A new set of priorities to guide our natural hazards research

A photograph of regeneration of the tree line at Mount Hotham, 2019.

8 October 2021, by Dr John Bates

It’s not often that you have the opportunity to contribute to a set of research priorities across any sector, but that is what we’ve been doing at Natural Hazards Research Australia since the Centre began operating at the start of July.

We’ve been working with end-users across Australia and New Zealand, to understand what they see as their needs and to begin to understand the areas in which research could contribute in a meaningful way. This has all been built across the eight research themes that were identified during the development of the funding proposal for the Centre.

The broad research themes are not focused on single hazards, geographical regions or community sectors. Instead, the themes focus on high-level, Australia-wide outcomes, with the specifics addressed within each relevant theme.

In workshops held during August, we asked each end-user to identify what the research priorities look like from their perspective. From this, we developed Research priorities for disaster risk reduction and community resilience to the impacts of natural hazards, a discussion paper that was released this week and is open to comment from anyone interested in contributing to the new Centre’s research program.

What became obvious to us, based on extensive feedback we received, was the need to build a national research program around three strong pillars – the community and its workforce, the natural landscape, and the built environment. From these pillars, other themes flow, relating to how we make our communities more resilient, how we gather the data and the information to help us make the right decisions, and how we can be innovative in applying that information to our approaches in preparation, response and recovery.

And then there are other targeted and strategic research needs that look at current government policies and system-wide practices, and the need to imagine better futures, as well as gathering data from specific hazard events such as major fires, floods, cyclones or storms.

I encourage you to review the discussion paper and provide your feedback. As you do that, it would be good to keep in mind that:

  • it is important to think broadly, and not to be constrained by narrow interpretations and definitions
  • the priorities should talk about what you would like to be able to do, not which technologies you want to test, or which data needs to be looked at
  • as expected, there is overlap in the emerging priorities between the different research themes – this is expected, as there are many connections between the different systems and capabilities that need to be aligned to achieve effective outcomes.

The draft priorities are not yet linked to specific projects – that is the next step. As we finalise the research priorities, we will be working with our end-users to identify possible research projects to fund.

Collaboration is critical to help Australia cope with a future that we know will expose us to intensifying and more frequent natural hazards. The scale of the research required to address all the identified research priorities is beyond the capability of any single research organisation. But the benefits of having an agreed set of research priorities that we can all use opens up opportunities for researchers within and beyond those working with the Centre, to contribute to reducing national disaster risk and building disaster resilience.

Feedback on the discussion paper is open until 11:59pm on 24 October. The discussion paper and the feedback form can be found here.