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Fear, Familiarity, and the Perception of Risk: A Quantitative Analysis of Disaster-Specific Concerns of Paramedics

  • Erin C. Smith, Frederick M. Burkle and Frank L. Archer


Introduction: Paramedics play an integral role in the response to and management of disasters and mass casualty events. Providing a core component of the front line response to disasters, paramedics potentially expose themselves to a variety of health and safety risks, including physical injury, death, communicable disease, and psychological effects. The health and safety risks to emergency service personnel were highlighted by the deaths of firefighters, paramedics, and police during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and the infection, illness, and deaths of paramedics and emergency health care staff during the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003.

Objective: Given that a willing and able prehospital workforce is a vital component of any successful response to a disaster situation, the present study explored paramedics' perception of risk and willingness to work, with a specific focus on identifying which type of disasters that paramedics associate with greater levels of fear, familiarity, and risk.

Methods: A total of 175 paramedics completed a survey ranking 40 disaster scenarios for levels of fear and familiarity.

Results: The results indicate that paramedics ranked nuclear and radiological events and outbreaks of new and highly infectious disasters highest for fear and unfamiliarity. This has implications for preparedness, education, and training.

(Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2011;5:46-53)


Corresponding author

Correspondence: Address correspondence and reprint requests to Erin C. Smith, Monash University, Department of Community Emergency Health and Paramedic Practice, Alfred Hospital, Lower Ground Floor, Medical School Building, Alfred Lane, Prahran, Victoria 3181, Australia (e-mail:


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Fear, Familiarity, and the Perception of Risk: A Quantitative Analysis of Disaster-Specific Concerns of Paramedics

  • Erin C. Smith, Frederick M. Burkle and Frank L. Archer


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