Bottoms up with the NSDR by Mary Farrow

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Bottoms up with the NSDR  by Mary Farrow, Centre of Resilience

Risk Mitigation vs Community Resilience

The National Strategy for Disaster Resilience (NSDR) identifies shared responsibility roles of government, emergency management agencies, businesses, organisations, families and individuals. The last 4 target groups are all  typical members of a community. While all roles are different in a disaster,  the perception of a  top down structure illustrated  in the NSDR  funnels toward the perceived lowest level participant – the individual in a community. This perception has the potential to  continue the command and  control, authoritative culture in  emergency management when sharing responsibility with the community. The idea of a shared responsibility  is visionary  and it is the responsibility of the community to stand up and participate and not wait to be included (Lessons Learned,  Working with Local Government, 2011)

Working with communities and local groups to form networks and partnerships is one of the risk mitigation activities  that is frequently overlooked  and undervalued. Shared responsibilities can have conflicting outcomes with  traditional emergency management culture and government priorities regarding the perception of safety. Without community participation,  all the King’s horses and all the King’s men, will struggle to put the community back together again. How does the existing risk management system mitigate this kind of risk?

Values vs Risks

“Give  me a home among the gum trees….”

There are many reasons why people live in  high risk per-urban areas which include attractive landscapes, treed environments or  close to water, cheaper house prices, reduced crime, less pollution and crowding (Bushnell and Cottrell, 2007).  The real estate marketplace continues to show growth in housing purchase as new residents continue to be attracted to the quality of  life that often  co- exists in fire/flood  risk areas.  Many of the established tree-change and sea- change destinations are continuing to gather momentum (Salt, 2003).

The fact that people continue to flock to peri-urban fire risk areas and are prepared to raise their families in potentially high risk environments indicates that the quality of life outweighs the risks. Planning scheme overlays provide legal protection of the local character and quality of the environment as well as provide some assurances to the community that the landscape, cultural, historical and environmental  aesthetics remain intact (Ranges Trader Mail, 2013).  After all, it is why people chose to  live in high risk areas  in the first place. Of course,  communities  must take a shared responsibility for living in a high risk area seriously.

The Importance of  Developing Local Community Strength and Engagement

“Locally led recovery supports and enables decisions about the local community by people within the community and empowers community members in their own personal recovery process” (Lessons Learned, 2011).

Existing networks between businesses, organisations, local volunteer agencies, schools, families and individuals develop important, relevant skills that translate directly into leadership roles that benefit disaster preparedness and recovery. It is the role of government at all levels, at every opportunity, to foster and encourage these local networks and activities as part of their core business. A top- down approach does not make the community more resilient  but  can  actually weaken it and make the community more reliant and looking upward with a sense of expectation and entitlement (Bushnell and Cottrell, 2007).

While the top-down approach might satisfy command and control comfort zones, it is the community that lives with the consequences of that structure. Government and agencies bear the brunt of criticism when unrealistic expectations are not met or the community feels deceived. Fallout from Black Saturday, Harrietville and Morwell  fire events testify to community  expectation and reliance on government and agencies to take care of a fire disaster as well as the consequences of confusion and distrust.

Some excerpts from ” Lessons Learned by Community Recovery Committees, 2011 offer  some experienced  advice that illustrates the problems of top down local government management of disasters. (Lessons Learned , 2011).  This is compounded if the community hasn’t developed strong  local vision and functional networks including local government relationships from  within the community before a challenging event.

 “In the days immediately after the disaster, on the ground government support was limited. There was something of a ‘parent-child’ dynamic between government and communities which we didn’t like”

Community – Business Partnerships , A Model for Government

“Well-prepared households and businesses contribute to neighbourhood, social, commercial, economic, and community resilience. Well-prepared communities place fewer demands on state and federal resources because they are better able to cope when disasters or other disruptions occur. A nation is resilient when it is made up of resilient communities.” (Building Community Disaster Resilience through Private-Public Collaboration, 2011)

Resilience begins in local communities, not with the government or agencies mitigating risks that strip the qualities of local life regarded by residents as more beneficial  than the perceived risks. Community efforts begin with individuals from any group or organisation driven by personal responsibility and commitment to  local community sustainability. Through this organic and  natural action,  others are inspired to participate. A greater  perception of safety evolves and regardless of threats, people feel as though they will ultimately cope and  recreate what is important if they have invested in their community.

Ultimately, communities have the greatest risk and stand to lose the most. Therefore, their collective vision of the kind of community that they want to live in must have priority and recognition in considering actions by government and agencies in how they mitigate risks. The community must consider, vocalise and  demonstrate shared responsibility through choice, lifestyle,  preparedness and  collective commitment.



 “Very definite in the preparation approach; community = relationships”. (ECM, 2014) 

The importance of social, human and cultural relationships in communities contributes directly to community resilience.  Communities that  support individuals, families and  local organisations  minimise the consequences of disasters,  share community values and  aspirations, sustainability of social, environmental and economic values, networks and resources.  Resilience can  be measured by established  positive partnerships between government, community groups and  business. The importance of this strong, interactive community fabric translates directly into increased resilience and recovery potential when meeting the challenges of disasters as well as other threatening adversities.

The consequences of a disaster clearly marks the essential need and advantages of a connected, resilient community before an event or adversity. Strengthened by ongoing developed relationships and trust,  communities that have benefited from working together previously on broad community projects such as festivals, fairs, markets,  community projects and celebrations will be more resilient  in a disaster by default.