Australasian disasters of national significance: An epidemiological analysis, 1900-2012

David A. Bradt, Bruce Bartley, Belinda A. Hibble, Kavita Varshney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: A regional epidemiological analysis of Australasian disasters in the 20th century to present was undertaken to examine trends in disaster epidemiology; to characterise the impacts on civil society through disaster policy, practice and legislation; and to consider future potential limitations in national disaster resilience. Methods: A surveillance definition of disaster was developed conforming to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) criteria (≥10 deaths, ≥100 affected, or declaration of state emergency or appeal for international assistance). The authors then applied economic and legislative inclusion criteria to identify additional disasters of national significance. Results: The surveillance definition yielded 165 disasters in the period, from which 65 emerged as disasters of national significance. There were 38 natural disasters, 22 technological disasters, three offshore terrorist attacks and two domestic mass shootings. Geographic analysis revealed that states with major population centres experienced the vast majority of disasters of national significance. Timeline analysis revealed an increasing incidence of disasters since the 1980s, which peaked in the period 2005-2009. Recent seasonal bushfires and floods have incurred the highest death toll and economic losses in Australasian history. Reactive hazard-specific legislation emerged after all terrorist acts and after most disasters of national significance. Conclusion: Timeline analysis reveals an increasing incidence in natural disasters over the past 15 years, with the most lethal and costly disasters occurring in the past 3 years. Vulnerability to disaster in Australasia appears to be increasing. Reactive legislation is a recurrent feature of Australasian disaster response that suggests legislative shortsightedness and a need for comprehensive all-hazards model legislation in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)132-138
Number of pages7
JournalEMA - Emergency Medicine Australasia
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Disaster
  • Disaster planning
  • Emergency medicine
  • Epidemiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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