How can we take action to build resilience to disasters and reduce disaster losses? This was the focus of the 2021 United Nations’ International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, held globally on 13 October each year.
This year, Natural Hazards Research Australia collaborated with the ABC at an online event to help drive constructive and supportive conversations about bushfire and community resilience. The event opened with a short video from cast members of the ABC’s Fires series, including Richard Roxburgh, Miranda Otto and Hunter Page-Lochard.
Through a panel discussion and Q&A session, the event emphasised the essential role of community in building resilience. The webinar, hosted by Dr Kate Brady (Australian Red Cross, University of Melbourne), heard diverse perspectives from the following experts:
- Dr Josh Whittaker: Coordinator Community Engagement, NSW Rural Fire Service
- Dr Briony Towers: Co-director, LEADRRR
- Dr Rob Gordon: Clinical psychologist
- Nicky Haslinghouse: Volunteer firefighter, Country Fire Authority; Emergency Management and Critical Incident Specialist, University of Melbourne
- Shona Whitton: National Coordinator Recovery and Psychosocial Support, Australian Red Cross
Bringing together the latest information from the most recent research, the expert panel unpacked bushfire risk reduction through the topics of preparation, caring for mental health and recovery, the role of children, supporting volunteers, and learning from the experiences of the 2019-20 bushfire season.
Dr Whittaker spoke about his recent research for the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC’s Community attitudes and experiences of the 2019/20 NSW bushfire season project, highlighting the lessons learnt from how people experienced Black Summer.
“One of the things that really stands out about Black Summer is the prolonged and repeated exposure that many people had to fire,” he said.
“The challenge for emergency services is to have consistent messages, policies and good programs in place that are based on evidence, so members understand why we're doing those community engagements and what a good one looks like. And then being able to adapt it to local needs.”
Dr Towers, who led the CRC’s Child-centred disaster risk reduction project for the last six years, explained that educating children about bushfire has to accommodate the context of their everyday lives.
“We need to create a safe and support environment where they can share ideas, and then support them with the knowledge they need,” she said.
“It’s all about involving children as genuine stakeholders and respecting them as active contributors in bushfire risk management.”
Dr Gordon spoke about the best ways to deal with trauma and panic during and after a disaster experience, explaining that “what becomes important is the ability to manage your mind” in such situations.
Nicky and Shona spoke about the long-term nature of recovery and ways to support communities in preparing, for, responding to and recovering from the impact of bushfire.
You can watch the full recording here.
The day is an initiative of the United Nations and is backed by the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, the International Council for Science and the International Social Science Council. Each year is themed around one of the seven Sendai Framework targets – this year’s target was to enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions. Visit the UNDRR site to learn more about the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction.