When all Six Steps are in place, or at least in the process of being put into place, there can be opportunities to work together with others in your local community to improve community-wide disaster resilience.
For example, in the aftermath of the 2013 Bushfires, the Blue Mountains community (located on the rim of the Sydney basin in Greater Western Sydney), asked:
What are the needs of identified vulnerable community members within the Blue Mountains to be connected and supported in their community environment? This includes connection and safety at home, in the immediate locality and in disaster situations such as bushfires, storms and extended power outages.
Blue Mountains City Council, Charles Sturt University, Springwood Neighbourhood Centre Cooperative Ltd and Katoomba Neighbourhood Centre Inc worked together with an advisory committee to answer the question.
The advisory committee included: Department of Sociology, Macquarie University, Ministry of Police and Emergency Services, NSW, Disability Advocate, Disaster Manager, Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District.
When the project was completed it not only described the local community but it also developed recommendations for improving disaster resilience, including:
Maintain key connections
Recognise the role of community organisations
Ageing in community
Formal strategy for vulnerable people
Enhance community connections and resilience of vulnerable people
Vulnerable persons register
These recommendations highlight many very practical strategies that communities can put into place to improve disaster resilience.
While the specific strategies need to be appropriate to each local community the recommendations from the Blue Mountains Community Connections project are included in full as examples of what’s possible.
By way of context the Blue Mountains are located on the rim of the Sydney basin in the region identified as Greater Western Sydney, NSW. Stretching over 75 kilometres, the City of Blue Mountains encompasses 78,691people, living in 33,348 dwellings scattered across 25 separate hamlets. As the City straddles the mountain ridge in a ribbon development serviced by one major arterial road and one main railway corridor, older, vulnerable and at risk members of the community face specific challenges due to the topography of the region, the known natural disaster risk (bushfire, earthquake, severe weather storms), problems created by the ribbon development of hamlets, demographic profile, and variable public infrastructure.
The recommendations include strategies to better connect community members and organisations in order to inform planning for vulnerable and ageing populations both in day to day life and in times of emergencies. The recommendations are designed to draw out the importance of the connections that can be developed from within the community to enable shared responsibility through better planning for vulnerable residents and the ensuing effective response in times of disaster.
Blue Mountains Community Connections Project: Recommendations
Recommendation 1: Maintain key connections
That Council, emergency services, and local community services, continue to network and partner in ways which recognise and utilise the capability of each organisation within the community, through adoptingstrategieswhich promote a paradigm shift from a top-down approach to emergency planning, response and recovery to being inclusive of community at every level. This would be evidenced through a re-visioning of the community as active agents in the emergency management process through:
- A genuine integration of local community service providers, especially Neighbourhood Centres and peakbodies, into all levels of disaster management processes within the Blue Mountains
- Initiating new partnerships, such as local community services representation on the Local Emergency Management Committee
- Fostering the continuation of existing partnerships, such as the Disaster and Resilience Working Group, including a commitment from Blue Mountains City Council (BMCC), Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District (NBMLHD) and Family and Community Services (FACS) to have their disaster and welfare representatives attend regularly as core members of the Blue Mountains Disaster and Preparedness Committee
- The implementation of inclusive language, such as the use of full titles rather than acronyms, in all multiagency communications
- The explanation of policies and procedures previously understood as a known within a particular service
- The inclusion of as many as practicable service providers in multiagency emergency management training and preparedness activities, such as table top and scenario based training
- Resourcing of emergency and community services to undertake community engagement and education around readiness and preparedness in high season, when the messages most resonate with the community.
Recommendation 2: Shared responsibility
In order to promote a shared understanding of the responsibility we each have towards ourselves, our neighbours and our community we need to:
- Clarify roles and responsibilities of all residents and services during periods of natural disaster and emergency
- Reframe the current thinking around individual responsibility for preparedness and readiness, to ensure that those who are unable to implement plans or engage in such activities are supported by neighbours and, when appropriate, the service system
- Involve community groups and individuals in local risk assessment
- Use various community development strategies to ensure household awareness and generate a sense of shared responsibility within neighbourhoods, e.g. Heads Up For Fire (HUFF), Know your Neighbour, Meet your Street, More than a FirePlan
- Identify and develop community leaders who can be supported to develop awareness and promote participation by residents
- Provide information, training and education to community members in local neighbourhoods regarding how to support their vulnerable neighbours
- Address the issue of transport for the more vulnerable and isolated within our communities, especially in relation to emergency meetings andevacuations
- Advocate for change in policy to ensure that in times of declared natural disaster or emergency, Blue Mountains community members with pets can access public transport without fear of penalty
- Ensure local government, via its community services section, continues to work with vulnerable people and groups.
Recommendation 3: Recognise the role of community organisations
The Community Connections research demonstrates that vulnerable people typically relate to various community services and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) in the first instance, rather than friends, neighbours or family. It is therefore imperative that existing community services and NGOs are maintained and resourced appropriately within the Local Government Area. To support enhanced approaches to accessing and supporting vulnerable people within the community, Neighbourhood Centresneedgreaterrecognitionastrustbuilderswithvulnerableresidentsthrough:
- A commitment in policy and strategic direction from community organisations to build stronger links and integration across a range of community groups and services to strengthen a collective and sustainable capacity to respond to the needs of vulnerable residents in daily living and in periods of natural disaster and emergency
- A wider net cast to ensure that vulnerable individuals who are not currently connected with a community service are nevertheless reached
- more specific advertising and marketing of services targeting vulnerable residents
- Assisting local community and NGO services to build capacity and develop skills within neighbourhoods and neighbours to support spontaneous community participation and reduce an overreliance on government agencies and services
- Working on innovative strategies with Council to provide incentive and support for local communities/neighbourhoods/streets engaging in community focussed self-help initiatives that enhance civic responsibility
- Functional partnership models with mainstream service providers such as health, to ensure that vulnerable people within our community are referred appropriately to community focussed services able to promote community connection and social inclusion.
Recommendation 4: Ageing in community
The new Aged Care Reforms and Disability Reforms developed by both the State and Federal Government focus on enablement and reablement of the person. Whilst these reforms emphasise the importance of older people and people with a disability to make their own informed decisions, it also depends on the belief system that aged residents (some of whom are most vulnerable) will be able to access the services available to them independently and effectively negotiate new systems such as the My Aged Care Website. This approach, whilst plausible in theory, will create a number of issues for our most vulnerable-namelythepotentiallossoflocalcommunityconnectionandengagementwithlocalservice providers as their essential point of contact. As they will not, under new funding models, have the local sector supported positions provided, such as those of the support workers in Neighbourhood Centres or the Aged and Disability Service Officer positions in Council, to assist them. Therefore we need to consider this issue in any forward planning. It is essential therefore, to utilise appropriate methods of communication which are accessible and local to the over 75s, regarding the various services available to them for social support and community engagement; relying on the My Aged Care Website may work well for future generations, but not so well with the existing generation of aged residents.
Due to a larger than National average ageing population, the Blue Mountains needs to move fast and continue working towards an Ageing Strategy, and as such:
- Resources must be indentified and developed to support people over the age of 75 because their community connections are less viable as they age
- It is essential to utilise appropriate methods of communication which are accessible and relevant to the over 75s, regarding the various services available to them for social support and community engagement
- Health and providers of specific health care services to the aged within the community must begin formal partnerships and dialogues with general community services such as Neighbourhood Centres, to ensure that all possible opportunities are provided for the aged to link with their communities and improve their social connections.
Recommendation 5: Formal strategy for vulnerable people
Due to the identified issues of younger people living with a disability and chronic illness, the Blue Mountains needs to review the potential for a formal strategy to address these needs within the community, and as such:
- Council needs to consider developing a strategy that can better address the needs of the vulnerable, and those living with a disability or chronic illness
- Council may consider providing consultation with, and programs in partnership with, services that assist the 40-65 age group who have a disability and/or chronic illness, in keeping with the Disability Inclusion plan
- Providers of specific services to this group within the community must begin formal partnerships and dialogues with general community services, such as Neighbourhood Centres, as policy, to ensure that all possible opportunities for the 40 to 65 age group to connect with their communities and improve the social connections are afforded them.
Recommendation 6: Enhance community connections and resilience of vulnerable people
Age, disability, chronic illness, ethnicity and socio-economic conditions are all factors contributing to the social marginalisation of vulnerable people and community groups. We need to recognise the existing strengths and capacities of vulnerable people, and acknowledge, through providing assistance, their self-identified needs. These may be as diverse as irrational fears, worry over lack of finances to meet emergency disaster needs and transport for daily living. Recommendations to enhance the community connections and resilience of vulnerable people are:
- The provision of community based programs which aim to integrate, or at the very least encourage, inclusion in wider community activities; the community sector requires resourcing to meet these needs as personnel, equipment and location are resource intensive
- Re-envisage vulnerable community members from socially marginalised people to contributors to social and cultural diversity, with unique strengths and abilities e.g. some may have time available to volunteer as well as knowledge of who else is vulnerable and in need
- Local Neighbourhood Centres and similar NGOs are best placed to advocate on behalf of vulnerable community members and groups. They must be sufficiently resourced otherwise the voice of the marginalised and vulnerable will fade rather than strengthen.
Recommendation 7: Vulnerable persons register
As recommended by the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, some form of accounting for the location and needs of vulnerable members of the community needs to be initiated, and this would require:
- A centralised vulnerable persons register within the Blue Mountains
- Maintenance and reveiw by the appropriate agencies, i.e. the Ministry of Policy and Emergency Services, Blue Mountains City Council, Local Emergency Management Committee
- Resourcing to support such an initiatve and appointment of an appropriate agency or service to manage this function across the Blue Mountains Local Government Area
- Strong administration and coordination of the register
- Clear development and delineation of responsibilities between agencies, specific to the actions to be taken by individual agencies to assist persons on the vulnerability register
- Clear identification of the resources that would be deployed or made available by specific agencies in the event of activation of a Vulnerable Persons Register in a natural disaster or emergency.
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We'd love to include as many examples as possible of what organisations and communities are doing at the local level to build disaster resilience. Share your story with us using the 'Get Involved' page of this website and let us know if you're happy for us to publish it or share a link to resources or reports you have developed.