Post-fire planning helps to get back on track

Author: | Date: 04 Mar 2016

Portrait of Dennis Hoiberg

Dennis Hoiberg says there is no changing where someone is on the grieving continuum, and no magic moment where someone will click and move on from what has happened.

Having a plan and acknowledging where on the grieving continuum someone sits are two crucial elements in bushfire recovery, according to emotional resilience expert Dennis Hoiberg.

Mr Hoiberg, from Lessons Learnt Consulting, says there are three categories people fit into following a traumatic event.

“The first category is the people who accept it has happened, then they move on,” he says. “Those people have probably had more life experience and just tackle the situation.

“Secondly, there are the people who wonder what on earth happened for an extended period of time.

“Thirdly, there are the people so busy with their heads down rebuilding that they haven’t had time to reflect on what’s happened.”

Mr Hoiberg says there is no changing where someone is on this continuum, and no magic moment where someone will click and move on from what has happened.

He is encouraging bushfire victims to be mindful of their partners, children and, importantly, themselves. He also added it was important to say yes and accept help when it is offered, whether from neighbours, friends, volunteers or government and non-government organisations.

It is also important to be wary of survivor guilt, according to Mr Hoiberg.

“Survivor guilt is something that has come up in a few conversations with people affected by the Pinery fire,” he says. “Survivor guilt is when people feel bad because they consider themselves lucky that they were not as affected as someone else.

Dennis Hoiberg’s resilience strategies
  •           Look after yourself
  •           Understand the “why” of your life
  •           Be whole in your emotions and feelings
  •           Set realistic expectations
  •           Don’t compare
  •           Stay engaged
  •           Focus on your habits and rituals
  •           Manage your physical environment
  •           Develop a gratitude attitude
  •           Learn to say yes
“I have had people say to me they were lucky because the fire was headed straight for their property but then the wind changed and instead it took out their neighbour’s property. They weren’t sure if they should even plant a crop in 2016 because they were wary of making their neighbour feel bad.

“What the people suffering from survivor guilt have got to realise is it’s no one’s fault — sometimes luck is luck.”

Some people may find themselves not knowing what to say to others affected by fire. In this case, Mr Hoiberg says it is important to be empathetic rather than sympathetic.

“They want your presence or someone to ask, ‘how are you going’?” he says. ‘I don’t think people want sympathy – but certainly empathy is always well received.”

Those with children are also encouraged to casually raise the event with them and, if they seem traumatised by it, get them to do things like draw a picture of their memories of the day and use that to start a conversation around what has happened.

“Younger kids might still walk around with a bag of their favourite toys because they think it might happen again,” Mr Hoiberg says. “Again, just casually talk about it with them and if the child wants to talk about it, tell them what has happened and what is being done about it.

“You don’t need to go into too much detail but kids generally just want to know someone is in charge.”

Mr Hoiberg says it is important to self-audit and come up with a plan and do something about it. He has come up with the HOPE model to sustain wellbeing:

H – Habits and rituals

O – Optimistic thinking

P – Planning

E – Engaging

“Doing something could be talking to someone about it, but you’ve just got to do it,” he says. Come up with a plan and follow the HOPE model.

“If someone does want to talk to you, ask them gently what their plan is. Some people won’t know where to start and that’s where you could help them out.”

More information

Dennis Hoiberg, Lessons Learnt Consulting, 0418 384 619,

GRDC Emotional Resilience Fact Sheet

GRDC Emotional Resilience webinar with Dennis Hoiberg 

Region South