All the bits and pieces that make me are gone

I have been grappling with, at glacial like pace, with developing a training presentation on our disaster preparedness program. Simple task. Or should be, given that I’m the architect of the program.  However, if feel like I have reached some sort of writers block, a bit like John Turturro in the Coen Brothers Barton Fink. I’ve been struggling to down load the stuff that is in my head. This is when you need a USB port in the head or Dumbledore’s Pensieve .

Our preparedness program has a different focus to other programs. The SES or Fire service plan to get you through the threat, whereas our focus is to get people to think beyond survival, to think about what you return to after the threat has passed. You might return home, and not give it another thought, other than on a day when the weather is particularly threatening. Or you might return to find family and friends have died, or been injured, your house is gone, or your neighbours is gone. You find can’t earn an income anymore, that your customers have all gone, and you have to drive the kids 30km to a school. Those items you grew up with, or had been in your family for generations, or were the first  things given to you by the love of your life, – those bits and pieces that distinguish you from the next Joe, are gone. The neighbourhood that was familiar and comforting has changed, points of reference gone, and may not return. Your mental map unwillingly redrawn.  These are all the things that we need to prepare for, beyond just surviving the hazard.

Preparedness is about behaviour change. What we know about behaviour change is that it takes time. Generational time. People didn’t start putting on seat belts overnight, or stopping smoking. A generation of campaigns and financial disincentives have shaped people’s behaviours. Part of our challenge in emergency management is that we really don’t have a carrot, or a stick to play with. We have to create a compelling argument for people to prepare, and to make it simple.

Where did our approach come from. So many people have said to me over the years, I only wish that I had; taken out/increased insurance, taken the wedding photos, gone rather than stayed. If you can be bothered, check out this video of me talking about it, but basically our approach about prepare to recover, think about what is important to you, and your neighbours are your best asset.

And this one

Another image stuck with me, of a young woman who was working at Mt Buffalo Chalet during the 2003 fires, when the fires closed the Chalet, she was laid off, had no money, and was living out of her car. We paid her a small grant. We shouldn’t have,  but sometimes the rules need to be bent. Disasters affect livelihoods, and we need to encourage people to plan for it.

Only a fifth of us are prepared for disasters (and even then, they are only prepared to survive the disaster), yet nearly two thirds of us will experience a traumatic event in our lives, and a third will experience a disaster. If you are standing in a group of three at the moment, start to work out which one of you is which.

Into the future we are very keen on focussing our preparedness activities on the communities terms rather than the agencies terms. This will be the challenge, and couching it in terms that preparedness is something easy to do, and compelling.

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