The Hillsborough Stadium disaster inspired a young Lucy Easthope to seek out a career as a disaster planner. Speaking to Ryan Tubridy, Lucy recalls her 11-year-old self being horrified by the crushing to death of almost 100 people during an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989. Lucy says the subsequent demonising of the football supporters by the media and the police inspired her lifelong quest for justice and compassion. A Liverpool native, several of her classmates had been to the match and the emotions unleashed in her community by the disaster had a lasting effect on her:

"One of the earliest memories I have is my Dad sort of shouting at the telly, a very proud scouser, you know, that somebody needed to sort this. And I very much took that as a directive and I became a child activist."

When Lucy left school she became a lawyer, determined to advocate for the bereaved and the deceased where lives were lost in events like the Hillsborough tragedy. Just before 9-11, she got a job with a private disaster management firm. By the time the planes hit the Twin Towers on September 11th 2001, Lucy had been trained in disaster planning and she found herself managing teams working on the response to the terror attacks.

The job of disaster planner is distinct from the role of first responders, Lucy says, and it continues long after the "blue light" services have left the scene:

"We plan for if a disaster occurs, we respond when it happens, and in my very particular part of the role, I very much think about afterwards. A lot of my work is with the bereaved and the survivors and the communities affected."

One of the most poignant aspects of her job is "personal effects management"; that is, the gathering and preserving of personal possessions and other items associated with people who die suddenly or in large-scale disasters. It also involves the management and storage of remains and body parts of those who have died, and in some cases, body parts of survivors. Lucy says that she and her colleagues put great care into how these effects and remains are returned to families following a tragedy. She says the work is largely hidden, but no less important for being out of sight:

"People just don't think about that. But there’s a huge comfort, I think, in knowing that there’s people like me who do."

The smallest thing can provide the greatest source of comfort to bereaved families, Lucy says. She cites the example of soldiers whose remains were repatriated to the UK following the Iraq war. Lucy says some of them went into battle with hidden treasures from home:

"One of the things they weren’t supposed to do was have identifying items with them, but they kept their letters from home in their underwear. And the first couple of repatriations there was a danger that they would be thrown away, so I made a very fast representation that we be allowed to keep those and return them to the families."

Lucy says she seldom gets feedback in her job, but in this case, she has seen several soldiers' widows talking on TV about having those letters returned and what it had meant to know that they were with their loved one when they died:

"They just looked like little tiny scrunched up pieces of paper, but we were able to dry them out and preserve them and return them. And that’s the essence of personal effects. You don’t know what will mean something to somebody."

Coming face to face with trauma, death and disaster is challenging, no matter how often you do it and Lucy says she has always used music as a coping mechanism, selecting whatever music she needs as a soundtrack to her work. She has eclectic taste, from rap to music which reflects her Liverpool roots:

"I play things like Eminem and Kanye, or I might also use a few show tunes, even a bit of Gerry Marsden. My favourite one at the moment is I have the Blood Brothers soundtrack, for those who are fans of the Liverpool musical. It just sort of gets you in the mood for what you’re going to have to do and what you’re going to have to see. "

Lucy Easthope's latest book When the Dust Settles chronicles her work putting order on the chaos caused by some of the world’s biggest disasters of the past two decades. Having experienced humanity’s darker side up closer and more personally than most, Lucy Easthope has no easy platitudes about good and evil, but she does believe things can be better:

"There’s so much hope. That’s the thing about disaster planning, we always see the very best of people as well as the very worst and that’s what keeps us going."

Lucy talks about how much she loves coming to Ireland and the surprising fact that Dublin is a world centre of excellence for emergency management training. It’s all in the full interview with Ryan Tubridy here.

Lucy Easthope’s book When the Dust Settles: Stories of Love, Loss and Hope from an Expert in Disaster is published by Hodder & Stoughton.