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Disaster management and public health

Te whakamahere mō te parekura me te hauora o te tūmatanui

Monday 24 and Tuesday 25 February 2020

Do you have a role in reducing the health impacts of emergencies, natural hazards and disasters?

This course will provide participants with an in-depth understanding of the public health consequences of natural hazards and disasters, with an overview of the tools available to manage the consequences. This year, the course will have a focus on the direct and indirect health impacts of an increasingly common natural hazard: wildfire.

Keynote speaker

In 2020 we are delighted to confirm that our keynote speakers include international guests Professor Virginia Murray FFPH, FRCP, FFOM, FRCPath (Public Health England) and Professor Lisa Gibbs (University of Melbourne ) along with local experts including Associate Professor Kim Dirks (Head of Epidemiology and Biostatistics within the School of Population Health at the University of Auckland), and Alistair Humphrey (Medical Officer of Health, Canterbury). We will also have input from the Ministry of Health, the National Emergency Management Agency, the Rural Fire Research group at Scion, Fire and Emergency New Zealand and the Joint Centre for Disaster Research team to name a few!

See bios of our keynote speakers below.

Topics covered

  • New Zealand's health emergency management framework (the NHEP) and the public health/National Emergency Management Agency interface
  • International context (the Sendai Framework, 2015; UN Sustainable Development Goals)
  • The New Zealand hazardscape
  • Overview of public and environmental health consequences of different hazards (with emphasis on wildfire)
  • Looking after marginalised and vulnerable populations in disasters
  • Lessons from recent wildfire events including the 2019 Pigeon Valley fire, the 2017 Port Hills fire, and recent Australian bushfires.
  • Scenario exercises: Before, during and after wildfire

Style of course

Seminar presentations, small group work, discussion, interactive multidisciplinary table top exercises

Who should attend?

Participants may include medical officers of health, health protection officers, health sector emergency managers, water quality assessors, non-government organisations, environmental health officers, local government, police, defence, fire and emergency, ambulance, paramedics, occupational health & safety personnel, volunteers and researchers.

This is a medium-level course that would benefit anyone with an interest or role in public health/environmental health/emergency management. There will be ample opportunities to share and discuss your knowledge and experiences with other participants and speakers.

By the end of this course participants should have the knowledge/skills to:

  • Have a good knowledge of the International Frameworks for Disaster Risk Reduction
  • Understand the Aotearoa New Zealand Hazardscape
  • Understand the special features of wildfire in relation to human health
  • Be able to identify the critical tasks involved in responding to wildfire
  • Understand how and why some interventions are more or less effective at mitigating wildfire impacts on health
  • Identify gaps and information needs on the impacts of wildfires

Draft timetable

Virginia Murray

Time Content Presenter / s
Day One
24 Feb
9:00am Welcome & Introductions, aims for the course David Johnston, Carol Stewart, Denise Blake, Lesley Gray
JCDR Massey/Otago
9:30am The International context Virginia Murray
10:30am Morning tea
11:00am Animals and wildfire Wayne Ricketts
11:30am NZ's health emergency management framework / Aotearoa New Zealand Hazardscape and the National Emergency Management Agency David Carol, Denise Lesley
JCDR Massey/Otago
Alistair Davies
12:00pm Human health hazards and wildfire Virginia Murray, Alistair Humphrey
12:30pm Wildfire health impacts to downwind communities Kim Dirks
Auckland University
12:50pm Lunch break
1:45pm Living Beyond bushfires: An Australian case study Lisa Gibbs
University of Melbourne
2:45pm Afternoon break
3:15pm Scion wildfire research and its intersection with public health Lisa Langer
3.45pm Cancer and firefighters Kevin Crume
4.00pm A presence in the Whare: Relationships and impacts during the Pigeon Valley Fires Rebecca Mason/Shane Graham
Meihana Consulting
5:00pm Close of day one
Evening Optional to join presenting team for informal evening meal at The Southern Cross (self fund meal/refreshments from menu)
Day Two
25 Feb
9:00am Welcome back!
9:10am Q&A discussion / recap from day one All
9:30am Psychology of arson Nichola Tyler
10:00am Smoke modelling Mark Mawhinney/Zoe Mounseay
10:30am Morning tea
11.00am Wildfire Scenario Exercise: Part 1 All
12:30pm Lunch break
1.15pm Wildfire Scenario Exercise: Part 2 All
3:00pm Afternoon break
3:30pm Wildfire Scenario Exercise: Part 3 All
4:15pm Closing remarks and evaluation All


PHSS Free Public Lecture
Nordmeyer Lecture Theatre
Optional all welcome

Virginia Murray


Professor Virginia Murray – Public Health England

Virginia is Head of Global Disaster Risk Reduction at Public Health England and has been actively engaged in providing health, science and technology support for the development and implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. Virginia qualified in medicine in the UK and joined Guy and St Thomas's Hospital Poisons Unit in 1980 was Director of the Chemical Incident Response Service from 1995. From 2003, Murray worked for the Health Protection Agency's Centre for Radiation, Chemicals and Environmental hazards (CRCE). Virginia was appointed as Head of HPA's Extreme Events and Health Protection section in 2011 (this was transferred to Public Health England in 2013). Virginia takes forward work on evidence base information and advice on flooding, heat, cold, volcanic ash, and other extreme weather and natural hazards events.

Virginia has been a Coordinating Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation, published in March 2012. She has been the UK Government member on the UN International Strategy for Disaster Scientific and Technical Advisory Group since 2008 and she was a member of the Hyogo Framework for Action Mid Term Review Advisory Group, representing science, for the UN ISDR since 2010.

Professor Lisa Gibbs – University of Melbourne

Lisa trained in psychology and public health, having completed her BSc (Hons) in Psychology at the University of Melbourne in 1987, and her PhD in public health at Deakin University in 2003. She is currently the Head of the Evidence and Child Health Unit in the Centre for Health Equity at the University of Melbourne. She joined the School in 2010, moving from Deakin University as part of what was to become the Jack Brockhoff Child Health and Wellbeing program led by the late Professor Elizabeth Waters. Lisa became the director of the Program and Unit in 2015. Lisa is also the Academic Lead of the Community Resilience and Public Health Unit, in the Centre for Disaster Management and Public Safety, and Chair of the Children's Hallmark Research Initiative. Leading a team of investigators, in partnership with community members and a range of community, academic, government, emergency, and health agencies, her Beyond Bushfires: Community Resilience and Recovery study examined the impacts of the Black Saturday and related bushfires of February 2009 on the physical and mental health and wellbeing of people. The six year study involved over 1,000 participants across Victoria. The current phase, 10 Years Beyond Bushfires, is a continuation of the earlier project which aims to elucidate how people are managing 10 years on from the 2009 bushfires to better understand long term experiences of those affected by such disasters. Lisa is also leading, in collaboration with a team at the Joint Centre for Disaster Research, a project exploring Recovery Capitals (ReCap) to understand the influences of social, built, financial, political, human, cultural and natural capitals on mental health and wellbeing outcomes following disasters. More broadly, Lisa's research and policy development is widely acknowledged in disaster recovery and community resilience, and child public health, especially in her research on child resilience. As a public health specialist Lisa has expertise in the fields of: disaster recovery and community resilience, and child health and wellbeing. These two fields intersect through child resilience. Lisa has a strong community lens and engages key stakeholders as partners throughout the research process to ensure it is relevant to decision making and service delivery.

Kim Dirks – University of Auckland

Kim is Head of Epidemiology and Biostatistics within the School of Population Health at the University of Auckland having recently trained as a meteorologist and physicist. Her current research interests focus around the impact on human health of urban living, including air pollution, noise, as well as green space, urban design, and transport planning. Over the last year or so, Kim has been investigating air pollution exposure related to woodburning for domestic heating, including implications of the burning of treated timber.

Course cost and registration

$300 early bird, $400 after 19 December 2019 for the one day course.
For two days $450 for early bird - $600 after 19 December 2019.

A 50% discount is available to full-time students, those unwaged and University of Otago staff.

Register now