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Preparing psychologically for natural disasters is important.

Preparing psychologically for natural disasters is important.
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Natural disasters

When natural disasters strike, they often cause personal and financial hardship for both individuals and communities and can result in loss of life. Here are some tips on how to be prepared and to cope better during and after extreme weather.

Natural disasters in Australia can include heatwaves, bushfires, droughts, floods, severe storms and tropical cyclones, earthquakes, Tsunamis and landslides.

Be prepared before a natural disaster

The Australian Red Cross emergency REDiPlan outlines four steps to prepare your household for an emergency such as a natural disaster:

  • Step 1: Get in the know: Understand the risks you face, how your life might be disrupted and who can help - before disaster strikes.
  • Step 2: Get connected: Connect with your community so you can help each other in an emergency and during the recovery afterwards.
  • Step 3: Get organised: Think through what might happen during and after an emergency and take action to protect the important things in your life.
  • Step 4: Get packing: Identify and pack things that might help you survive in an emergency and get you back on your feet quickly.

You can register for severe weather alerts on the Australian Early Warning Network website. In some areas, however, such as Queensland, people will receive alerts about severe events affecting a specific area without needing to register for a service.

It’s important to refer to your local government or council for information about natural disasters specific to your location. Information, procedures and advice may vary widely in different places.

Some local councils offer an evacuation register of people who may need help to get to safety in a natural disaster. Contact your local council to see if they offer this service.

Preparing psychologically for natural disasters is also important. It can help you feel more confident, in control and better able to make effective emergency plans. It can also help reduce any psychological distress and longer-term mental health problems that may result from the trauma of being involved in a disaster.

The Australian Psychological Society outlines three steps to being psychologically prepared. They use the acronym 'AIM' (for Anticipate. Identify. Manage):

  • Anticipate that you will feel worried or anxious and remember these are normal responses to a possible threatening situation.
  • Identify the specific physical feelings associated with anxiety and whether you are having any frightening thoughts that are adding to the fear.
  • Manage your responses using controlled breathing and self-talk to stay as calm as possible so you can focus on the practical tasks that need attention.
queensland flooding

Coping during a natural disaster

It is important to stay safe and follow your emergency planning.

Call triple zero (000) for life threatening emergencies only. If calling triple zero (000) doesn't work on your mobile phone, try 112.

For other help and advice you can:

  • listen to your local radio stations
  • call your local police
  • call the State Emergency Service (SES) on 132 500
  • view national warnings on the Bureau of Meteorology website
  • contact your state’s or territory’s local motoring authority to monitor road closures.

If you feel your home is threatened, or authorities have told you to leave, you should make your way to an emergency evacuation centre. These are run by the Australian Red Cross and supply basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter. You can locate them though your local police or by contacting the Australian Red Cross (see phone numbers under 'Where to get help?' below).

Coping after a natural disaster

When it’s all over, how the natural disaster affected you will depend on your own personal circumstances. Common feelings include shock, fear (for the safety of family and friends or of a similar disaster happening again), anger, helplessness, sadness and shame (for having been exposed as helpless, emotional and needing others and for not having reacted as they might have wished).

These are normal feelings, and talking about how you feel and seeking support from friends, family and the community can help enormously. beyondblue and Lifeline have developed resources containing advice for people dealing with the emotional impact of a natural disaster. Also, talk to your doctor, who will have access to support that could help you after a disaster.

There may also be practical issues to sort out, such as finances and insurance.

The Australian Government DisasterAssist website provides individuals and families with access to information about recovery assistance following a disaster. You can also call the Australian Government Emergency Information Line on 180 2266. You may also be eligible for a crisis payment, but you will need to register on the internet to claim. Visit the Department of Human Services for more information.

Where to get help?

Call triple zero (000) immediately if someone is seriously injured or in need of urgent medical help, or if your life or property is at risk. If you are deaf or have a speech or hearing impairment, call 106 for a text emergency call. If calling triple zero (000) does not work on your mobile phone, try 112.

Other sources of help and information include:

Include the phone number of the Australian Red Cross service in your state or territory in your emergency kit:

  • Australian Capital Territory – 02 6234 7600
  • New South Wales – 1800 812 028 (free call) or 02 9229 4111
  • Northern Territory – 08 8924 3900
  • Queensland – 1300 554 419 (free call) or 07 3367 7222
  • South Australia – 08 8100 4500
  • Tasmania – 03 6235 6077
  • Victoria – 1800 131 701 (free call) or 03 8327 7700
  • Western Australia – 1800 810 710 (free call) or 08 9225 8888.

Last reviewed: October 2016

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