It is the middle of summer and the authorities have declared a day of total fire ban. Living near the bush you’re aware of the risk of fire is high during summer. Listening to the evening news for fire danger ratings and the declaration of fire bans is just one of your daily rituals.
On this Total fire Ban, you decide the right thing to do would be to stay home. Keeping off the roads to avoid being confronted by a fire.
The disaster is about to happen, will you recover.
Your phone vibrates and the emergency app, provided by the emergency services, indicates there is a fire about 30 km to the north of you. Being raised in the country there is an understanding that fires approaching from the north are a significant threat. A recent television commercial indicated that spot fires can start up to 40 km away from the main fire front.
The worst happens and the local communities, including yours, are devastated. No lives are lost but the media are describing what happens as the most destructive fire to ever hit your area. The state government has declared a state of disaster. Further asking for assistance from the federal government.
Our first thought will always be about surviving the disaster. Then comes the call for help. Hoping that a “super organisation” will fly in, pick us up and take us somewhere safe.
Providing Control and Coordination.
In Australia we are lucky. Having a number of organisations perform this “super” role and providing assistance when communities are at their most vulnerable. During and immediately after a disaster. In large disasters, the emergency services are our super organisations and come in and provide control and coordination of communities. The moment this happens a powerful process is ignited.
These organisations report to duty and plan for community welfare. Providing resources to ensure the needs of those affected are helped in a rapid and decisive manner. Reporting with its own mandate to save lives and relieve suffering. Sending in its own experts, tools, ideas and plans.
Moving into the disaster recovery phase
Even though, these state and federal resources are often important features during and immediately after the response phase. As the community moves into the recovery phase many of the resources often don’t fit the local realities and the local needs.
State-based organisations have the equipment.
Impacted communities may willingly relinquish responsibility and control to these state-based organisations. It would be easy to think, “what could be the problem with that”, they have the money, equipment and expertise.
By taking away community control, local organisational capabilities are often pushed aside. They may bring in food, clothing, fuel, accommodation and other infrastructure. Local businesses may be kept out of the game. Thus, impacting negatively on local resources and increasing economic hardship for the communities. Some may even have trouble recovering at all.
As an example, we see history repeating itself again and again. With the management and distribution of financial and other donations seemingly less effective with each disaster.
So what should we do differently?
It is very difficult to change the way we manage recovery and reconstruction. Even so, through worldwide recovery research, we know that smart communities won’t bounce back simply because of better technologies.
They bounce back because they have plans in place. Plans that they made at a local level. Maybe supported with state resources but ultimately they made plans to drive their own recovery.
Plans made by communities are generally more realistic, possible and sustainable. The community will have a sense of empowerment and feel like they are providing a pathway for their own safety, welfare and disaster recovery during and after the emergency.
. Relief – Don’t leave it for others to save you.
There are always local capacities that will be relevant and available to help when needed. They are local and their use will help drive the recovery effort. They probably already know you and have an emotional connection to the area. Bringing the aid to you fast and effectively. The only requirement is that they are pre-planned and understand what role they will play in a disaster. Even financial support can be pre-planned in consultation with government departments.
. Recovery and reconstruction.
We start at the building level; then plan at street level followed by planning at the community level. Communities are the only ones that know-how and where they want to live, the culture they want to reconstruct.
Decentralisation and remaining local will result in better overall community outcomes. It will be locals that implement these plans thus a sense of empowerment and purpose.
. External aid – you know what the gaps are.
When a community puts together a disaster relief and recovery plan. One of the outcomes will be the identification of gaps. So you can plan for external resources to come in and fill those gaps, such as government departments.
Recovery and reconstruction will take time no matter the disaster. But if communities plan for there devastating impact, then the time taken to achieve an appropriate and relevant result will be far less. Communities should be empowered to plan for their own recovery after a natural or man-made disaster.