My heart goes out to all those affected by the recent floods, and previous floods, fires, storms and drought.
Without access to sufficient resources to engage in effective recovery and mitigation; or with the inefficient use of the resources available, the impact of cumulative disasters results in a significant downward spiral of quality of life as each disaster wipes out the existing resources at the individual level and at the community level.
Lee Bosher uses the disaster helix to show the different outcomes of strong mitigation versus ineffective mitigation techniques. We cannot continue to keep waiting for a disaster and then respond to it. Forethought and preparation is essential.
Outcomes from insufficient / ineffective disaster prevention measures.
This is why its imperative to invest ahead of time.
I’m sure you’ve heard about the 4 billion in disaster relief funds. The people of the north coast need assistance now, after all that is what the money is supposedly for. We need to release some of these funds for that purpose.
But with more than 1 million properties at risk of flooding across Australia, and an expected $170 billion loss in property by 2050, we need to do more preparation as well. The investment of the money for the purpose of disaster response is a good one, and which has returned nearly 1 billion dollars so far for disaster management. But as was reported in March only $150 million had been set aside for disaster-mitigation projects, with much less actually spent. As we see in the above diagrams, the failure to invest in disaster mitigation actually leads to increasing costs with every disaster event.
What specifically can the Federal Government do?
This is not an exclusive list certainly, and the Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangements is worth a read if you are interested, and it's recommendations need to be implemented.
For further detail on these points keep scrolling. :)
As with war, so too with natural hazard events. Effective communications are essential to good outcomes, and the first thing to go in a disaster.
Australia has been investing in building resilient telecommunications infrastructure, and doing a great job, but this area is of such importance and vulnerability, that we need to go further. The vulnerability of modern communications to power supply means that multiple energy sources must be available for our primary communication towers. We need remove choke points and provide education on how individuals can respond during times of congestion overload to keep the lines open (a bit like a traffic jam). We also need to consider the availability of alternative means of communication. Modern telecommunications are the most effective, but can also be the most vulnerable. We need to ensure warning alarms are functional and can be operated and heard during times of crisis. We also need to have local communication sites that can utilise multiple methods, from radio to internet, to ensure that communication can be established with the community. We should ensure we have good triaging of community reported information and effective response to the data we get. We are seeing events that don’t behave as were expected. When the impact is occurring differently to the established predicted paths, we need to ensure response triggers are still activated in a timely fashion.
In NSW hazard reduction burns are undertaken by at least 6 different land managers and fire agencies. This has lead to a slow uptake of learning from Indigenous leaders and knowledge. While there is general approval for the principle there seems to be frequent disregard of the historical knowledge that allows it to be done well. I believe there is a strong place for a fire management council, a council lead by experienced indigenous elders to guide and build hazard reduction practices across the country. This is a goal and an outcome that should be worked towards in conjunction with the states.
As is obvious, good flood mapping for multiple scenarios including dry ground, saturated ground, river based floods, flash floods, warning timeframes etc, is essential for a timely and relevant approach. Currently there is evidence that our flood intel, while good, is incomplete. Equally the effective communication within organisations and between organisations, and with the community, along with the flexibility to respond to new information from the community could be further developed. The federal government has the capability of funding qualified GIS mappers to engage with local response units and the community to create a greater variety of flood scenarios and their practical impacts, along with lead times and feedback mechanisms.
Funding could be provided for 2 or 3 people from each local area that are full time response personnel, that meet together for training several times a year that could be deployed anywhere at any time, with local knowledge capacity on request. This allows for local knowledge within the group, the capacity to pre-deploy when appropriate and more likelihood of a local request early.
The benefits of designing homes and infrastructure to withstand floods and quickly recover has been seen by a lucky few in these devastating times. This is something that may not be seen as affordable at the individual or council level, but investment and support in implementing these changes would not just limit the personal devastation to the community, but stabilise the long term economy, returning the federal investment multiple times over. These changes need to be done with large scale events in mind.
This is not an abrogation of responsibility, a placement of blame or a suggestion that the government shouldn’t be doing more. It is a capacity that needs to be actively supported and nurtured through funding, infrastructure and policy. I for one am more of the Paperbag Princess mentality than the damsel in distress, and given the choice would prefer to manage my own rescue; however that is not always and option and, given the nature of disasters, it is in fact rarely an option. The simple fact is, that no-one knows and understand your area like the locals. There also exists within a community many people of many different skills, talents and resources, and the effective pooling of these can make an incredible difference in the preparation for and the recovery from a disaster event. Please, I would ask that you neither underestimate the importance of the training and knowledge of emergency service co-ordinators and providers, but also do not underestimate the benefits from helping out and pitching where possible within your own community. This article comes from a conference fire to flourish and involve some discussions and thoughts about disaster recovery, Jason thought’s help to explain why I believe we need to go big picture, both before and after a disaster event: “The people have navigated compounding disasters in fires, floods and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet a disaster event is but one moment in a community’s history and ongoing development. Indeed, rural and regional communities in Australia are typically on the receiving end of decades of systemic policy failures and under-investment in infrastructure, jobs, housing, health and education. Jason shared his thoughts on the concept of resilience being understood as the capacity to recover or ‘bounce back’ from difficulty, particularly for Indigenous Australians. As he described, “so when bush fire devastates Aboriginal communities, what are they bouncing back to? Social exclusion, economic disadvantage, inter-generational trauma? Yes, Aboriginal people have survived, but survival isn’t enough… disaster recovery in Aboriginal communities needs to be used as an opportunity to re-imagine the future, to aspire to something more.”