Resilient People, Infrastructure and Institutions

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Volunteers at Christchurch earthquake
Volunteers at Christchurch earthquake
The public is usually first on the scene in an emergency or disaster and remain long after official services have ceased. Citizen participation is a key principle of disaster risk reduction and resilience building. However, emergency management relies on volunteers affiliated with official agencies and a comparatively smaller workforce of paid staff. Individuals and groups working outside of this system have often been seen as a nuisance or liability, and their efforts are largely undervalued.

here is a significant and largely untapped opportunity for emergency management agencies to contribute to community resilience by supporting non-traditional emergency volunteers. It is likely that ‘informal’ volunteers will provide much of the surge capacity required to respond to more frequent emergencies and disasters in the future.

Despite highly specialised and capable emergency management systems, members of the public are usually first on the scene in an emergency or disaster and remain long after official services have ceased. Citizens may play vital roles in helping those affected to respond and recover, and can provide invaluable assistance to official agencies.

Citizen participation is a key principle of disaster risk reduction and resilience building.

However, emergency management relies largely on a workforce of professionals and, to varying degrees, volunteers affiliated with official agencies Individuals and groups working outside of this system have often been seen as a nuisance or liability, and their efforts are largely undervalued.

Given increasing disaster risk worldwide due to population growth, urban development and climate change, it is likely that ‘informal’ volunteers will provide much of the surge capacity required to respond to more frequent emergencies and disasters in the future.

This project has three key objectives:

  • Identifying how non-traditional emergency volunteering contributes to building community resilience to disasters throughout different phases of emergency management.
  • Identifying ways the emergency management sector in Australia and New Zealand can promote community resilience through support of non-traditional emergency volunteering.
  • Developing and evaluating alternative models for emergency volunteering in Australia and New Zealand that are inclusive of non-traditional volunteering and volunteering organisations.

The project will deliver a range of outcomes including practical guidance for end users on how to engage with non-traditional volunteers; the development of new approaches and models for engaging non-traditional volunteers; and an assessment of possible risks and liabilities associated with the involvement of non-traditional volunteers.

Kinglake, Victoria after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires
27 June, 2016
CRC researcher Prof John Handmer has investigated the circumstances surrounding the 172 civilian fatalities from Black Saturday, looking at the actions taken by each of the people who died and comparing them with the intentions and assumptions of Victoria's then 'Stay or go' policy.
Blazeaid volunteers
5 April, 2016
Utilisation of research is not a capability our industry has spent enough time building.
Volunteers at Christchurch earthquake
22 March, 2016
We have entered the final year of the ‘Out of Uniform’ project and our focus now shifts to considering the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges of different approaches for engaging with non-traditional volunteers.
Be Ready Warrandyte interactive scenario planning workshop
4 March, 2016
A case study on the 'Be Ready Warrandyte' initiative - a balance between enabling community-led projects to improve bushfire safety by sharing responsibility, without being 'too much' for what is a risk-averse sector.
Fire Australia magazine 2015/16 edition
29 February, 2016
The Summer 2015/2016 edition of Fire Australia magazine features key research that’s making an impact on the fire, emergency services and land management sectors.
Jock McNeish/ Strategic Images
15 October, 2015
How can a well-organised, capable, and respected community group help improve local community bushfire safety and build resilience in a high risk area?
Photo by BlazeAid.
30 July, 2015
This update from the Out of Uniform project details recent research activities and news from the project team.
Christchurch earthquake
16 July, 2015
Short new videos on three CRC research projects explain the aims of the science underway and how end users will benefit from the work.
SES volunteers performing a rescue in bushland. Photo by ACT SES.
10 July, 2015
A recently released Hazard Note gives an overview of the Sustainable volunteering cluster of research projects.
VGI in disaster management. Photo by Billy Haworth
24 June, 2015
CRC PhD student Billy Haworth has been awarded a prestigious scholarship.
Josh Whittaker discussing research progress at the Sydney RAF.
14 May, 2015
It is hard to believe we are almost at the halfway point in our project on non-traditional emergency volunteering. Having so many end users - representing a diverse array of jurisdictions, hazards and agencies - provides an enormous resource in terms of knowledge and contacts. But it also throws up significant challenges in terms of end user engagement.
 BlazeAid volunteers
14 April, 2015
The Out of Uniform project has published its third newsletter on recent progress. This project has assembled a team of researchers and end-users to look into non traditional forms of emergency volunteering.
22 October, 2014
New research is focused on retaining active emergency services volunteers, and better engaging untrained ‘informal’ volunteers who offer to help when incidents and natural disasters happen.
Mercury Rising was streamed live online, as well as a studio audience
7 October, 2014
The replay of the live stream of the Mercury Rising: Extreme Bushfires industry and public forum is now available.
Christchurch earthquake
22 September, 2014
The Out of Uniform project has published its second newsletter on recent progress. This project has assembled a team of researchers and end-users to look into non traditional forms of emergency volunteering.
John Richardson at Professional Development Day at AFAC14
11 September, 2014
As a CRC end user from the Out of Uniform project I summarised the Research Day for my organisation, the Australian Red Cross.
Out of Uniform project team - at  2014 Adelaide Research Advisory Forum
7 May, 2014
The Out of Uniform project has published its first newsletter on recent progress. This project has assembled a team of researchers and end-users to look into non traditional forms of emergency volunteering.
Year Type Citation
2016 Journal Article McLennan, B. J., Molloy, J., Whittaker, J. & Handmer, J. Centralised coordination of spontaneous emergency volunteers: the EV CREW model. Australian Journal of Emergency Management 31, (2016).
2016 Journal Article McLennan, B. J. Extending into community-led preparedness and planning just enough (but not too much?). Australian Journal of Emergency Management 31, (2016).
2015 Conference Paper Rumsewicz, M. Research proceedings from the 2015 Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC & AFAC conference. Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC & AFAC annual conference 2015 (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2015).
2015 Conference Paper Whittaker, J., Handmer, J. & McLennan, B. J. Building Community Resilience Through Informal Emergency Volunteering Conference Paper 2014. Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and AFAC Wellington Conference 2014 (2015).
2015 Conference Paper McLennan, B. J., Whittaker, J. & Handmer, J. The future of 'non-traditional' emergency volunteering: what will it look like and how can it work? - Peer reviewed. Adelaide Conference 2015 (2015).
2015 Journal Article Whittaker, J., McLennan, B. J. & Handmer, J. A review of informal volunteerism in emergencies and disasters: Definition, opportunities and challenges. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction (2015). doi:doi:10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.07.010
2015 Report McLennan, B. J., Whittaker, J. & Handmer, J. Emergency volunteering in Australia: transforming, not declining. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2015).
2015 Report Handmer, J., Whittaker, J. & McLennan, B. J. Out of uniform: building community resilience through non-traditional emergency volunteering: Annual project report 2014-2015. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2015).
2015 Report Whittaker, J., Handmer, J. & McLennan, B. J. Informal Volunteerism in Emergencies and Disasters: A Literature Review. (2015).
2015 Report McLennan, B. J., Whittaker, J. & Handmer, J. Community-led bushfire preparedness in action: The case of Be Ready Warrandyte. (Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2015).
25 Aug 2014

Citizens may play vital roles in helping those affected to respond and recover, and can provide invaluable assistance to official agencies.

Key Topics:
18 Aug 2015

Be Ready Warrandyte (BRW) was an award-winning, community-led bushfire preparedness project instigated by community members and coordinated by the Warrandyte Community Association from May 2012 to June 2015. Its goal was “to have more Warrandyte households with effective bushfire plans”. It involved close collaboration between community volunteers, local governments and the Country Fire Authority (CFA).

Key Topics:
18 Aug 2015

The public is usually first on the scene in an emergency or disaster and remain long after official services have ceased. Citizen participation is a key principle of disaster risk reduction and resilience building. However, emergency management relies largely on volunteers affiliated with official agencies and a comparatively smaller workforce of paid staff. Individuals and groups working outside of this system have often been seen as a nuisance or liability, and their efforts are largely undervalued.

All the resources from our 2015 conference

Research program in detail

Research proceedings from 2015 annual conference

Research clusters

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