GPs respond to disaster

Dr Penny Burns is working with the United Nations to help GPs become more involved in responding to disasters.

Six years ago a geophysicist and a linear particle accelerator programmer were evacuated from their home for the second time.

They are my parents who live in Los Alamos, USA, a centre of world-renowned scientific research, some of which is highly sensitive.

It is situated on the side of a volcanic caldera and has one of the highest concentration of PhDs in America, so when disaster strikes Los Alamos, everyone takes notice, including the president.

In 2000 and 2011 huge wildfires blazed through Los Alamos and resulted in the evacuation of this town of scientists. This was my first experience of disaster.

The response from the emergency and medical services was later cited as a textbook example of how a disaster should be run. Yet a group missing from the response was the local family doctors – general practitioners.

Although coordinators of healthcare at all other times, they made little contribution to healthcare when one of the worst effects on community health came to town.As a general practitioner myself, I could not understand how this could be. How can the local GPs not be involved in the otherwise coordinated medical response to help their communities in a disaster?

So began my ‘dance with disasters’ via a PhD aiming to uncover what GP-related healthcare was needed in disasters, and how GPs can join the fray to contribute medical care to their community at these times of adversity.