The Bali Bombings Started A Life-Saving Trauma Response Centre

When there's a tsunami or earthquake, Australia is ready to help because of the Bali Bombings.

20/06/2016 6:35 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST

Fiji: National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre

Video by Cayla Dengate and Emily Verdouw

Doctor Dianne Stephens thought it was a rude time to take a phone call.

In the middle of a conference with international speakers, a friend in the military had her head in her phone and was furtively skipping outside to take calls.

"It wasn't until morning tea that she revealed she had some information about something happening on the ground in Bali," Stephens told HuffPost Australia.

"That was about 10am on Sunday and we critical care leaders went into the hospital and immediately began to plan our response."

Reuters Photographer / Reuters
Denpasar hospital was filled with victims while evacuations to Australia were arranged.

The details began trickling in -- at least 200 dead and more injured with horrific burns. Many Australians involved. Evacuations planned to bring people directly to Dr Stephens and co in Darwin. And then the detail that truly hit home -- it was an act of terrorism.

"October 2002 was the day that I realised that terrorism was something that could happen on our shores," Stephens said.

"Darwin is so close to Bali -- it's closer than Sydney or Melbourne so it was like it happened in our backyard."

The Darwin response was immense, as paramedics, doctors, nurses and the community stepped up to get injured people into hospital and treated.

Angela Wylie / Fairfax Media
Bali Bombings patients arrive in Darwin in 2002.

Amid the emergency response, Dr Stephens realised something about herself -- she could stay calm and see the scenario from the perspective of logistics and triage.

"The Bali Bombings was my first encounter with mass casualties and one of my talents, one of the things that I enjoy doing, is the organisaiton and structure," Stephens said.

"Certainly the response receiving so many critically injured from the site really made us focus in on disaster preparedness and management.

"It made us realise that we were part of the Asia Pacific and that we had a responsibility to be able to respond to these disasters -- both man made and natural -- in a much more coordinated fashion."

Amid the aftermath, the seeds of an idea took root -- to create an Australian response team ready for emergencies.

The National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre was created and it is still saving lives today.

Simone De Peak / Fairfax Media
Dianne Stephens speaks to reporters after the second 2005 Bali Bombing.

The centre is based in Darwin where those first bombings patients were taken and it draws from a nationwide pool of doctors, surgeons, nurses and logisticians ready to deploy at a moment's notice.

Teams have deployed to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, to the Solomon Islands when a Dengue Fever outbreak overran health system, to Fiji after Cyclone Winston and more.

Training teams are also active in the Asia Pacific teaching locals about disaster preparedness, triage and health to improve resilience and foster bonds.

READ MORE: Fiji's Return To Paradise With The Australian Emergency Response Team

Since the Bali Bombings, Stephens has deployed to Iraq with the Air Force, she's raised a family, she's directed intensive care services at Royal Darwin Hospital and when she stops, to think, she sees that the experiences have changed her.

Cayla Dengate
Dr Dianne Stephens in Fiji.

"What really focused me after an experience like three months of mass casualties in Iraq was this realisation that it brings you to a better place in your life," Stephens said.

I fix broken people for a living and they need people to fix them.

"You understand what's important. You understand that things don't matter as much as people and really I've learned an enormous amount out of it but the trauma of seeing so much bloodshed, it takes its toll and I've learnt to mange that and to talk it through.

"You realise that you're doing good. A lot of people said to me 'why would you want to do this?' Well, I fix broken people for a living and they need people to fix them."

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