New research, funding programs, staff and reconciliation plans

19 November 2021, by Dr Richard Thornton

The establishment of Natural Hazards Research Australia continues at an exciting pace and we are announcing several initiatives that kickstart the initial work of the Centre, as you will see across the various news items this month.

Towards final research priorities

An initial first step for us was to examine the key research needs for the broad natural hazards sector and we have been working on this for the past four months through a process of defining our research priorities. We initially held collaborative workshops and surveys during July and August, asking potential partners and stakeholders of the Centre to inform us of their research needs. This information was then collated and circulated throughout the sector for wider comment during October. We are now working through this feedback and the final version of our research priorities will considered by the Board in December.

Following this, we will be working with partners to define the short- and long-term research program.

First round of research approved

While the new research priorities are being finalised, there are a small number of research projects that were agreed to as part of the bid response to the Australian Government for the new Centre earlier this year. As such, at the October Board meeting, the Board approved funding for a first round of initial research projects to ensure that natural hazards research doesn’t come to a standstill while we and our partners confirm the priorities. Most projects being funded by the Centre will be announced in the next rounds, from early 2022.

The projects in this initial round are mostly extensions of the research completed through the Australian Government-funded Black Summer research program, initiated by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. These projects include further work on the role of Indigenous land management in managing fire risk, both in the north and the south of the country, as well as advancements in fire predictive services technology that are crucial to the management of bushfire risk this coming season. Projects are also looking at how the work on extreme fire behaviour can be translated to keep communities and firefighters safe, including an evaluation of how predictive maps can be used when communicating risk to the community.

This research will also examine the creation of a Bushfire Information Database and will include a project partnering with the Australian Research Data Commons, both of which will help build the important foundations of good data management in the new Centre – not only relating to fire, but to all natural hazards.

Other approved projects include one focusing on post-disaster recovery and a study on understanding the resilience of lifeline services, such as power, telecommunications, and food and water supply in regional and remote communities.

These projects are only the start of several rounds of funding announcements for research with the Centre, so watch this space for further research investment in early 2022. Further details are available here or you can drop us an email at research@naturalhazards.com.au.

Education program launched

The Centre is committed to supporting and promoting a strong intellectual cohort of researchers who can deliver usable outputs to partners and the wider community. This includes supporting postgraduate research, employment pathways and opportunities for career development of early career researchers.

We have now launched our education program, beginning with Postgraduate Research Scholarships and the Early Career Researcher Development and Industry Fellowships. The Associate Student program will be launched shortly. We strongly encourage applications from First Nations students across all topics.

Read this news piece for more information about our new education opportunities, including how to apply and who is eligible.

Quick response funding open

Funds are now also available for quick response research, providing support to researchers travelling to areas recently affected by natural hazards to ensure that the impacts are measured in a timely manner. This fund builds on the important quick response research from the CRC, which was essential when assessing post-disaster impacts, recovery, data collection and rehabilitation, planning and community response for natural hazards between 2016 and 2021. Find out more here. 

New staff

It is an exciting time for the Centre, with some fresh new perspectives being introduced. We have several new staff who have either started already or are joining us in the coming weeks, helping us establish a presence in Queensland and New South Wales in addition to our existing presence in Victoria. This is the first step to ensuring that the new Centre has a national focus. We will be looking for opportunities to grow our presence in other states and territories in the coming months, so follow us on social media (@hazardsresearch) for updates and new vacant positions.

Our Reconciliation Action Plan

Through the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and the Bushfire CRC before that, we have a long history of research engagement with First Nations peoples across Australia. Indeed, one of my first trips when I started working with the Bushfire CRC was look at the work we were funding in Kakadu National Park, reintroducing First Nations-led cultural burning practices in the wetlands to reduce the monocultures of native grasses that were reducing biodiversity.

It is important that the new Centre continues to recognise the knowledge, contributions and perspectives of First Nations peoples as the Traditional Owners of the land on which we all live and conduct research. With a strengthened commitment to reconciliation, we have begun the process of developing a Reconciliation Action Plan for the new Centre, through Reconciliation Australia. This is an important step that will help strengthen the First Nations-led processes, programs and research activities of the Centre.

We are looking for First Nations peoples from our networks to help us with the development of our initial Reconciliation Action Plan. You can read more about this here.

If you are interested in joining our Reconciliation Working Group or know someone who might be, please email Bethany Patch at bethany.patch@naturalhazards.com.au, who is chairing the group.