10 ways a disaster could affect you: the real reasons you should prepare

Disasters can affect you and your family in many more ways than you think. Here are some of the compelling reasons why you should get prepared for disasters and emergencies.

We know what happens in emergencies like a bushfire, flood or cyclone. We see it in the media every year: dramatic images of houses ablaze, rooftops being torn away by raging winds, floodwaters carrying away everything in their path. We've seen what happens

Or have we?

Research has shown that the true cost of natural disasters is 50 per cent greater than previously estimated. So what's the reason for this?

It's the long-term impact disasters have on people: the psychological and social consequences that are often hidden from view. Here are some of the ways you can be affected by a disaster, and some steps to help you get prepared.

The loss of life
While no one likes to talk about it, emergencies can cause loss of life. Think about the impact that the death of a family member would have on your life and what impact your own death would have on those around you. Think not only about the emotional impacts, but also the practical ones. Not having a will can cause significant emotional and financial stress for surviving family members. If you haven't already, consider making a will and organising life insurance - it will help your family should the worst happen.

The loss of your house and irreplaceable possessions.
Homes can be damaged and destroyed in emergencies, large or small. Think about how you might protect your home. Ask your state fire and emergency services for information to help you protect your home from bushfires, floods, cyclones and other hazards.

Objects can shape our identity. Saving precious items and keepsakes can speed up the recovery process because it protects the links we have with the past and can bring significant comfort if we've lost property and/or loved ones. Think about all the important items in your life that might cause distress if they were lost.

The stress of being separated from your family
Being separated from family and friends is one of the most stressful things a person can experience when disaster strikes. Not knowing where your loved ones are or being unable to get a hold of them adds to that anxiety - especially if the usual communication lines are down. Deciding on an emergency meeting point or out-of-town contact with your family can help with that stress. If you need to, use a service like Register. Find. Reunite. if you want to find out about friends and family during a disaster or let them know you're OK.

The loss of your job and income
It's not just that emergencies can be financially costly - they can also cost you your job. Think about how your ability to earn an income might be affected by an emergency. Your workplace might close down due to damage, cleaning up damaged property may require time off work, and sometimes you'll need to take sick leave for illness or injury suffered as a result of the emergency. Have you prepared adequate income insurance in case of unemployment?

Financial hardship
Emergencies can be really expensive and financial matters can become a significant burden that causes a lot of stress to people. Think about how you can plan to cover financial losses caused by an emergency and in doing so avoid the stressful burden that accessing money can become. While there might be financial assistance available from governments and other agencies after an emergency, it's usually small and targeted at immediate needs. It won't be enough to replace your home or valuables. Thinking about how you can cover financial losses caused by an emergency will save you a lot of stress and burden.

Are you prepared for an emergency? Get your disaster preparedness guide now

Your physical health
As a result of the stress experienced in the aftermath of an emergency, you may well neglect your health and wellbeing. Research has shown that natural disasters can worsen chronic disease. It could be from illness caused by the disaster, or separation from medication or treatment due to the disruption - especially in rural and remote areas. If you have an illness or chronic condition, make sure you make a plan for this in case of an emergency. It's important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, as much as possible to help manage the stress of recovery.

Your mental health
Really stressful events can affect the way our brains work. Many people talk about experiencing memory loss, losing the ability to concentrate, and finding it hard to read and retain information after an emergency. This is common. Other ways disasters can impact your mental health include post traumatic stress disorder, depression or anxiety, all of which can have serious implications to other aspects of your life.

Your family and relationships
The stress and hardships of experiencing a disaster can have negative consequences on your relationships and family life. Unfortunately, research and experience tell us that family violence increases in the often chaotic circumstances after an emergency, as living arrangements and support networks are disrupted.

Family violence can include physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, social and/ or spiritual violence. Think about how you and others might manage challenging situations - such as pre-existing apprehended violence orders and custody arrangements - after an emergency. If you're worried about family violence occurring after an emergency, talk to your personal support network, family violence services or the police.

Your children
Emergencies impact children and infants just as much as adults. Most parents worry about these impacts, and often see changes in behaviour after an emergency. For most kids, the way their parents cope will be the strongest indication of how they will cope. It's important to understand the common reactions that children have after a disaster. Find out how you can help children cope with a disaster.

Disruption to your community and social networks
An emergency can cause serious upheaval to your community, and this means the loss of friends, neighbours and your social networks and pastimes such as clubs or sports teams. This can leave people feeling isolated and lacking the support they might need. Even a smaller scale disaster, like a house fire, can mean temporarily moving to a new area with unfamiliar faces, making the recovery process even more difficult. Strong communities before an emergency have been shown to be strong after the emergency, providing much needed support from within. Take steps to build your community links. It's as easy as opening the door, or exchanging phone numbers.

The loss of your local heritage and environment
Places can provide us with a sense of who we are and a connection to our community, with landscapes and landmarks making our world familiar. Loss of, or damage to, these can have profound effects on people, both practically, in terms of physical disorientation, and in terms of impacting links to people's pasts and their identities. While there is not a lot you can do about this, photographing those buildings, landmarks and landscapes can help.

Preparing for the psychological effects of disaster and emergencies
It's not just about buildings: disasters and emergencies will affect you in many more ways than you think. Whether its stress, financial hardship or upheaval to your community, they all have a serious effect on your wellbeing that will make recovering harder. For some people, it can take years to fully recover from a disaster.

So in addition to taking practical action to protect your property, remember that it's just as important to prepare for the emotional toll disasters can take so you can get your life back on track.

Get prepared for disasters and emergencies

Emergencies can happen at any time. They could be as large as a bushfire or as personal as a death in the family. And an emergency can disrupt your life in ways you don't expect. You could experience stress and anxiety, relationship problems and financial hardships, often for years to come. Being prepared makes it much easier for you to recover.

And getting prepared for a disaster is easy. Get your RediPlan: a free guide that shows you how you  prepare for a disaster and make an emergency plan in four simple steps.