Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Coping and Adjustment in New Zealand Police Staff 12-18 Months after the Canterbury Earthquakes: A Directed Qualitative Content Analysis

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Coping and Adjustment in New Zealand Police Staff 12-18 Months after the Canterbury Earthquakes: A Directed Qualitative Content Analysis

Article excerpt

In the early hours of September 4th 2010 the first of a series of significant earthquakes struck the Canterbury region of New Zealand (NZ). This first earthquake measured 7.1 on the Richter scale, causing widespread damage to land and buildings across the region but no loss of life. Over the ensuing 15 months a further eight significant earthquake events followed among more than 10,000 aftershocks (GNS Science, 2013). The most destructive was the February 22nd (2011) shallow earthquake (6.3 on the Richter scale) with an epicentre close to the Christchurch Central Business District (CBD), the largest city (population 376,000) in the Canterbury region (population 520,000) (Statistics New Zealand, 2013). This earthquake struck at 12.51pm causing widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure. Unlike the September earthquake, 185 people were killed and more than 8,000 injuries were registered with the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), NZ's primary injury insurance and compensation provider (ACC, 2011). It has been estimated that 10,000 homes have since been demolished and more than 100,000 homes were damaged although considered repairable.

Approximately 95% of New Zealanders have home insurance (Morrall, 2012) from which a levy is collected from an entity called the Earthquake Commission (EQC) creating a government-regulated natural disaster fund (EQC, 1993). To determine the outcome (repairs or otherwise) for properties, homeowners have had to negotiate claim settlements with both EQC and their private insurance companies. This has become a prolonged and stressful process for many homeowners, given problems achieving resolution of claims because processes between these insurance providers have differed.

Police as First Responders

Disaster first responders include a wide range of both professional and non-professional groups. Professional groups reflect those occupations whose members are regularly put in harm's way and provide critical services following a civil disaster. Prevention and intervention strategies for adverse psychological outcomes in disaster first responders (police or otherwise) remains an underdeveloped field of research, which in part may explain a recent description of best prevention and intervention practice as still very controversial (Kleim & Westphal, 2011). More research into specific first responder populations and their respective peri- and post-disaster roles may help understand risk factors and in turn opportunities for primary prevention, screening and intervention.

The rescue response to the February earthquake was extensive involving multiple agencies co-ordinated by Fire and Police Services. International first responder teams supplemented these groups, though Canterbury Police were among the largest of the first responder groups taking a leadership role and coordinating additional personnel from other districts and countries (New Zealand Police, 2013a, 2013b). Alongside regular duties, police provided security cordons, organised evacuations and search and rescue, worked in victim identification teams, provided missing persons/family liaison support, and organised media briefings.

As an occupational group, police are frequently exposed to high stress, and internationally have high rates of medical retirement due to mental health problems (Penalba, McGuire, & Leite, 2009). Disaster research investigating psychological outcomes of first responder groups often focuses on negative emotional consequences resulting from exposures to traumatic experiences, high work demands, working with evacuees, and separation from home and loved ones (Benedek, Fullerton, & Ursano, 2007; Haugen, Evces, & Weiss, 2012). In a disaster, local first responders can be personally affected and experience damage to their own homes/communities, loss and injury to themselves, family members, friends and colleagues. There is limited research assessing the impact of these non-work related repercussions on local first responder groups. …

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