Resilience to Hazards

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Tasmania bushfires, February 2016. Photo by Mick Reynolds, NSW Rural Fire Service
Tasmania bushfires, February 2016. Photo by Mick Reynolds, NSW Rural Fire Service

Project Status:

This project, currently under development, will begin on 1 July 2017. It will aim to better understand the nature of catastrophe and identify ways to improve management approaches in the Australian context. Catastrophic disasters are different from every day disasters. Response strategies that routinely work in smaller events will be quickly overwhelmed and ineffective. The role of emergency management agencies becomes focused on providing leadership, facilitation, subject matter expertise, public information and warnings, and specialist resources. In the United States a government-centric approach has been recognised as being insufficient to meet the challenges posed by large disasters. Government is only one part of the overall team; and that arrangements must leverage all of the resources available.

This project, currently under development, will begin on 1 July 2017. 

This project aims to better understand the nature of catastrophe and identify ways to improve management approaches in the Australian context. The hallmarks of catastrophic disasters are death and destruction, large scale disruption of communities, the displacement of populations and public anxiety. Often they occur with little to no warning, overwhelming the capacity of institutions and the community to cope. Emergency leaders are posed with overwhelming issues, with complexity and uncertainty on a scale they likely have never experienced nor imagined. The event becomes subject to significant national and international media scrutiny, and inevitably, political involvement.

Catastrophic events are cascading in nature, escalating in their impacts as interconnected essential services fail causing further impacts and making the recovery more complex and prolonged. Events may not respect borders or boundaries, resulting in unclear accountabilities amongst responding agencies, and conflicting strategies and public messaging as different jurisdictions respond.

The recovery of communities may take many years, with many of the impacted population choosing to re-locate to other areas permanently. Economic losses can be severe as industry is disrupted, businesses close and yet further demands for capital injections from government to support recovery costs.

When managed poorly, a loss of public trust in officials may emerge with resulting political challenges. Official commissions of enquiry are held, which provide opportunities for improving systems, reducing risks and enhancing plans to better manage future events. Often, however, such learnings are forgotten as memory of the disaster fades only for many of the same issues to emerge as problems in the next event. The performance of leaders will be judged through the expectations of others with the obvious advantage of hindsight.

Catastrophic disasters are different from every day disasters. Response strategies that routinely work in smaller events will be quickly overwhelmed and ineffective. The role of emergency management agencies becomes focused on providing leadership, facilitation, subject matter expertise, public information and warnings, and specialist resources. In the United States a government-centric approach has been recognised as being insufficient to meet the challenges posed by large disasters. Government is only one part of the overall team; and that arrangements must leverage all of the resources available.

22 March, 2017
An exciting new direction of natural hazards research in Australia is set to begin, with seven new Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC projects beginning in July. These new projects, covering coastal management, emergency management capability, land use planning and recovery, are part of the next phase of national research into natural hazards.

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