Open Access Research article

Household disaster preparedness and information sources: Rapid cluster survey after a storm in New South Wales, Australia

Michelle Cretikos12*, Keith Eastwood2, Craig Dalton234, Tony Merritt2, Frank Tuyl2, Linda Winn5 and David Durrheim234

Author Affiliations

1 NSW Public Health Officer Training Program, Centre for Epidemiology and Research, NSW Department of Health, New South Wales, Australia

2 Population Health Unit, Hunter New England Area Health Service, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

3 School of Medical Practice and Population Health, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

4 Hunter Medical Research Institute, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

5 Disaster Response and Coordination Unit, Hunter New England Area Health Service, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:195  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-195

Published: 4 June 2008

Abstract

Background

A storm-related disaster in New South Wales, Australia in June 2007 caused infrastructure damage, interrupted essential services, and presented major public health risks. We investigated household disaster preparedness and information sources used before and during the disaster.

Methods

Rapid cluster survey of 320 randomly selected households in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia.

Results

227 households (71%) responded to the survey. By the day before the storm, 48% (95%CI 40–57%) of households were aware of a storm warning, principally through television (67%; 58–75%) and radio (57%; 49–66%) announcements. Storm preparations were made by 42% (28–56%) of these households.

Storm information sources included: radio (78%; 68–88%); family, friends, colleagues and neighbours (50%; 40–60%); and television (41%; 30–52%). Radio was considered more useful than television (62%; 51–73% vs. 29%; 18–40%), even in households where electricity supply was uninterrupted (52%; 31–73% vs. 41%; 20–63%).

Only 23% (16–30%) of households were aware that the local government-operated radio network has a designated communication role during disasters. A battery-operated household radio and appropriate batteries were available in 42% (34–50%) of households, while only 23% (16–29%) had all of: a torch, battery-operated radio, appropriate batteries, mobile phone, emergency contact list and first aid equipment.

Conclusion

Broadcast media are important information sources immediately before and during disasters. Health services should promote awareness of broadcast networks' disaster role, especially the role of radio, and encourage general household disaster preparedness. A rapid cluster survey conducted shortly after a natural disaster provided practical, robust information for disaster planning.