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Addressing the disaster readiness gap

Addressing the disaster readiness gap beyond preparedness for survival

June 3, 2014

A University of Canterbury-led survey of people in Wellington on their evacuation preparedness for earthquake and tsunami disaster showed that most people focused their preparedness on surviving by gathering home supplies and materials and not other essential items.

People largely overlooked key needs to make evacuation plans and getaway kits, and misunderstood their resources for resilience, Canterbury health sciences researcher Professor Ray Kirk says. His colleague and former Canterbury PhD student Dr Monica Gowan has just completed a section of her health research about building resilience before disaster strikes, to enhance intermediate and long term recovery. They collaborated with researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, the United States.

``Our results of the recent Wellington survey indicated a role for protecting people’s health, leveraging strengths and resources to transcend their vulnerabilities throughout their lifetimes. A survey was posted to 695 people in randomly selected households in the eastern suburbs of Wellington.

``Ignoring the readiness gap has significant implications for expectation management during and after crisis. We must go beyond the scope of current practices for survival and economic agency recovery to a broader horizon of preventive practice and promoting readiness.

``This requires risk awareness and clear meaningful choices for individual well-being and readiness that lead to resiliency. When people and communities use their resources to confront natural forces and external challenges and move forward positively, a stronger foundation for becoming disaster-transcendent should arise.

``After effects endure for survivors of the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes. A window of opportunity is open for health professionals to intercede now with comprehensive readiness programmes. Christchurch is entering the medium term phase following the first 2010 earthquake and next year would be timely for us to survey Christchurch residents to see how they are coping.’’

Preparedness for a disaster’s immediate aftermath is paramount for many professions – emergency management, health and safety, infrastructure and asset protection, service delivery, continuity planning, forecasting, and security, Professor Kirk says.

The focus on the immediate aftermath can produce gaps in meeting intermediate and long-term needs, creating a problem which is, what people are preparing for.

``Our research found bridging the readiness gap prevents situations where people, communities, and systems survive the initial impact, but their resilience trajectories are vulnerable to the trials of long-haul recovery.

``The 8.2 Chilean earthquake in April accentuated many overlooked dimensions of readiness and highlighted the realities. No person, place or thing is invulnerable to disaster; disaster preparedness is more than preparing to survive and keeping services and economies functioning; disasters frequently displace people suddenly from home and workplaces, and profoundly change lives and livelihoods; and personal costs of recovery are often unthinkable and difficult to anticipate at best.

``In Chile, only six people perished, but nearly one million people were evacuated from both poor and wealthy neighbourhoods, experiencing extreme circumstances and personal distress.

``The Washington state landslide in March buried an entire rural neighbourhood of 49 homes; 44 people were lost. The landslide dammed a river, caused upstream flooding, closed the primary road access to the town of Darrington and sparked a mandatory downstream evacuation.

``Future landslides, flooding, earthquakes, tsunami, typhoons, wildfire and volcanic disasters are expected throughout the Pacific region. Evidence-based recommendations for promoting preventive action to minimise disaster are essential,’’ says Professor Kirk, who is currently in the United Kingdom to deliver a paper at Oxford University’s department of primary care health sciences.


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