Special disaster evacuation centres

Specialist evacuation shelters should be considered for vulnerable Australians during state emergencies to improve the standard of care and safety levels for ageing communities with preexisting medical conditions.

Australians have recently experienced bushfires, droughts, and other natural disasters, highlighting the rapidly changing risk factors emergency agencies and governments have to consider when implementing their disaster recovery strategies.

Disaster management experts from Flinders University recommend the creation of specialist centres for vulnerable Australians, nominated by family and friends as part of a voluntary system, similar to registers already in place in place in Japan, in a review of Australian evacuation centres in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction.

Dr Mayumi Kako from Hiroshima University says placing vulnerable Australians into specialist evacuation centres should be considered to help authorities cope with the needs of an ageing population during disasters, including people with higher rates of frailty or those requiring uninterrupted care.

“These groups warrant specific consideration when evacuation centres are established. In Japan, setting up specialist evacuation centres for vulnerable populations was suggested by health professionals who lived through the Hanshin Awaji Earthquake in 1995, which affected many older people with deteriorating and pre-existing health conditions,” says Dr Kako.

The latest review considered the effectiveness of responses to natural disasters by Japanese authorities in recent years after the government dealt with multiple earthquakes and tsunamis.

Flinders University Professor Paul Arbon, Director of the Torrens Resilience Institute, says the review also recommends simulated training for staff in shelters to develop best practice that incorporates both local factors and the medical needs of vulnerable people.

“For example, some health issues only became apparent several days after the disaster. To prevent further deterioration of their health conditions, support their recovery and maintain their health it was recognised that accommodating the special needs of vulnerable people during evacuation was essential.”

“If the special care that vulnerable people require is not available, even for a short period, there is an increased risk of complicating an existing condition, potentially leading to a worse long-term prognosis or even death. The disaster workforce must have the capability to provide suitable care for vulnerable people in our communities.

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College of Nursing and Health Sciences