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

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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.

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.

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 inquiry 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.

Hurricane Matthew impacted communities in the South Eastern United States including North Carolina in October, 2016
8 June, 2017
Recently I visited the United States to attend the annual Association of State Floodplain Managers Conference, American Planning Conference and to meet with representatives of FEMA, North Carolina Emergency Management and the University of North Carolina.
22 March, 2017
An exciting new direction of natural hazards research in Australia is set to begin, with eight 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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