The Psychological Aspect of Disaster Preparedness

Margit Cathrine Moller


Minamisanriku, Japan Mayor Jin Satomayor had just given a speech to the town assembly about tsunami preparation when the earthquake struck. Half an hour later, the tsunami that came exceeded any expectations and overwhelmed all preparations. "It was a scene from hell," Mr. Sato, 59, said, his eyes red with tears. "It was beyond anything that we could have imagined." Disasters are often like that. Disaster preparation is difficult because we can never tell the full extent of the damage until it happens. But that doesn’t mean we don’t prepare.

Having decided to be a very positive and optimistic person, I will not join the bandwagon of the prophets of doom who profess that the series of disasters are preliminary events for the end of the world next year. However, because I care deeply for the future of the earth and humanity, I will contribute my voice in the hope that together we will find the necessary answers to today’s most pressing question: how can we prevent or survive catastrophic disasters?

The series of disasters that happened just within this millennium – Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Indonesia and other countries, earthquakes in Haiti, New Zealand, Chile and Japan, the flooding in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the Philippines, Australia, China, and Brazil – point out two things: disasters happen everywhere and they happen more frequently. Perhaps we can blame human irresponsibility, or climate change, but the truth is all of us have contributed to this in one way or another and all of us are bound to be affected in more ways than one.

Various mitigating factors have been discussed all over the world and there are online references on disaster preparedness, but I would like to assert that aside from building codes, fire prevention, evacuation plans, and other important logistical and organizational preparations, we need to prepare ourselves internally. Risk reduction and psychological readiness is not so popular, yet it can make a difference in both willingness to prepare and in recovery resilience. Depression after a disaster and the post trauma disorder can paralyze a person or a community, and prevent them from cooperating towards their recovery.

Yet studies on resilience point to one thing: the skills and qualities that predict better recovery from trauma can be developed. Resiliency may differ from person-to-person, but emotional recovery skills and tools can be both taught and learned effectively. How to deal with loss of loved ones, loss of properties, loss of a community, and the physical trauma of going through the whole thing are some of the few life skills that can be taught individually or as a group.

Lastly, one thing that can be developed in every individual is a strong adherence to hope. An empowered person never loses hope no matter how dire the circumstances are. Nurturing a sense of hope is one of the best preparations for any disaster.