There’s a plan. From the household, right up to the Federal Government. No plan is perfect, disasters by their very nature throw up surprises. But people all across the country, spend a lot of time working through scenarios, and working out what to do, and planning for it. And when it happens, they “do”. But they also continue to plan.
As we have seen, there are many, many, many volunteers across the country fighting the fires, feeding people, sheltering people, providing psychological first aid. All pushing on, exhausted, but with a common goal, to prevent harm, to make good.
Police will be searching for missing people, bringing terrible news to families where someone didn’t make it, and good news to those that did.
Ambulance officers and first aiders will be treating the smoke, the burns, the cuts, bruises. Hospitals will be ready for them. GPs will wait for when people start to present with vague symptoms, with gentle prompting, an answer to a question might be, “well I was in Glen Innes and I went through the fires”. Volunteer lifesavers find themselves onshore, providing shelter and first aid.
Vets and primary industries staff will be out visiting properties, with the awful task of putting down livestock. This is one of the most awful things that has to happen in a disaster. Elsewhere, animal carers will be looking after all the burnt and injured wildlife, one of the most fruitful.
In the back rooms, which might be a little room in a council office, or a meeting room in an agency, or someone’s lounge room, or a state of the art operations centre, there are staff and volunteers working out what to do next, how many people are needed, how many trucks, are we going to need the navy, where are they needed and when. The time stress is there, and the pressure comes from all quarters. They will be working out what advice needs to be given so the public can act on it, when, where, how, and in what format. Public information is a critical tool in saving lives, some might say as important as the fire hose and the water bomber.
In other back rooms, people will be starting to think about what does this mean for these communities, for businesses, for tourism, for farming, for the national parks, and what should we do about it. How do we provide long term support, to connect and reconnect with people who have experiencing a life changing event, and help them navigate the recovery process? The fires might be out one day, but the recovery is going to take a long time.
In broadcast studios, our national broadcaster, the ABC, is going over and above to provide people with emergency information. Its not in their charter, but it is a role that has been carved out over the past decade and a half. Because when the power goes down, and internet goes down, the radio will almost always work. It’s a lifeline for people, the sound of a calming, familiar, reassuring human voice that cares about them and wants them to have the information they need.
Linesmen and women will be in their trucks reconnecting the power, technicians will work to get the phones back on, health officers will make sure the water is healthy to drink, and food is OK.
Ministers will be meeting, Premiers and Commissioners will be fronting the media, telling people what they know, what they don’t know, what they need us to know. They are the bringers of bad news, and good news, and instructions. They are the face of the emergency, and we learn to trust them, hang off their every word.
The military will be filling in those tricky gaps, with the resources that no one else has.
Businesses will be will be working out what they have to do to start trading again, or if they can at all. It is very tough for small business after disasters, particularly those reliant on the natural environment, and they are the lifeblood of small communities.
Teachers will be starting to think about what do I need to do when the kids get back to school. How can I support them?
Each role is an integral, and mostly hidden. In all these roles people are exposed in different ways to what has happened. IT can be directly, it can indirectly. In either way, it can have a personal impact. The exposure to trauma and traumatic images, or the vicarious accumulation of details.
Self care is so important here. When its time to go home, its time to go home (and not stick around to finish one more thing). Limit exposure from sources other than the ones you need information from. Exercise, from the brisk walk, the swim, a run, a kick of the footy, a paddle, a Pilates class, what ever floats your boat, float it. Talk. To family, friends. Don’t bottle it up. Do something you enjoy. I would come home from Black Saturday and strum a guitar (badly) for an hour or so. Eat well, and don’t hit the bottle. On days off, don’t look at the news, stay away from social feeds, maybe even turn off the phone for a bit.
Our safety net is the most important tool, our families and friends. I know I couldn’t get through what I have in 22 years of working in this area without the support of my wonderful wife, and my children, my dog, and my friends. This terrific article, although directed at firefighters, applies to us all, as we are all in situations where bedtime stories aren’t read, dogs not walked, lunches not made, conversations not had, bills not paid, dinners not had. I see you all.