Disasters are unpredictable and destructive. They can cause significant damage, injury, illness, loss, trauma and grief. Australia’s diverse landscape means that natural disasters such as bushfires, floods, severe storms, heatwaves, earthquakes and tropical cyclones occur regularly across the continent. The Commonwealth of Australia Attorney-General’s Department defines a disaster as:
A serious disruption to community life which threatens or causes death or injury in that community and/or damage to property which is beyond the day-to-day capacity of the prescribed statutory authorities and which requires special mobilisation and organisation of resources other than those normally available to those authorities.1
According to the Red Cross World Disasters Report 2013, there were 16,000 Australians affected by a disaster in 2012.2 Between 2003 and 2012, there were 815 people reported killed in Australia as a result of a disaster.2
Disasters can have a profound impact on the population’s health and wellbeing, causing injury – both short-term and long-term – and death. The degree to which people are affected will vary significantly depending on the type and severity of the disaster. People affected by disasters can also have an increased risk of mental health and social problems. Psychological first aid can provide basic support for the distressed immediately after an event.3 Disasters can also have long-term effects on the country’s economy.
The Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities estimated that disasters and emergencies cost the Australian economy $9.6 billion in 2015.4 Further, the Roundtable predict that these costs will triple to $33 billion by 2050.4
Thorough and comprehensive emergency planning and preparation by all levels of government, statutory authorities, agencies, individuals, businesses and communities is of paramount importance. Lessons learnt from past events highlight the importance of disaster preparation in reducing the overall impact of a disaster.
Disaster planning should never be neglected or overlooked.