunami in Japan, were transmitted as it was happening into households worldwide. Within minutes of the earthquake, live footage of the tsunami and the evolving loss and destruction experienced by coastal communities that would have had little warning of what was happening provided unprecedented coverage of an unfolding natural catastrophe. This coverage, however, also provides unique learning opportunities that can lay the foundations for developing the future resilience and adaptive capacities of communities and the response and recovery agencies.

Important lessons for those working in the professional, policy and research arenas of risk and emergency management can arise from having what is as close to first-hand experience as is possible of the impact of this tsunami without actually being present. With respect to the latter, the Japanese tsunami provides a worst case scenario example which planning and emergency management agencies can use to build their appreciation of the chaos that reigns in the impact and initial response context in which response agencies will find themselves trying to impose structure and meaning as they implement response plans and strategies. Seeing events, irrespective of where they occur, as learning opportunities provides one way in which response and recovery agencies can identify the competencies, resources and processes they will need to increase their capacity to adapt to the significant challenges they will encounter (Paton & Johnston, 2006).

These lessons include being able to critically review the effectiveness or otherwise of mitigation measures and to build understanding of what people and social systems have to deal with during the initial hours, days and weeks of a major hazard event. With regard to the impact on people and their social contexts, recent evidence indicating that people in New Zealand and Japanese make sense of their risk and make choices about they might mitigate that risk in similar ways provides opportunities for collaborative learning between these two countries (Paton, Bajek, Okada, & McIvor, (2010). The rarity of the large-scale hazard events and the consequences they create introduces an imperative to find out as much as possible from people’s experience to ensure that lessons learnt can be used to inform the development of people’s resilience and adaptive capacities before the next major event occurs. Of course it is important to ensure that the findings from such research endeavours are disseminated to those who can use the findings.

This means that journals that disseminate these lessons are important resilience and adaptive resources for all those involved in risk and disaster management. Journals such as the Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies were established to provide outlets for scholarly and professional debate on how the causes and consequences of disasters and how their effects may be mitigated and managed. Academic journals play a role in ensuring that the legacy of events such as those in New Zealand and Japan is more than the memory of a public spectacle that left the world in awe of the destructive power of nature. Journals can give voice to systematic and rigorous research into the causes of human and societal losses and ensure that the lessons learned from such disasters can be readily disseminated to the humanitarian, academic and political arenas where that knowledge can inform, for example, the development and refinement of recovery strategies that build adaptive capacity and contribute to the enduring social capital of affected populations, identify training needs and training content for those who will be called upon to respond, and inform policy development rooted in the reality of the post-event environment.

Research emerging from New Zealand and Japan will provide valuable insights into the physical, psychological and social consequences of natural hazard impacts and their relationship to response and recovery initiatives and to how people go about the process of rebuilding lives and livelihoods. Future editions of the Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies will focus on research lessons from the recent earthquakes in Canterbury and Christchurch. Events in both New Zealand and Japan provided reminders of the constant need to improve communication about hazards, risk and their management to those who may find themselves living in harm’s way. This edition of the journal commences with recent work that can inform the debate into how best to develop effective risk communication strategies.

McClure and Sibley open this edition with an article examining how goal framing can enhance the effectiveness of risk communication and disaster preparedness. In a study in Wellington, New Zealand, they provide an analysis of how the positive and negative framing of messages about a risk influences people’s intentions to adopt precautions. They discuss how people’s judgments of the general importance of preparedness can be affected by different kinds of framing effects and argue that this work can be used clarify which framing messages are most likely to increase preventive actions in relation to risks.

Continuing the theme of exploring intra-personal predictors of how people develop their readiness to cope with and adapt to hazard consequences, Mishra, Suar and Paton discuss the relationship between self-esteem, sense of mastery, communal mastery and disaster preparedness behaviours. They do so in the context of examining preparedness for floods and heat waves. In addition to drawing attention to a little studied hazard, heat waves (that typically lead to more deaths in Australia than bushfires), Mishra and colleagues conclude that after controlling for the confounding effects of age and family type, people characterised by high self-esteem and sense of mastery were more prepared for both flood and heat wave hazards. They conclude by linking their findings to predictions made by Hobfoll’s (e.g., Hobfoll, 2001) Conservation of Resources theory.

In the next article, Mathew Fomine revisits the events of Thursday 21 st August 1986 and the unheralded and silent disaster that took the lives of some 1,800 of this residing in the vicinity of Lake Nyos in Cameroon. The death toll from this event resulted in the involuntary resettlement of people from nearby settlements. This article unravels and interprets the origins of the disaster and the implications of the ensuing forced migration and massive involuntary resettlement in the region.

Events in New Zealand and Japan focused attention on the power of natural processes to create levels of loss and destruction that necessitated temporary, and for some people, permanent relocation. Natural disasters are not the only reason why people may be uprooted and resettled . Similar outcomes can arise from human actions. Events in northern Africa in early 2011 illustrate how civil unrest can force mass evacuation and leave people traumatized by their exposure to violent and threatening circumstances.

Khalily, Foley, Hussain and Bano explore how large scale violence in Pakistani resulted in people having to confront destructive events that significantly increase the likelihood of citizens caught up in this violence experiencing high levels of psychological trauma. Khalily and colleagues use this analysis to highlight the deficiencies in mental health care provision that compounds the problems of survivors and identify a need to develop comprehensive treatment modalities in line with international standards to meet the current challenges in collaboration with non-governmental organizations on an emergency basis. Finally, they discuss the merits of developing a centre of excellence to train mental health professionals, and policy makers about this important issue.

Developing formal mental health services of the kind envisaged by Khalily and colleagues is crucial to the development of comprehensive mental health services. Such service can be complemented by developing resources designed to facilitate people’s abilities to use natural recovery and self help resources to assist their recovery. Just such a resource is discussed in the final paper in this edition.

Renner, Bänninger-Huber and Peltzer discuss their work on the Culture-Sensitive and Resource Oriented Peer (CROP) intervention as a community-based intervention for trauma survivors. Renner and colleagues present their empirical evaluation of the CRP with asylum seekers and refugees and discuss its value as a culturally sensitive method for assisting management of trauma symptoms.


Hobfoll, S. E. (2001). The influence of culture, community, and the nested-self in the stress process: Advancing Conservation of Resource theory. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 50, 337-421.

Paton, D., Bajek, R., Okada, N. & McIvor, D. (2010) Predicting Community Earthquake Preparedness: A cross-cultural comparison of Japan and New Zealand. Natural Hazards, 54 , 765–781.

Paton, D & Johnston, D (2006) Disaster Resilience: An integrated approach. Springfield, Ill., Charles C. Thomas.


Douglas Paton © 2011. 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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