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Disaster Preparedness


In recent years both the scope and magnitude of natural and manmade disasters has increased dramatically.   Leaning et al  (2010) reported in the New England Journal of Medicine three times as many natural disasters from 2000 to 2009 compared to 1980 to 1989 and that "the scale of disasters has also expanded owing to increased rates of urbanization, deforestation, and environmental degradation and to intensifying climate variables such as higher temperatures, extreme precipitation, and more violent wind and water storms."


The physiological as well as psychological sequelae for impacted populations can be intense and long-lasting.  In addition to the acute injuries of victims, there is frequently long-term fallout in the form of lost physical and economic infrastructure, compromised water supplies, the introduction of toxins into previously safe environments, and most recently at Fukushima, the release of high levels of radioactive materials into the air, soil and groundwater.  Mental health professionals routinely see concomitant post-traumatic stress symptoms, depression, anxiety, somatic complaints and excessive alcohol use.


Related work by Adams and Boscarino (2010)suggests that "exposure to major stressor events can result in significantly diminished well-being, often taking the form of depression, anxiety disorders and compromised physical and mental health.” Most disaster studies support these findings and conclude that large scale traumatic events significantly increase psychological programs in the short-term and can have long-lasting negative physical and mental health consequences.


Governments and relief groups know that medical outcomes in the wake of natural and manmade disasters are highly dependent upon the speed and effectiveness with which appropriate resources can be leveraged in acute circumstances; and the degree to which programs can be emplaced which will support caregivers during extended periods. 


Thus, the preparedness of local health personnel is crucial to improving survival. Global organizations must be vigilant in the anticipation of natural disasters. According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in June 2013, "a further increase in the number of disasters will overwhelm national and global disaster management systems. Humanitarian organizations must address this challenge by increasing disaster response and preparedness at all levels - from local to global." 


1 Leaning, J., and Guha-Sapir, D. Natural Disasters, Armed Conflict and Public Health. N Engl J Med 2013; 369:1836-1842

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