Contact with relatives a priority after a disaster

People i line to get their mobiles charged after the typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013.

People i line to get their mobiles charged after the typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013.

After natural disasters, it is a priority to help victims to get in touch with relatives. Radio broadcasting also has a distinct priority. Karin Hugelius has shown this in her doctoral thesis at Örebro University. And her findings are already being put to use in the UN-led network for disaster relief communications.

Picture of Karin Hugelius

Karin Hugelius

"Social needs apply to survivors in general, but also for health care personnel. This was very evident within days after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013. The longest queues observed were to the tent where people could recharge their mobile phones, despite no functioning mobile network. The queues for food and medical care were much shorter," says Karin Hugelius, who works as an ambulance nurse at Karlskoga Hospital, in Örebro County. She points out how important it is for people to have the possibility of getting in touch in the early stages after the disaster.

Karin Hugelius conducted a special study of the effects of Typhoon Haiyan and her thesis shows that the public radio broadcast contributed positively to the recovery after the disaster.

"Radio broadcasts were used to disseminate information, advice and support to survivors. Both the information and the music played on the radio, contributed to the recovery, according to the survivors who participated in the study," says Karin Hugelius.

Health care personnel have other needs

She also looked at how health care workers, who were on hand when the disaster struck, felt about their situation and how their health was affected.

"Survivors from the health care profession expressed somewhat different needs than those of other survivors, which is something we need to learn more about, because the health care function, in connection with a disaster, is of vital importance. The health care personnel felt very vulnerable and isolated in the disaster, both personally and professionally."

The results of Karin Hugelius' study have already been put to good use, among others, in a network for disaster relief communications led by the United Nations Foundation and aimed at humanitarian aid workers and journalists.

Training on disaster medicine

The thesis shows that it is important that those who work within health care, both as individuals and as an organisation, prepare for the right things. In planning, it is important to take into account both the physical medical care and psychosocial interventions.

"One recommendation is to offer training in disaster medicine. We do so here in Region Örebro County for doctors, nurses and other professionals. Here, we focus not only on medical interventions or organisational issues, but also address personal preparation and stress management issues."

When so many people are in need of help, where the infrastructure is seriously damaged and health care resources are severely strained, the usual methods in health care are not applicable.

"Despite the fact that disasters have afflicted mankind since the beginning of time, we still know relatively little about how they affect our health and what can be done to help in the best possible way, when a disaster does hit again," says Karin Hugelius.

Translation: Jerry Gray