During the devastating 2019/20 Bushfires around Australia. State and National leaders have rejigged an old term that has generally only been used in the emergency management field. The term is Community Resilience or Community Resilience Framework.
We are going to take a little detour, once again, and talk about the importance of not only preparing for emergencies but staying connected with your neighbour. Staying connected with neighbours may often bring a form of anxiety for many. As we increase the use of technology there is a tendency to remain in our own immediate circle of friends and often many hardly know their neighbours. Other than the quick hand wave when heading home or off to work.
What has Community Resilience and staying connected got to do with preparing for bushfires?
In the recent bushfires, it was evident by media reports that there is a lot of emotion within communities. Trying to understand why the fires have happened and who is responsible for allowing the whole situation to get as bad as it has.
In this article, we will look at the positives, in terms of staying connected with your neighbours and communities. Let’s take a general look at our day to day interactions with colleagues or those within our circle of friends. At work, there tends to be a type of rank structure.
Whether it’s the owner of a business or a series of supervisors we look for direction from leaders and a sense of personal empowerment. Basically, connection with the group and an ability to be heard and have your say.
Since the human race began this has been the case. Whether a hierarchical community structure or the general structure within our immediate and extended family. We all need to contribute and be heard. It gives a sense of belonging and well-being.
How often have you seen personal disagreements fragment a family or community structure? Probably quite regularly for most.
How we respond to major emergencies.
When confronted by a major emergency our brain tries to fit what is happening now into an experience we have had in the past. Where the brain is unable to fit any experience we go into a period of denial. A denial that there is an emergency at all. It’s hard to quantify but during this period it is where most of the fatalities occur.
Often from a lack of being able to comprehend what is actually going on and how one might respond to such an emergency.
Those that are lucky enough to move into the next phase, which is deliberation, will potentially get the benefit of collaboration with others. Who may have information that will fill in the knowledge gaps. This is one of the reasons that it is so important to participate in relevant training programs. In every part of our life.
Deliberation will help those exposed to a major emergency overcome any problems associated with such an emergency. Together formulating a response and outcomes that could potentially save you and many others.
The next phase is generally known as a decisive moment. The moment when we take action and save our own lives and the lives of others.
For Example, how often do we hear on the news where someone has battled an extreme situation, overcoming and saved many lives? Emergency workers often move into this phase very quickly. Because of their training and most of all, their experience.
As mentioned training can help fill knowledge gaps but the experience is what helps us respond decisively and with purpose.
All too often we see employees placed on a course and expected to be competent at a certain task on completion. This is a very dangerous position to be in. Mentoring by other experienced employees will help to embed important concepts.
Linking in with community networks will have substantial benefits
Around the world, studies have found that communities who are provided emergency training and well structured and interlinked systems and processes. Are more likely to be resilient and recover quicker from major emergencies. Then those that just leave it to the authorities.
For example. If there is an elderly vulnerable resident located in a town. Locals are probably going to understand his or her needs better than a health worker who is located some distance away and probably doesn’t have the personal links to the community.
Community groups and preparedness, response and recovery
In terms of bushfire, imagine if there was a discussion at a Lions Club, Football Club, Rotary Club or other community group meeting about emergencies. And if an experienced emergency manager facilitated this discussion and actively listened to localised problems.
Together with putting preparedness, response and recovery systems together. Response to any impacted community would be far better than if it was left to the emergency services and local government. Without the empowerment of communities.
The Authorities are trying hard to help.
Some times these sort of meetings do occur with varying degrees of success. For example. The Country Fire Authority (Victoria) advertised a community meeting for residents, in outer metro Melbourne. Marketing indicated that residents could learn how to prepare themselves for a bushfire. More specifically grassfire, as they lived on a rural/urban grassland interface.
Five people turned up and those were firefighters from surrounding brigades who wanted to see how the program worked. Would there have been a greater benefit if community leaders from the clubs mentioned above were provided training and facilitated these programs? Maybe. maybe not.
But I think it much more likely the leadership and local knowledge they would bring could have had a far greater impact.
Even though, I’m now retired I understand that little has changed in many locations. Communities are still left fragmented during major emergencies or at least until the authorities make things happen. Which in terms of economics is likely to cost a whole lot more as accommodation, overtime and infrastructure to keep public sector assets in the field.
This is by no means being negative about the authorities. They do a great job. It’s about empowering communities to take action.
I think it has been established that if you link to the appropriate community groups and talk with neighbours. The general preparation for times of bushfire will be better resources and quite effective.
There is also the likelihood of greater personal economical benefits by purchasing appropriate equipment in bulk.
STG Training has a totally free Business Resilience and Emergency Management course available if you would like to learn a little more. We can also provide community mentorship. Good luck. In the next article, we will return to setting protection of your property during a bushfire.