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The 2015 Productivity Commission’s report on natural disaster funding arrangements in Australia found that governments overinvest in post-disaster reconstruction and underinvest in mitigation activities that would limit the impact of natural disasters. Given the multitude of natural hazards that require mitigation and response from government agencies and the tighter budgets at both state and national levels, natural hazards managers are increasingly under pressure to justify the use and allocation of resources for mitigation efforts.

What if an earthquake hit central Adelaide? A major flood on the Yarra River through Melbourne? A bushfire on the slopes of Mount Wellington over Hobart?

‘What if?’ scenario modelling through this project is helping government, planning authorities and emergency service agencies think through the costs and consequences of various options on preparing for major disasters on their infrastructure and natural environments and how these might change into the future.

The research is based on the premise that to reduce both the risk and cost of natural disasters, an integrated approach is needed to consider multiple hazards and a range of mitigation options.

The economic impacts resulting from natural disasters are often overlooked in the economic planning process. This is because the immediate focus in the wake of natural hazards is typically placed on the emergency response, and it takes time to realise the economic effects of the disasters. In Australia, the disaster management arrangements across all stages (mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery) have proven to be very successful at saving lives, however, less attention and resources have been devoted to the economic impacts of natural disasters. One of the problems identified in this setting is the lack of estimates of the full economic impact of natural hazards covering all the affected sectors of the economy. An ideal estimation should reflect both the primary and secondary effects of the natural disasters so that persistent losses throughout the economy originating from various sectors are taken into account.

There is a significant knowledge deficit concerning how science and other forms of knowledge are used and integrated into emergency management policy and practice, leading to incorrect and counterproductive misunderstandings. The emphasis on the value of scientific knowledge within the natural hazards sector – and particularly in regards to risk mitigation – is legitimate. However, to this point, this valuing of science has not been accompanied by research into the actual opportunities and challenges of using science in policy and practice.

This project, which has transitioned to its utilisation phase, has produced a number of journal articles documenting issues related to scientific uncertainty in bushfire and flood risk mitigation.

Building community resilience to natural disasters is a complex challenge that spans many policy areas. This project, which has transitioned to its utilisation phase, tackled this intricate problem by delivering policy options that could help governments and emergency services to strengthen resilience in communities. The research identified barriers to community resilience and potential policy solutions that could be factored into the preparation, response and post-event phases of emergency management.
Realistic disaster scenarios help emergency managers better understand disasters. They allow for visualisation of potential impacts before disasters happen, and enable proactive planning for these events. This project, now in its utilisation phase, developed realistic disaster scenarios using catastrophic loss models so that vulnerable areas, utilities and assets within our major cities can be identified.

Current government spending on natural disaster response is more than 20 times the spending on preparedness. Many climate-related natural hazards are increasing, along with the number of people living in hazard-prone areas. Large natural disasters also cross domains, moving from the private to the public realm, and shifting from a local, to a state or national concern. This raises the potential of future, unmanaged risks.

This project, now in its utilisation phase, mapped a broad range of economic, social and environmental values and related them to natural hazards across several case studies. It explored who owns these values and what happens when they cross domains, as well as how a range of alternative strategies may contribute to improved resilience by sustaining economic, social and environmental values in a changing environment.

Research team:

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.

This study commenced in July 2017, and aims to better understand the nature of catastrophe and identify ways to improve management approaches in the Australian context.

Year Type Citation
2015 Conference Paper Newman, J. et al. A decision support framework for multi-hazard mitigation planning - non peer reviewed extended abstract. Adelaide Conference 2015 (2015).
2015 Conference Paper Newman, J. et al. Integrated Disaster Decision Support System Conference Paper 2014. Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and AFAC Wellington Conference 2014 (2015).

Resources credited

All the resources from our 2016 conference

Research program in detail

Where, why and how are Australians dying in floods?

2015-2016 year in review

Bushfire planning with kids ebook