Ground-breaking research reveals value of preparing for a disaster

2 September 2021

With the increase in severe disasters in Australia in the last decade, new research by Australian Red Cross has found for the first time that preparing for a disaster has a positive impact on recovery. 

Lead author Red Cross National Resilience Adviser John Richardson said the research looking at the emergency experiences of 165 people who lived through disasters between 2018 and 2019 proved for the first time that the more prepared people feel, the lower their stress levels at the time and better their recovery after an emergency. 

“Emergency recovery is a complex process that can extend for decades, with lasting economic and health impacts,” Mr Richardson said. “While there’s a widespread assumption that preparedness makes for better recovery, there is little research to prove it, and most preparedness advice focuses surviving disaster and its immediate aftermath.  

 “We know that the level of preparedness is low in Australia, with around 10% of people saying they take some form of action, and we know the impacts of disasters are increasing, through climate change, increasing disadvantage and urbanisation, so the need for people to take action is urgent.” 

Key findings  

  • Six months after a disaster more than three in five people had not recovered. 

  • The more prepared people felt they were, the less stressed they were at the time of the disaster. And the more people were stressed, the worse their state of recovery was, even ten years after their disaster. 

  • Those on low incomes were over-represented among those who said they had not yet recovered (67% compared to 56%).  

  • The research also highlights the importance of family and friends, with around 70 percent of people saying they sought support from these people, regardless of whether they’d recovered.  

  • A greater proportion of those who had not yet recovered required government assistance, did not get any preparedness education and if they did it was more often through friends and not Australian Red Cross, relative to those who had recovered at the time of the survey.  

  • The source of preparedness advice mattered to peoples’ feelings of being in control and confidence in the decisions made during the disaster. Those who received preparedness advice from Australian Red Cross were more likely to feel in control of their actions during an emergency. Those who received preparedness advice from multiple sources such as Fire Service, SES, CFS, local government or workplace in addition to Australian Red Cross were the most likely to feel confident with their decisions during an emergency. 

  • When we looked at the actions people wished they’d done, the most common responses were making copies and protecting important documents such as wills, ID and financial papers, followed by protecting items of sentimental value, and managing stress. 


Mr Richardson said on the basis of the findings Red Cross is making four recommendations:  

  • An increased focus on preparing for the long-term impacts of a disaster in preparedness programs 

  • More tailored approaches to preparedness, taking into account peoples’ profiles and needs 

  • Ensuring that preparedness programs focuses on psychological preparedness during and after a disaster  

  • More research to further investigate which actions support a better recovery. 

The report "Understanding preparedness and recovery: A survey of people’s preparedness and recovery experience for emergencies" is available here.

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