This weekend is a Bank (public) holiday in England and it’s party time on the streets of west London. Celebrating it’s 40th birthday, the Notting Hill Carnival is under way.

This is the first big public event since the July bombings on the transport system and is the biggest multi-cultural street celebration in Europe. Emphasis is being put on the way that after starting as a predominantly West Indian event, it has become part of the late summer scene for all the communities in London. The theme is “unity and diversity”.

Just how quickly Londoners recovered was shown in an article in the British Medical Journal this week. The analysis of the survey’s results also has some important lessons for dealing with man-made and natural disasters.  

More below fold (number of photos)
Carnival is a two day event. The Sunday is always Children’s Day when the young people parade in their very colourful costumes.

An estimated 200,000 people were in the streets for the first day. Monday is the main event and up to a million are expected there and in a complementary event in Hyde Park organised by the Mayor.

The article in the BMJ is based on a survey using the same method employed in New York after 9/11. The bald results are in an abstract:

Main outcome measures Main outcomes were presence of substantial stress, measured by using an identical tool to that used to assess the emotional impact of 11 September 2001 in the US population, and intention to travel less on tubes, trains, and buses, or into central London, once the transport network had returned to normal.

Results 31% of Londoners reported substantial stress and 32% reported an intention to travel less. Among other things, having difficulty contacting friends or family by mobile phone (odds ratio 1.7, 95% confidence interval 1.1 to 2.7), having thought you could have been injured or killed (3.8, 2.4 to 6.2), and being Muslim (4.0, 2.5 to 6.6) were associated with a greater presence of substantial stress, whereas being white (0.3, 0.2 to 0.4) and having previous experience of terrorism (0.6, 0.5 to 0.9) were associated with reduced stress. Only 12 participants (1%) felt that they needed professional help to deal with their emotional response to the attacks.

Conclusions Although the psychological needs of those intimately caught up in the attacks will require further assessment, we found no evidence of a widespread desire for professional counselling. The attacks have inflicted disproportionately high levels of distress among non-white and Muslim Londoners.

The possible lessons are in the detailed report, linked from the above page in .pdf format. The comparatively less stress experience by Londoners is put down to several factors but one is the preparedness for an attack, including the national distribution of a booklet by the Government of advice about what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. The second is that informal support networks of friends and relatives or simply discussing concerns with them are a very important way of dealing with the stress.

More interesting perhaps is the lesson that stress could be reduced if people were able to contact friends and relatives by cellphone in the event of a disaster. Thinking about this, it may be an idea to encourage contact networks so one person acts as the central contact for the members of a family, ideally by SMS message which take fewer resouces on the system. Already people in the UK have been encouraged to have an “ICE” or “In Case of Emergency” number listed on their phone’s contact list so emergency services can contact them in the event of injury.

A couple of final notes, although it is obvious that muslim respondents were more stressed over the event – the more stressed all of those with a strong religious conviction. People have also reacted practically to any concerns over public transport as bicycle riding is up 20%.

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