Responding to centrifugal emergency incidents and extreme acts of violence.

Miss Sonia  Morshead1

1Queensland Health, Brisbane, Australia


Centrifugal emergency incidents are rapid onset events which significantly impact persons congregated in areas that are not in their normal locations of residence, e.g. tourist attractions, cruise boats or transport hubs. Survivors generally rapidly disperse from the impact area and return to their place of residence, which eliminates any possibility of providing on-site mental health support. Studies suggest that up to 40% of persons affected by an extreme man-made event such as terrorism can develop anxiety related mental health disorders such as PTSD, and that the majority of persons present at the incident site will experience strong sub-clinical symptoms such as relationship breakdowns, financial stressors, increased alcohol/drug intake and domestic violence.  Studies have repeatedly shown that mental health follow-up after an emergency incident not only reduces the risk of developing long-term mental health disorders but also strengthens communities and builds psychological resilience – both personal and for future disasters.

Australia does not currently have established plans to address this issue and the effects of this would be disastrous for both individual and community health.  An international literature review has been conducted to establish best practice to capture details of persons present at the incident location in order to provide crucial mental health support. This presentation will cover international practices and highlight Australian service provision gaps whilst creating a space to start a national discussion. This is particularly relevant to rural and remote Australia as health services are limited and there is higher stigma in accessing mental health support in communities.


I initially become involved in disaster management after joining the Townsville State Emergency Services Branch in 2004. After this stemmed my interest in disaster response I went on to complete masters degrees in disaster management and social work, and to specialise in assisting survivors psychologically both in the immediate and recovery phases of the response. Over the last five years I have moved from direct field work after STC Yasi and as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development in Fiji into operational planning and response and recovery program development.  I am most passionate about terrorism and mass casualty mental health response. I have identified this as an area that Australia can improve upon and moving into the future I wish to ensure that all Australians have access appropriate mental health services post event (environmental, man-made or terrorist) regardless of location or incident.

Education: Master of Public Health (Disaster Management and Bioterrorism); Master of Social Work (PQ); Post-Grad Certificate in Mental Health; Bachelor of Social Sciences (International Community Development).

I was fortunate enough in 2017 to receive a SARRAH CPD scholarship, an Allied Health Professional Enhancement Program to research Hospital Health Services psychosocial response to disasters and emergency incidents and an Australian Institute of Disaster Resilience Volunteer leadership program bursary. In 2018 I presented at the Queensland Trauma symposium – Bombs, Blasts and Bullets and am a member of the World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine Oceania Branch.

I am heavily involved with the Australian Red Cross as a Queensland Emergency Services volunteer and also my local netball association.

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