Disasters are characterised by mass casualties, chaos, scarcity of resources and difficult priorities. In a situation where many people are injured, scared or perhaps hysterical, disaster relief personnel will themselves be affected. The confronting scenes can make it difficult to think clearly. In addition to theoretical knowledge and practical skills, personnel working with crises, accidents and disasters need to possess the personal qualities suitable for the job.

Personnel need to be able to deal with information and instructions given by unfamiliar leaders. For example, members from different agencies often staff the disaster reception centre. Even though the personnel’s role is described on action cards, they are often required to perform new and unfamiliar tasks. A disaster requires multi-agency co-operation.

It is important that leaders and staff are co-operative and able to maintain their composure, reassuring those directly impacted and others involved. To cope during disaster relief work, personnel should:

  • Be familiar with plans and their own role (action cards)
  • Familiarise themselves with the site and equipment they will be using
  • Be mentally prepared for different scenarios that can arise
  • Get to know collaborators
  • Practise tolerating chaos, lack of information, time pressure and competing priorities
  • Take a “time-in” when needed

No disasters are the same or develop exactly as anticipated in plans and procedures. It is therefore crucial to be able to deal with changing circumstances and new collaborators. Through exercises, personnel can obtain experience with multi-agency co-operation, become familiar with routines, plans, available tools and their own tasks. Exercises give personnel the confidence to improvise when facing the overwhelming needs of a disaster.