Impacts of the emergency mass evacuation of the elderly from residential care facilities after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake

Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2013 Aug;7(4):419-23. doi: 10.1017/dmp.2013.47.


Objective: The 2011 earthquake that devastated Christchurch, New Zealand, led to the closure and evacuation of 7 residential care facilities and the partial evacuation of 2 more. Altogether, 516 elderly persons were evacuated. The emergent nature of the disaster was unexpected and largely unplanned for. This study explored the evacuees' experiences and identified lessons learned for future disaster planning.

Methods: This qualitative study used a general inductive method. Semistructured interviews with evacuees were held in 4 centers throughout New Zealand. Their informal caregivers were also identified and interviewed. Answers were coded and grouped for key themes to provide lessons learned for future disaster planning.

Results: We conducted 50 interviews with older people and 34 with informal caregivers. Key themes that emerged were resilience and factors that promoted resilience, including personal attitudes, life experiences, enhanced family support, and social supports. Areas of concern were (1) the mental health of evacuees: 36% reported some symptoms of anxiety, while 32.4% of caregivers reported some cognitive decline; and (2) communication difficulties during the evacuations.

Conclusions: Older people were remarkably resilient to the difficult events, and resilience was promoted by family and community support. Anxiety was reported by older people, while informal caregivers reported cognitive issues. Communication difficulties were a major concern.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Caregivers / psychology
  • Earthquakes*
  • Homes for the Aged*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • New Zealand
  • Qualitative Research
  • Rescue Work* / organization & administration