Coping with fire threat requires psychological preparation

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With an early and especially severe start to the bushfire season and a hot, dry summer forecast for much of Australia, the Australian Psychological Society (APS) is stressing the need for psychological preparation as much as practical preparation.

"The advice for people in fire risk situations tends to focus on practical preparation such as how to secure our homes and property and working out firefighting or evacuation plans, all of which are highly desirable," says APS Director, Dr Bob Montgomery.

'But the repeated experience has been that many people, until it is almost too late, will do few or even none of those practical preparations,' he said, 'and we have a good understanding of the psychological barrier to that practical preparation."

"To undertake those preparations is to admit to yourself that you are at risk and for many people that is too anxiety-provoking. So they stick to the anti-anxiety belief most of us learned in childhood: bad things do happen, but to someone else. When disaster does strike, these people are ill-prepared and more at risk of panic and then doing something that increases their risks."

Preparing for the possibility of fire, hearing warnings of risk days, dealing with the reality of a disatser, and picking up the pieces afterwards, are all stressful situations. People will cope with that stress and those situations better if they take some steps to manage their inevitable anxiety at each point.

Tips for preparing for emergency situations:

  • Attend to the warning message and get the facts.
  • Focus on what has to be done - ensure that you have completed your Personal Disaster Plan.
  • Make a list of the practical things that need attention.
  • Remind yourself that this is an emergency situation and that it's natural that you're feeling anxious and stressed. You cannot control the event but you can control your own feelings.
  • Don't add to your fear with frightening thoughts.
  • Don't dwell on bad things that might happen.
  • Focus on reducing your tension by relaxing and breathing calmly.
  • Check on family and neighbours.
  • Listen to emergency service advice on the radio regularly, but not constantly.

"We have written a practical tip sheet which gives step by step instructions to help people prepare psychologically for any natural disaster, including fires," said Dr Montgomery. "It's never too late to do some essential psychological as well as practical preparation."

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The "Preparing for and coping with the threat and experience of natural disasters" Tip Sheet is available from the APS website at: http://www.psychology.org.au/publications/tip_sheets/12.5_13.asp

 

Dr Montgomery is available for interview, contact:
Elaine Grant
Communications Manager
Australian Psychological Society
03 8662 3363
0412 683 068
http://www.psychology.org.au/