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Don't Panic: Catalyst Special on ABC TV

Sarina Locke, Friday November 29, 2013 - 14:07 EDT

If you are not prepared for a natural disaster, you are likely to forget things, and make decisions that land you in danger.

As Australians face another summer of potential cyclones, floods and fires, there's real concern about residents panicking.

On Sunday night at 7.30pm, ABC TV's will present a special one hour feature called Don't Panic: Surviving Extremes.

The show will look at a Northern NSW family facing a Category 3 tropical cyclone, and a Sydney family confronting a catastrophic bushfire.

Many families don't have plans but the Armours did, when a raging bushfire struck their farm at Bookham, southern NSW this past January. The Armour family mustered as many stock as possible away from danger .
But when the fire hit the homestead garden, the family hid in the back shed.
"My daughter, Jan she was wonderful," remembers Gary Armour.

"She got a lot of five litre buckets of water, got all the towels we could find. When the fire struck, the air got dark and hot and we just could not breath."

The ABC's Catalyst program has spent the past six months producing this one hour special presented by Jonica Newby.

"We like to think we'd react well, but the truth is most of us don't," she says.

"Our brain partially shuts down... and we behave in really weird ways."

Simulating two natural disasters, one family will face a cyclone, and another a fire.

The simulation has been analysed by trauma specialist, Psychiatrist Professor Sandy McFarlane,

"Often people's imagination never tells them about what it's really going to be like. People don't begin to contemplate the sensory overload, the heat, the sound. The overwhelming nature of the environment around you leaves people completely disorganised because fear takes over."

During an emergency the ABC repeats warnings, like not to drive through floods, because people stop thinking clearly.

"Because it's hard people don't do it," says Ian Mannix, manager of Emergency Broadcasting with the ABC.

"Every flood's different, every set of circumstances seems to be different from the previous one. So the only thing you've got to build on is habit.

"Unfortunately when the brain shuts down during disasters people panic."

The simulations for the poor families were so effective - they're being studied by psychiatrists.

"So we put them under pressure by having 30 extra people in the room, telling them they were going to be on national TV, and we used real fire and real water.

"During the simulation, all members of the families were actually quite scared of what was happening around them.

"Dr Bob Gordon says the simulation was realistic enough for the researcher to be able to do research on the two families, so it was very very good."

The Catalyst one hour special Don't Panic is Sunday night ABC1 December 1st at 7.30pm.


© ABC 2013

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