AUSTRALIA – Emerging from a year of adversity, one promising step for rural and regional communities in southern NSW is the region being chosen by researchers who are seeking to promote disaster preparedness.
As drought morphed into the blazing inferno of the Black Summer bushfires, the rattling start to 2020 was topped by a worldwide pandemic had an unnerving, despairing effect on populations east and west of the Snowy Mountains.
And so far, 2021 has brought pounding storms and flooding.
So it’s no surprise a group of Charles Sturt University (CSU) researchers in the Riverina are ensuring community groups are well prepared for the next disaster by conducting research to strengthen their disaster resilience plans.
And it is this research that will now form the backbone of a series of workshops to be held from April to June, 2021.
CSU lecturer in social work and human services Dr Heather Boetto said demand for community groups and their services increases during times of disaster.
She has joined CSU’s associate professor in social work and human services Karen Bell and acting head of the school of humanities and social sciences Dr Wendy Bowles in a project which aims to promote disaster preparedness and enable the continued provision of services.
Dr Boetto said the Riverina had experienced significant disasters in the past decade, including the Black Summer bushfires in 2019-2020 where entire towns laying ahead of the firefront were evacuated.
She said disaster was not confined to recent years, with the flooding of the Murrumbidgee River in 2010 and 2012 causing the evacuation of Wagga Wagga’s entire central business district.
“These events highlighted the uncertainty of community organisations about their role in responding to local needs and lack of preparedness for overcoming service disruption,” said Dr Boetto.
The upcoming workshops are designed to increase awareness, build resilience, implement strategies and develop plans for delineating organisational roles and responsibilities and ensure service continuity.
Dr Boetto says they will help organisations develop disaster resilience plans.
“These would include local interagency and cross-sectional networking, organisational risk assessments, revision or creation of risk registers, business continuity plans and recovery plans,” she said.
The workshops are being held at CSU’s National Wine and Grape Industry Centre in Wagga, with the option for remote attendees via video conference.
Wagga Wagga City Council is a supporter of the research, and the council’s director of community, Janice Summerhayes, who is also part of the project’s advisory group, said the research could have widespread benefits.
“The project is a really worthwhile and important response to supporting non-government organisations in being informed and prepared for their services when disasters occur locally,” she said.
“The partnership project draws experience and knowledge from Charles Sturt University, NSW Government, council and from important response agencies such as the Red Cross and SES.”
The project is funded by the NSW Government’s Natural Disaster Resilience Program.