Hangin’ with the nerds (in the coolest town)

I’m in Wellington, Aoteroa for the joint Bushfire Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre and AFAC annual conference. Wellington is one of my favourite places, only confirmed further by having great weather, and my fold up bike with me to explore a bit more than what my feet will allow me.

One of the exciting things about being here is the breadth and depth of research being undertaken into disasters. When I first started, pretty much the two areas doing any focused research was Jame Cook University under David King, and RMIT under John Handmer. Now, there are multitudes of researchers, all examining different topics. Hard for a nerd like me to keep up.

Yesterday was the research meeting for the BNHCRC. It was an impressive day, and lots to take away. Highlights included:

Rory Nathan from Uni of Melbourne talking through the difficulties of communicating flood risk, particularly in a highly charged environment. One of the things he said was that what was forgotten in the inquiry into the Brisbane floods was that it actually rained a lot. 8 Sydney Harbours were dumped in the Brisbane R catchment. But the focus was all on the dam, and it’s operation . He also slapped down someone who effectively said, well Brisbane was resilient because the CBD opened after a week, the place was cleaned up, and everyone got on with their lives. That’s resilience isn’t it? He said not if you are the brother or sister or daughter of one the the 30 who lost their lives, or you are one of the 2000 homeowners who are not sure whether your insurance was going to pay. It was brilliant. An engineer with a heart.’

Kathleen Tierney, the Director of the Disaster Research Center at Boulder (and rockstar researcher) talked about emergent groups, and also the importance of emergent networks. She said in her opinion the most effective tool in building resilience is relationships and knowing your neighbour. She also talked about organisational dynamics and the need to improvise during disasters. She put up a quote from the jazz great Charles Mingus who said ‘you can’t improvise on nothin man, you’ve got to improvise on somethin’ which she said the more you know, the better you can improvise. This resonated with me as I have mentioned in an earlier post I have a jazz theory of disaster management, drawing on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. She also talked about the need for broad situational awareness, and rewarding out of the box thinking.

Jackie Gould and Bev Sithole from CDU in Darwin talked about the measuring resilience program in the NT. They are using the Dilly Bag Action research approach,using trained aboriginal researchers who go into communities with a range of tools at their disposal. One of the questions was “well if they don’t consider natural hazards a disaster, why do we  work in those communities” They explained two things, one is that they are not considered a priority over suicide, truck roll overs and other day to day emergencies, but of course still impact, and the other interesting comment was that the modern day location of communities may mean people are removed from their country, and a weakening of the link to country can make people feel more vulnerable and reduce their ability to cope.

Danielle Every from CQU outlined some research they are doing on preparedness, response and recovery of  homeless people. At truly invisible group of people, not only on society’s radar, but emergency managers.  Interestingly  she said despite the stereo type of old men shuffling around talking to themselves, most people who are homeless are under 35, and there are many children. There may be some opportunities for us to work together in their research.

Christine Owen from UTAS presented the work that they have been doing on incident management. It was fascinating and i think could help us with our commander/planning training and our leadership and decision making guidance. They have a checklist of triggers for when an incident would move from the local/incident level to the strategic level. She talked about the understanding the values governing what we are doing, the complexity of systems, and the validity of information. She also said that as incident managers we need to allow ourselves to “cope ugly” ie just make do when it’s going the way of the pear.

Kevin Ronan from CQU talked about child centred risk reduction programs, and gave his usual impassioned presentation on education. One of the projects he was involved in they were able to do follow ups to see if disaster messaging was being taken home and acted on. They traced the fact that parent undertook an average of six actions relating to disaster preparedness after the kids brought materials home.

Blythe McLennan presented work on the project that I’m involved with, non traditional volunteering, throwing out some challenges to traditional assumptions about volunteering, and definitions of.

David Johnston from Massey Uni presented research on injuries after the Canterbury earthquakes. They have been able to examine 9000 (!) hospital and GP records to see what the injuries are. They are also trying to get ethics approval to examine CCTV footage at the time of the quake to see how people have behaved. They’ve deduced that many people’s injuries are not from drop cover and hold (only 20% follow that advice), but them moving and suffering ankle/knee injuries from the shaking earth or trauma injuries from falling debris.

It was a fascinating day, and my head was hurting (possibly also because I chaired the most controversial session for the day…good to have some debate at the end of the day).

6 thoughts on “Hangin’ with the nerds (in the coolest town)

  1. wow. sounds great. So much to keep across.. thanks for the wrap up. and that reminds me I have your your ‘bicycle diaries’ here by my desk!


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