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Summer of disasters: how did we fare, are we ready for more?

Summer of disasters (how did we fare and are we prepared for the next one?)

Summer of disasters - the Christchurch earthquake, Japan earthquake and tsunami, Pakistan floods, Queensland floods and cyclone.

These were all disasters for the people involved, and hospital emergency departments experience huge surges in patient numbers.

Sometimes, even the hospitals have to be evacuated.

The session (starting at 3.30 pm) will be chaired by Dr Bruce Bartley, emergency physician from the Emergency Department at Geelong Hospital.

At 1.30 pm, Dr Bartley will also speak on "a bad day at the office - when disaster strikes". For more than a decade, emergency medicine organisations have produced guidelines, training, and leadership for disaster management in the field.

However, to date there have been limited guidelines for emergency physicians needing to provide a rapid response to a surge in demand in emergency departments.

A working group of disaster medicine specialists from the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine Disaster subcommittee has produced guidelines to help doctors around the world manage the huge increase in emergency department patients following a disaster.

Australasian emergency departments work increasingly at and near full capacity so many of the strategies described are useful in day-to-day fluctuation in demand.

Community awareness of these strategies helps set community expectation appropriately in the infrequent and obvious disaster setting and also in the increasingly common "near disaster" setting.

The detail of this document and its accompanying aide memoire will be launched at the conference.


In the early afternoon of 22 February 2011 one of the most violent urban earthquakes on record struck Christchurch city, New Zealand.

Thousands were injured and 182 people died.

The massive peak ground accelerations, the time of the day and the collapse of major buildings contributed to injury.

Christchurch Hospital was damaged and intermittently lost power, but was able to continue to deliver care.

The proximity of the hospital to the central business district, a strong emergency department, good relationships with primary care and inpatient colleagues, well-developed processes, and a practised major incident plan contributed to the effectiveness of the response.

Professor Mike Ardagh, from the University of Otago in Christchurch, will describe the many lessons learnt and how these will inform future disaster preparedness.


In late 2010, Pakistan suffered one of the worst natural disasters in living memory. Over 20 million people were displaced as one fifth of the country was inundated with flood waters.

This flood has been described as a slow-moving inland tsunami.

In August 2010, the Australian government ordered AusAID to form a joint taskforce with the Australian Defence Force to provide humanitarian medical aid to the people of one of the affected areas.

This was the first large-scale joint civil-military mission to a disaster zone, which combined large numbers of defence health personnel with an Australian medical assistance team from several states and territories.

Treatments included Ondansetron wafers for diarrhoeal disease, mass worming, and mass testing for malaria.

As well as benefiting the people of the particular area, the mission reported treatment successes to the WHO, allowing changes to be made to treatment protocols for over 5 million people.

Dr Ian Norton, from the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre in Darwin, will describe the mission and its healthcare results.


Following the Queensland floods and cyclone in December 2010 and January 2011, three-quarters of the state was declared a disaster zone, and over 70 towns/cities were affected. This conference session will describe the medical response.


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