With the support of the APS Disaster Preparedness and Response Reference Group, the APS National Office has been significantly involved in the flood recovery efforts, particularly those in Queensland.
The APS contribution has been part of an integrated and planned response that fits within the State emergency recovery plan. Liaison has been undertaken with the Queensland Department of Health and Department of Communities, the Federal Department of Health and Ageing, the Red Cross and World Vision to offer assistance in the delivery of psychosocial support to affected people, particularly in the mid- to longer-term recovery phases.
The APS has a Memorandum of Understanding with Australian Red Cross to support the organisation in responding to disasters, and discussions have been held regarding assistance with the flood recovery. The Red Cross is interested in the APS contributing to its Personal Support program in longer-term outreach in the coming months. We will keep members informed of any opportunities to contribute. The APS and Red Cross have just published a document on psychological first aid, which is available through the APS website.
The APS has developed a number of downloadable resources for the general public and for people providing support to those affected by the floods. The resources include Guidelines for looking after children who have been affected by the floods, and a brochure on Support for those working in communities affected by floods, and their clients. These resources and links to other organisations and resources can be found on the APS website at www.psychology.org.au/community/topics/flood.
The APS has also developed guidelines for psychologists working with communities affected by the floods (www.psychology.org.au/community/topics/flood/practitioner#s1), as well as guidelines on offering pro bono work in the flood recovery (www.psychology.org.au/Assets/Files/EG-Disaster.pdf).
Much useful information on disaster recovery can also be found on the Psychosocial Support in Disasters website (www.psid.org.au), which the APS and other peak mental health organisations developed and launched last year.
The APS has facilitated significant media coverage on preparing for disasters and psychological aspects of recovery, including caring for children, psychological first aid, and longer-term adjustment.
The APS is consulting with other agencies and authorities to plan the development and dissemination of appropriate training workshops for APS members, and to others as needed within an integrated plan. Training is likely to follow the model used successfully following the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires of 2009, where health professionals were trained to provide psychosocial support and mental health care to people affected by natural disasters. As well as psychological first aid as a first response, we trained many mental health professionals in Skills for Psychological Recovery (SPR), which is a brief, secondary prevention model designed to teach people basic skills like problem solving, managing reactions and rebuilding healthy relationships. Training was also offered in clinical interventions for people at risk of developing significant mental health problems.
In the short term, the APS is running brief webinars to provide people with an orientation to working with people affected by disasters, and how to apply skills in disaster recovery. These two-hour webinars also cover disaster preparedness.
The APS disaster response network (DRN) is the place where psychologists with an interest in working with people affected by disasters can register their interest and expertise. The DRN is used to communicate with members and notify them of training opportunities, resources and research related to disaster response. The DRN is used when the APS receives a request from organisations or agencies seeking additional support from psychologists. Because of the current recovery environment, though, we mostly have more psychologists offering to help than organisations asking for psychologists to help! This is because roles and timelines in disaster recovery have changed in recent years. Formerly, when some form of critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) was routinely offered, there were greater opportunities for psychologists to go out into the field in large numbers immediately following a disaster. The emphasis now is on the provision of psychological first aid in the first hours and weeks after a disaster to restore safety, security, calm, connectedness, help and hope. These tasks are best achieved with minimal intervention from mental health specialists, to give people time and the opportunity to activate their own natural coping mechanisms. There is an emphasis, too, on the importance of building the capacity of local people and resources rather than bringing in outsiders.
The APS, supported by the Brisbane Branch, held a two-hour briefing for over 300 members and other interested professionals on 28 January in Brisbane on how to provide the best psychological support following a disaster of this scale. The briefing was presented by members of the APS Disaster Preparedness and Response Reference Group, Queensland Health, and other experts in disaster response and psychological recovery. The briefing panel was chaired by Dr Nicola Burton from the APS Brisbane Branch Committee and included:
The briefing provided an orientation and overview of the field of disaster response, and information on current best practice for psychosocial response and recovery. This ranged from the provision of universal assistance to focused psychological and related services, including psychological first aid, skills for psychosocial recovery and more targeted interventions. An overview of the government and some community-based groups' approach to disaster preparedness and response was also provided. The briefing concluded with information about the role of psychologists and the APS within a coordinated approach to response and recovery, as well as advice on clinician self care.
The Flood Disaster Recovery Briefing was recorded and is available on the APS website at www.psychology.org.au/community/topics/flood/briefing.