The recent bushfires have highlighted the importance of the work that the APS does in the ‘public interest', and, in this context, especially the work of the APS Disaster Preparedness and Response Reference Group. With its support, the APS National Office has been significantly involved in the bushfire disaster recovery efforts.
The APS was inundated with calls from members keen to offer assistance to people affected by the bushfires in the days following Black Saturday. An APS bushfire disaster register was established immediately for members to register their interest in providing psychological assistance as required, and more than 700 APS members have registered their names.
The APS recognises the importance of fitting within the State emergency recovery plan, and has been working with authorities to coordinate the provision of psychological assistance as required. To this end, our disaster register has been used to fulfil requests from the Australian Red Cross to provide psychologists to assist Red Cross personal support volunteers, and from the Victorian Department of Human Services (DHS) for the recruitment and support of case workers for bushfire survivors. We are increasingly receiving requests for psychologists to work with individuals and organisations working in the field.
A Briefing was organised by the APS several weeks after the bushfires to orient psychologists and other health professionals to the field of disaster response in the context of the Victorian bushfires. Over 600 people attended the Briefing, indicating the interest amongst APS members to be informed and contribute where possible. The Briefing was chaired by APS President Professor Bob Montgomery and presented by three psychology experts in the area of trauma response (Professor Richard Bryant, Professor Mark Creamer and Dr Rob Gordon) and the National Manager of Emergency Services at the Australian Red Cross, Andrew Coghlan. An MP3 of the Briefing and the presentations by the guest speakers can be downloaded from the APS website (www.psychology.org.au/bushfire/briefing/).
Other regional briefings may be organised in the coming weeks in the bushfire areas, with a focus on helping schools to support staff and children affected by the bushfires.
A number of resources have been developed by the APS and collected from other organisations to both assist people providing psychological support to those affected by the bushfires and to provide direct information to people affected by the fires. These resources can be found on the APS website.
The APS has been working with the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, DHS and other professional groups regarding the development of training and support for service providers in the coming months and years as they work with people affected by the bushfires and other disasters.
An APS disaster response network (DRN) has recently been established to enable us to identify members who have some experience or training in providing psychological support to people who have been affected by disasters, whether as volunteers or in a paid capacity. The network will facilitate the APS response to external requests to provide psychologists, and will also link members offering mentoring and support to psychologists and others working in the front line.
All members on the APS disaster register have been invited to provide further information about their experience or training in working in disasters contexts, for inclusion on the DRN. Other APS members are invited to apply by completing the form available from the website (www.mysurveyportal.com/psychology/qedml/login.php?SURVEY=drn). Members without prior training or experience in disaster contexts who would still like to be included are invited to indicate their interest in undertaking skills development in this area.
The heatwaves, bushfires, floods and cyclones we have recently experienced across Australia have resulted in hundreds of thousands of people experiencing what scientists mean when they predict more frequent and intense weather events and natural disasters as a consequence of climate change. As much as we attend to disaster response, and adapt to these changing conditions, we must equally and urgently continue to use our psychological knowledge and skills to contribute to climate change adaption and mitigation.