Alert but not alarmed: Examining the potential benefits of anxiety and worry on behavioural preparedness for threat in bushfire affected communities

P Clark, Patrick Dunlop, C MacLeod, Petra Buergelt, D Morrison

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Paper published in Proceedingspeer-review


The experience of anxiety and worry often carries negative connotations. However, anxiety can be a highly motivating force which encourages behavioural action in response to legitimate limiting the likelihood of adverse consequences when this focuses on identifying ways and means of averting such negative outcomes. Yet, these processes can also disrupt preparation for potential threat. When anxiety is unrelated to real sources of danger, and worry focuses only on the negative consequences of a potential threat, they may in fact reduce preparatory behaviours for potential danger by motivating people to avoid actions that remind them of potential threats.

This presentation will briefly outline the possible causal relationships between anxiety, worry, and behavioural preparedness for potential threat. These theoretical perspectives will then be discussed in relation to recent data collected from bushfire affected communities. Following the February 6th fires in Roleystone, Kelmscott and Red Hill in Perth this year, a collaborative project was launched to sample 400 community members within these fire affected areas. The scale and locations of the February 6 fires meant that affected areas included rural, semi-rural, and urban regions. By sampling from these different areas we have been able to perform unique comparisons of individuals within these different communities in terms of their level of anxiety and worry about bushfires, their level of bushfire preparedness, and symptoms of traumatic stress following the event.

Questionnaire measures used in this study included a modified version of the Worry Domains Scale to examine individual differences in the tendency to worry about a number of different areas in life (e.g. finances, environment), including the risk of bushfires. General anxiety was assessed using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety inventory which examines the frequency and
intensity with which people experience symptoms of anxiety. The Acute Stress Disorder Scale was also used to examine the presence of posttraumatic stress symptoms following the recent fires. Indicators of preparatory actions before the fire, and behaviours on the day of the fire were also gathered via interviews.

Insights derived from comparisons of these different communities will be discussed in relation to the role of anxiety and worry in affecting behavioural preparedness and subsequent traumatic responses to bushfire. These are considered along with implications for enhancing community preparedness and resilience. 
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMajor Events, Major Impacts
Place of PublicationAustralia
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes
Event5th Australasian Hazards Management Conference - Gold Coast, Australia
Duration: 18 Jul 201121 Jul 2011


Conference5th Australasian Hazards Management Conference


Dive into the research topics of 'Alert but not alarmed: Examining the potential benefits of anxiety and worry on behavioural preparedness for threat in bushfire affected communities'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this