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Natural disasters

7-minute read

If someone's life is at risk, or there is a bushfire, call triple zero (000). For emergency help during any other natural disaster such as flood, storms and tsunami, contact your State Emergency Service (SES) on 132 500.


Natural disasters 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 how to cope during and after extreme weather events.

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

How can I prepare for a natural disaster?

The Australian Red Cross has an emergency REDiPlan, which you can download and fill out, that outlines 4 steps to prepare your household for an emergency such as a natural disaster:

  • Step 1: Get in the know Understand the hazards you're likely to face, know how to manage your stress, find out who can help and know where to get information in an emergency.

  • Step 2: Get connected Decide on 3 meeting places with all members of your household, including children, and connect with people in your community who could help you.

  • Step 3: Get organised Get or update your insurance, store important documents in a safe place other than your home and make a plan for pets or livestock.

  • Step 4: Get packing Identify and pack things that might help you survive in an emergency — well in advance.
Bushfire

Understand your level of bushfire risk so you can prepare your property and protect your health.

Flood

Learn about some of the health risks and hazards that can occur during floods and cyclones.

Weather and disaster alerts

You can check the Australian Bureau of Meteorology website for weather warnings.

Tune into your radio or TV for live updates. You might also hear the Standard Emergency Warning Signal (SEWS), a distinctive siren that is broadcast over radio or television before an urgent safety message.

You may receive emergency warnings on your phone. Emergency Alert is the government-funded national telephone-based warning system that makes calls to landlines and texts to mobile phones. You do not need to register to receive these warnings.

Local information and advice

It is important to refer to your local government or council for information about natural disasters specific to your location. Information, procedures, evacuation plans and advice may vary widely between 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.

Being emotionally prepared

Preparing emotionally for natural disasters is crucial. 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 3 steps to being psychologically prepared, using the acronym 'AIM' (for Anticipate. Identify. Manage):

  • Anticipate that you will feel worried or anxious and remember these are normal responses to a possible life-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 your attention.

Read about preparing children for a natural disaster on Pregnancy, Birth and Baby.

How to cope during a natural disaster

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

Call triple zero (000) in life-threatening emergencies and for bushfires. If calling triple zero (000) doesn't work on your mobile phone, try 112. For emergency help during any other natural disaster such as flood, storms or a tsunami, contact your State Emergency Service (SES) on 132 500.

For more help and advice, you can:

  • listen to local radio stations
  • call the local police
  • continue to check the Bureau of Meteorology website
  • contact your state 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. Check your local council's website or social media accounts if you don't know where they are.

Register yourself as 'safe', or locate family or friends in a disaster-affected area, at the Red Cross website, Register.Find.Reunite.

How to cope after a natural disaster

When it's all over, the natural disaster may still affect you emotionally. Common feelings include shock, anger, helplessness, sadness and fear — for the safety of family and friends, or of a similar disaster happening again.

It's also normal to feel shame for having been 'exposed' as helpless, emotional and needing others, or for not having reacted as you might have wished.

These are all normal feelings, and talking about it and seeking support from friends, family and the community can help enormously. Beyond Blue and Lifeline have advice for people dealing with the emotional impact of a natural disaster. Also, talk to your doctor, who has 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 information about financial assistance following a natural disaster (including the Disaster Recovery Payment). You can also call the Australian Government disaster recovery assistance hotline on 180 2266.

You may be eligible for a 'crisis payment' if you have not received a Disaster Recovery Payment. Visit the Department of Human Services for more information.

Where can I 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:

Do you prefer another language to English? These factsheets also offer translated information:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2020


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