Disasters affect us in many ways.

Damage to or destruction of homes, property and cherished belongings together with the obvious physical effects including loss of loved ones, pain or physical challenges are usually apparent.  Initial short-term emotional effects such as fear, acute anxiety, grief, emotional numbness etc are very common.

However the emotional impact of a disaster often manifests some time later and can continue for many years to come.

Whilst effective disaster management seems to revolve around ‘PPRR’ – Prevention, Preparedness, Response and Recovery, what do we know about the long term human and social effects and how do we recognise the warning signs of a fractured community?

There is overwhelming evidence that disasters can lead to a range of posttraumatic health problems. Over the past several decades, much research has informed us about the array of psychological and physical problems arising from natural and man-made disasters.

In the wake of a disaster, marital conflict and distress rises, increases in divorce rates follow, parent-child conflicts increase and more cases of intra-family violence (child and spouse abuse) have been reported.  Rates of community violence, aggression, drug and alcohol abuse and the rate of legal convictions in the wake of a disaster also increase.

It is thought that whilst the mental health effects of a catastrophe can be felt for years (and sometimes decades) afterwards, the casual link between the disaster and observed mental health problems may not be obvious. 

The impact of disasters on children often goes unnoticed as parents, grandparents and other extended family members are struggling with complex issues.  They have less ability to judge which fears are realistic and which are not and regardless of the source, children’s responses to disasters must be taken seriously.

The Australian & New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference in Brisbane from April 16 to April 18 next year will feature streams on the emotional impact of disasters (adults, children, volunteer workers etc) and also a workshop on ‘The warning signs of fractured communities’ and the call for papers is now open on the conference website – www.anzdmc.com.au .

The conference committee are keen to create a comprehensive forum that will grow to become an annual event that will take place either in Australia or New Zealand in years to come and as such would like to see the conference offer professionals (and future professionals) including relevant health care professionals an opportunity to advance and improve approaches, thoughts and opinions and develop expertise, competencies and aptitudes relating to information and facts surrounding preparedness for future disasters, emergencies and hazards and the ability to recover from them quickly and efficiently. 

Please feel free to also submit your ideas re suitable workshops/sessions etc that you believe we should consider including in our conference – please email conference@anzdmc.com.au