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Facing fire and floods: new guide for disaster management

Fire. Floods. Earthquakes. Terrorist attacks. These events may not be part of a health professional's typical working day but they might take over one.

To help students and practitioners from different professional fields gain a common understanding of the principles and practice of disaster management, professor Gerry FitzGerald, from QUT's School of Public Health, has put together a new common language guide for when a natural or man-made disaster strikes.

Disaster Health Management: A Primer for Students and Practitioners covers events including the US Ebola outbreak, Victoria’s bushfires, Iceland’s 2010 volcano eruption, Tokyo’s Sarin nerve gas attack and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

FitzGerald said whether it’s earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, influenza outbreaks or industrial accidents, there is always a disaster somewhere in the world.

He said 2011's Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi was an event that made clear one of the challenges health systems face when facilities become unavailable due to a natural disaster, with Cairns Hospital making the call to evacuate patients.

“The decision had to be made very quickly because if you delay it, then you won't be able to get people out, and you don't want to make it too early because it's a very major thing to do," FitzGerald said. "Of course, the whole of the north Queensland was under danger, so the only place to take them was to Brisbane, 2000 kilometres away.

“You can imagine the complexity of doing that, of being able to collect together the information about the patients, to ensure their safety during transit, and find beds for them in the Brisbane hospital.”

The acting director-general of Emergency Management Australia, Rob Cameron, recently launched the new guide, which provides an overview of disaster health management throughout the continuum of getting ready, responding and recovering.

Cameron said: “We must learn from past events and ensure that we as a community are as prepared and resilient as we can be, and it’s through collaborations such as this book that we are able to apply lessons from the past towards mitigating the effects of future disasters."

The text is available at QUT Bookshops or via Routledge online and profits from its sale will be donated to medical humanitarian aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).

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