Information for general practitioners working in evacuation centres

Overview of evacuation planning

Overview of evacuation planning

The decision to evacuate a population and activate evacuation centres depends on many factors.

When the impact of a hazard does not allow sufficient time for a warning to be issued, such as an earthquake or flash flood, evacuations will be immediate. Some are pre-warned or managed evacuations, whereby a planned evacuation occurs ahead of a potential hazard, such as a bushfire or a slower-onset flood or inundation. Some are self-managed evacuations or relocations, whereby residents are asked to leave early during dangerous conditions, such as catastrophic bushfire and smoke conditions.

Evacuation planning currently involves LHNs/LHDs and other emergency responders. The involvement of GPs varies across regions, but is largely overlooked. GP involvement has tended to be managed in an ad hoc way during the chaos of the response.1 The Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience Evacuation planning handbook lays out a set of key principles on the evacuation planning process. In most cases, evacuation centres will be managed by a local government or state government organisation. In some states and territories, the Australian Red Cross may play a significant role.

The purpose of an evacuation centre is to temporarily house evacuees who do not have other accommodation following withdrawal from an area of risk. Evacuation centres:
  • are established outside the area at risk
  • must meet the immediate needs of a population impacted by disaster
  • should be safe and secure places of shelter providing basic needs until evacuees can return to their place of residence.
Facilities are considered as potential evacuation centres if they meet minimum requirements in terms of the provision of food, water, sanitation, personal space, accessibility and, if possible, sleeping facilities.2
A full list of requirements for evacuation centres can be found in the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience Evacuation planning handbook.

GP engagement in evacuation centres will normally be facilitated via PHNs. If you are prepared to work in an evacuation centre, you and other general practice team members should declare your interest to your local PHN before a disaster or emergency occurs. 

Although each PHN will have a different process for engaging and preparing GPs, they will typically create a volunteer register that will be used when an evacuation is required. The GP register allows for appropriate planning and training to occur before an evacuation centre is activated. See Part A – Recommendation 6: Training to prepare for work in an evacuation centre for more detail.

The police and other emergency response agencies, such as fire services or state emergency services, hold the legislative authority to order and enforce an evacuation. The decision to evacuate is usually made in consultation with various agencies.

The management and operation of evacuation centres involve multiple organisations and services. The roles and responsibilities of all supporting organisations and chains of command should be clearly documented. When GPs and their teams are providing healthcare services in evacuation centres, they should be linked into these chains of command, which will usually be through the PHN, which sits under the LHN disaster management team. This will minimise disruption to service delivery and ensure that effective communication with other services is maintained.

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