Reblog: Separation during disasters may have a lasting impact, even when there’s a happy ending

Originally posted on International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies Blog Posted 12 January 2016 by Colin Gallagher, PhD and Karen Block, PhD A compelling footnote to the recent Paris attacks was Facebook’s activation of its “Safety check” feature, which encouraged … Continue reading

Our First Beyond Bushfires Symposium

The Beyond Bushfires Symposium was an all-day event held at the University of Melbourne on the 30th October, 2014. It provided an opportunity for the study investigators to present and discuss our preliminary findings with participants and community members as well as service providers and representatives from government. I really valued the engagement leading up to the event, on the day and the feedback that we received afterwards. Leading up to the big day there was so much interest, and with the 140 seat room booked out we had many people discuss their interest in the study and perspectives on the findings.

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Professor Elizabeth Waters introduces the academic team at the Beyond Bushfires Symposium October 2014

We had a full agenda that included presentations on social networks, diverse responses and reactions, couples, families and children, psychological outcomes, anger, bereavement, relocation, and separation during and immediately after the fires. The day was packed with information that was quite overwhelming in terms of scope and depth. The surveys gave a sense of the extent and pattern of impacts on individuals and communities, and the in-depth interviews gave a sense of the personal and individual experiences that people went through. Lesley Bebbington, local resident and youth worker, shared her heartfelt, emotional and extremely personal journey over the last five years. We felt that hearing from someone who had personally experienced the bushfires gave an insight into the impacts it has on one person’s life before we went on to discuss the broader, population impacts of the bushfires.

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Full house at the Beyond Bushfires Symposium October 2014

The Symposium brought together study partners and community members to discuss their views on the research and its importance for everyone involved. This dialogue provided an insight into the extraordinary input by multiple parties throughout the study, including consultations with community members/groups, local and state service providers and government departments from planning and designing the study, to interpreting results. The large contribution to discussions and debates regarding different aspects of our findings was incredible and really fulfilled our aim for the day. You could feel the passion and emotions being expressed from those who our findings have direct influence on. The interactive sessions provided great insight into future directions and issues of interest to local bushfire affected communities.

Some people within the audience were interested in the study methods and conclusions and who was involved in forming these conclusions. Additionally, there were discussions around what we hadn’t included within the study and we acknowledge that we couldn’t include everything and we had difficulties in making decisions regarding inclusions. But there is a large amount of research being undertaken in this area, and we hope that others can cover the important components that are beyond the scope of our study.

A few community members were worried about their emotions and possible distress that could result, and showed great courage in attending the day. I’m so glad these people attended after their contributions to our study, the symposium gave us a chance to feedback our findings and get responses and inputs for future considerations. The Symposium was also a chance for us to thank everyone who has supported the research, and gave us an avenue to share bushfires experiences, and learnings to inform service providers and state level organisations.

Associate Professor Lou Harms presenting at the Beyond Bushfires Symposium October 2014.

Associate Professor Lou Harms presenting at the Beyond Bushfires Symposium October 2014.

If you would like to keep informed of the research, please email info-beyondbushfires@unimelb.edu.au with the subject line “Add to mailing list” and you will receive updates on our project, including access to the presentations on the day, once they become available. Additionally, visit our website to access the latest findings and publications www.beyondbushfires.org.au


Disasters impacting communities all over the world.

At the international conference on The Demography of Disasters, I was overwhelmed with the amount of deaths resulting from overseas disasters that killed hundreds of thousands of people. It struck me that the 2009 Victorian bushfires seem on such a small scale compared to this. As I have been working on a project for three years now (looking at the medium to long term impacts from the 2009 Victorian bushfires), I feel that I have some understanding of the huge impact it has, and continues to have, on many people and communities. Therefore I can only imagine the impact on these other countries when such loss has occurred. Especially as these countries are at high risk of future disasters and are usually under resourced to prepare, respond and recover from these. This is a massive challenge for recovery and resilience work within these areas. But imagine if we had that many people die within Victoria? How come there is such a large difference in the death toll between these countries and our own? Is it that these countries are highly populated, even in their rural areas? Or is it because we have greater resources and preparedness mechanisms in place to prevent such large scale impacts?

Over the two days, it was emphasised that disaster recovery efforts need to be tailored to the particular area in which they occur. This is due to variability of culture and traditions, which can both assist and hinder the resilience process. Change in anyone’s life is difficult, especially after a disaster, therefore attempting to restore traditions is important but the difficulty within these countries is that at times it’s more dangerous to restore these traditions than change. The cultural relevance within Victorian communities differs greatly from these countries, which further complicates the applicability of these learnings in different contexts.

Throughout the conference there were many different presentations, exploring the impact on communities after a disaster. However, many of the areas being presented were at constant high risk of disasters. Recovery planning needs to occur after a disaster along with planning for the possibility of another disaster, as they are at high threat of one occurring within their lifetime. This threat needs to be accounted for in regards to resilience and future preparedness.

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Trees recovering from the Victorian 2009 bushfires.

Some of the presenters completed studies in Asian countries – however, some of the limitations of their studies included not knowing or understanding the local context and how their research findings fit into this. To overcome this many of these researchers collaborate with others within the country or the particular rural area in which the research is being completed. For our study: Beyond Bushfires: Community, Resilience and Recovery (www.beyondbushfires.org.au) we have also taken on this approach. We have many stakeholders from local areas within the participating communities which include residents, local government, NGO’s. As part of the research process we are taking back our initial findings to our community partners and asking them for assistance in interpreting these in terms of what they mean locally. This knowledge adds another level of understanding and allows for non-fire related impacts to be accounted for.

There is a shift in the social environment being just as important as the physical environment in the countries that were presented. However, as this is a major focus of our study – hopefully we can add some interesting evidence to this literature. So stay tuned to not only to this blog but the emerging findings that the Beyond Bushfires team has to report later this year.

If you would like to keep updated with the project to join the Beyond Bushfires email list please send an email to: info-beyondbushfires@unimelb.edu.au