Social worker experiences in disaster management: Case studies from Aotearoa New Zealand

Kathryn Hay, Katheryn Margaret Pascoe, Liz McCafferty


INTRODUCTION: Despite minimal public attention, many social workers in Aotearoa New Zealand have been active contributors to disaster management practice. Disaster management comprises four stages: risk reduction; readiness; response; and recovery. Social workers, as professionals in multiple fields of practice, may be engaged in one or more of these stages.

METHODS: This article draws from a four-stage project that explored the involvement of registered social workers from Aotearoa New Zealand in disaster management. In the final project stage, 11 social workers were interviewed for the purpose of developing case studies for research and teaching purposes. This article presents the practice observations of two of these social workers in a case study format.

FINDINGS: The experiences of the two social workers emphasises the importance of understanding communities, debriefing and supervision, and having a suite of tools for post- disaster situations. The case studies highlight the complex and vital work undertaken by the social workers following the Canterbury 2011 earthquakes.

CONCLUSION: It is important that social workers understand disaster management and how their skills and knowledge can be transferred into this space. Regular professional supervision, and adequate resources are essential components in the long-term recovery phase of disaster management. Social work as a profession can provide leadership in disaster management through celebrating previous social work practice in this field.


Disasters; emergencies; case studies; social work; supervision; disaster planning

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