Disaster management - How national physical therapy organisations can contribute

Physical therapists, as experts in physical rehabilitation, should be involved in all aspects of disaster management. National professional organisations can facilitate a physical therapy response. To achieve this it is necessary to sensitise and educate physical therapists about the roles they can take in disaster preparedness, as first responders in the face of a disaster as well as the ongoing rehabilitation. Facilitating discussion, sharing resources and guiding individual members are the responsibilities of WCPT member organisations.

National physical therapy organisations can work to prevent and prepare for disasters and then contribute to relief efforts when disasters strike.

Preventing and preparing for disasters

Physical therapists should be involved in prevention and preparation for disasters in the following ways:

  • Be aware of the vulnerability of the country/region to disaster and increase awareness among members and the public of that risk;
  • Be aware of the likely consequences of disasters in terms of diseases (eg cholera), injuries (eg spinal cord injury, acquired brain injury, fractures), psychological impacts and social impacts;
  • Increase awareness among members and the public of physical and rehabilitation needs;
  • Lobby governments and non-governmental organisations to be prepared for disasters and to include physical therapy in the planning;
  • Participate in disaster management planning and implementation, ensuring physical therapist input;
  • Train physical therapists to be effective in crisis/emergency situations, incorporating disaster preparedness awareness in entry-level physical therapy programmes and in post-qualifying and continuing education to ensure sound knowledge, skill and ethical frameworks for practice;
  • Liaise with other professions and governmental/non-governmental agencies at local, regional, national and international levels; and
  • Consider developing a subgroup of physical therapists with interest and expertise in disaster management.

Assisting at times of disaster

Physical therapists may assist in the following ways:

  • Help with efforts to mobilise resources: donations of money to established non-governmental agencies are the most efficient way of responding to disasters;
  • Help with efforts to mobilise appropriately qualified physical therapists (individual agencies specify qualifications required);
  • Work with existing personnel, resources and organisational structures to care for those affected by the disaster and those who are caring for them including physical therapist volunteers brought in by NGOs.
  • Guide members on where to donate funds / equipment.

Supporting recovery following a disaster

Physical therapists may support recovery in the following ways:

  • Assist with the development and implementation of resettlement and rehabilitation programmes and sustainable development programmes;
  • Work on these programmes in partnership with local and national branches of government, international agencies and non-governmental organisations, ensuring physical therapy input;
  • Work with WCPT member organisations and national organisations of physical therapists in the region to build regional capacity in relation to disaster management.

Member organisations may also commemorate the International Day for Disaster Reduction every October.

For more information about disaster management, there is a list of resources on this website linking to several clearing houses for disaster management information.