Sarb Johal

Associate Professor of Psychology

Disasters can be devasting. On property, people, and their lives, not just immediately after, but for years to come.

Sarb Johal and the team at the world-leading Joint Centre for Disaster Research (with GNS Science) are helping figure out the best way to reduce the impact for those involved. To help them recover and support them in the medium to long term – not just immediately afterwards.

Their work is gaining international attention.

From suicide prevention and swine flu vaccine policy, to writing the UK’s National Pandemic ‘Flu Strategy and the psychology of disaster recovery, Associate Professor Dr Sarb Johal is living proof of the sheer variety of areas a psychology qualification can lead to.

His key work at the Joint Centre for Disaster Research is in ‘psychological and social impacts’: how people cope as individuals and communities after natural and environmental disasters.

In New Zealand, he’s been involved in work around the Christchurch earthquake, but also in looking at the impacts of things like the running-aground of the container ship the Rena.
He’s also representing New Zealand at international level in a handful of projects aimed at getting smarter at supporting people in the medium to long term, after disasters.

Skilled psychologists have a unique contribution to make in a disaster situation, Sarb explains, because most people involved in emergency management tend to be either “policy heads” (Sarb was one of those, so he can say that) or frontline emergency services staff.

“What can happen is people are fixed up at the time of a disaster and sent on their way, and it’s left to the health and welfare systems to later pick up the people who are really struggling.”
But Sarb’s work brings together research, policy and clinical practice to help identify these vulnerable people early on rather than watch them slip through the cracks to become an extra burden on the health system.