“I thought I was prepared, but when it came, I knew I wasn’t. I’m never staying with my house again, it is too fuckin’ scary”. So said a guy to me, after bushfires in Victoria. We have always focused, in preparedness, on the practical stuff. But much of our advice is counter initutive. When faced by threat we want to run. It’s instinctual, shaped millennia ago when our ancestors were chased by sabre toothed tigers. But we say, stay, you’ll be safe in your cyclone coded home. Stay and actively defend your home (even though the sky has turned black, a freight train/747 is roaring over your house, and you think you are in a blast furnace) or go, if you don’t feel as though you can stay and defend. These are actions that are counter intuitive, because it feels like you are putting yourself in the path of a threat.
I first came across the concept of psychological preparedness about a decade ago, when I met Griffith University’s Professor Joe Reser. Joe and his partner Shirley Morrissey had researched the psychological dimensions of disasters, and developed a technique called AIM which helped Anticipate the threats they might face, identify how they might react and Manage their reactions. It was a very straight forward and simple technique, but like many pioneers, they had difficulty in convincing the emergency services about its value, as they were more interested in emergency kits, cleaning gutters and three days of water. All practical things, and none of this namby pamby shit (my words, not Joe’s). As Joe would point out in his soft American accent, all practical preparation is psychological, and vice versa. Anything you can do to help people feel in control, is psychological preparedness.
We adopted and adapted Joe and Shirley’s work, and integrated into our own REdiplan. It has become the cornerstone of our work. We now say, first things first, before you do anything, Prepare your mind, and do AIM. We also found when some of our guys were running sessions talking about psychological preparedness, quite a few people didn’t know how to identify stress and make a plan to manage it. SO we included a wellbeing wheel, based upon the New Economics Foundation’s Five ways to Wellbeing, as a way of developing a stress management plan.
Suffice to say, a decade on, the Fire Services and SES have become enlightened, and we are seeing great work the Rural Fire Service are doing with us in New South Wales in this area. Tasmanian Fire Service are now wanting to partner with us, as are Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services, and the Country Fire Service in South Australia commissioned my colleague Danielle Every to research psychological preparedness of communities, work that is now shaping how they approach their community education.
This concept is at the heart of our preparedness activities, promoting health and wellbeing so that people can make good decisions, stay focused when under great stress before, during and after the threat of an emergency. It makes good sense.
The great Barry Adamson implores us to get our minds right