Keynote talk, at an international conference, wow, I hope you know what you are doing. Ran the doubts around my brain. I hope the organisers know what they are doing. i screamed more. Those who have seen my presentation style will know it is a bit unorthodox, obtuse music and football references, visual jokes, self depreciation, stories, stories and more stories, with a bit of content added in. I get away with it in presentations among people and settings I know. But a conference with 220 participants, from 28 nations, all researchers, and in an amazing conference venue to boot. The words “Depth”, ‘Out” “Of” and “My” came to mind. Particularly when I found out I was the opening keynote. What was to be a breezy few days checking out Reykjavik, became heavy swot.
So, here it is. Its long.Very long. I had to fill 45mins.Get a coffee or two. If you read it, i applaud you. If not, the precis is: 70s, decade of disaster films, played disasters as a kid, studied it at uni, went off on tangent to do nursing, came back and became a disaster nerd. Got involved in some of the biggest disasters going around, felt we weren’t doing something right with preparedness, got a chance with red cross who wanted to “do preparedness”, created rediplan, got beaten up by fire agencies for it, persisted with it, changed the preparedness landscape through encouraging social connections, and preparing your mind, tackled some hard issues, and we reckon we’ve done OK,and have data to support it. End of the day, it’s all about protecting long term opportunities. Takk Fyrir.
Takk Fyrir to Gudrun and Simon for the opening words, and to the organisers for this conference in this amazing space, and their support to help me return to this magnificent country.
More than 3 litres of water, what do I mean by this?
I hope you will indulge me, for a couple of minutes, while I tell a bit of a story. I hope you will see how it shapes the thinking behind my presentation.
While I have been working in this area for last 20 years, next month, we must go back nearly 50 years to Christmas 1967, a little boy receives a Lego House from Father Christmas. It is prized possession, complete with a garage door that automatically opens when the little car approaches.
On the cusp of the 70s, there is another little boy, a brother, and they become best of friends. This decade is known for many things, but one is influential, the Decade of the Disaster Movie. Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Airport etc.
Through out this decade, in a bedroom in suburban Melbourne, existed an imaginary nation, Milton, constructed from Lego with is highly hazard prone capital city, Hamilton. The good people were subjected time and time ago to earthquake, hurricane, plane crashes, heatwaves, floods, and war. Recovery was long and protracted and there were many stories of heartbreak and despair, and heroes and happiness.
Of course, children grow up, one to become a writer and critic, the other on a meandering journey through university, geography, developing an interest in hazards, then nursing, and an affinity for when people pass from this world to whatever comes next, and high adrenaline situations, through rites of passage of travel (including a trip to Iceland when there were only 2 people, on bikes, visiting Jokusarlon) , until a role in a newspaper (remember them), Deputy Coordinator-Emergency Registration, Red Cross Emergency Services. I don’t have the skills (I did), they won’t want me (They did), I won’t stay long (I did).
It was a perfect crossover from my nursing and my geography. Along the way I found myself working for Government, in charge of Recovery for the State of Victoria, then tossed into 18 months of high octane stress; the Bali bombings, a severe drought, a raised terror level, significant bushfires, severe storms.
Much of this we were making up as we went along, as so much of it was challenging and not previously experienced. This 18 months put paid to another career change. This was the thing that I was meant to do (although some days, advertisements in the local bakery for an appreciate baker have seemed enticing). I learned the importance of self-care, the hard way. But we also did some good things. As I went along, I saw patterns in seeing, many, many conversations, with people. The disaster was bad, but the challenge of recovery was what was exhausting for people.
Something was missing, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
I should say here now, I am neither psychologist nor economist, nor vulcanologist nor social worker nor sociologist. All these areas and more, interest me, and at times. I can do a pretty good impersonation. At heart I am a caring professional and I call myself a geographer (although I suspect there is some doubt about that too)_ . One of the great things about geography, and it took me a while to recognise this, is that you are able to integrate many, many things, around places and spaces, both real and imagined. Its about being about to read the signs and make sense, and meaning of patterns, snippets, trends, and ideas.
I will say my experiences are shaped by our country, and I acknowledge that they are focused on wealthy country challenges. A bit about our country. We have a lot of hazards. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples peoples have been dealing with extreme weather events, earthquakes, volcanoes (yes), for the past sixty thousand years. Many have become part of their dreaming, and through this there is a good understanding of what hazards mean and how to respond. The Wurundjeri people, where I hail from, have 7 seasons, as well as a big season every 7 years, and a big water season every 28 years. It fits with what we have observed. With the coming of Europeans, the frontier wars, the disease, and the dispossession, led to a disconnection with country, and this is a really big thing for the aboriginal peoples. Something we Europeans don’t really understand, both the dispossession and the loss of country.
There are significant risks in the north from Cyclones, Tsunami, and storm surge. Cyclone Tracy in 1974 saw the catastrophic loss of a major city, and Cyclone Mahina in 1899 was the deadliest disaster with the loss of over 400 people. The east coast temperate regions, Tasmania, Adelaide hills and South West Western Australia are among the highest fire prone areas in the world, the Black Saturday Bushfires in 2009 saw temperatures of 47C, with Force 11 winds of over 100kmh, and 173people died, and over 2000 buildings were lost, including two complete towns. Significant flood risk is across most of the country, and particularly challenging for remote Aboriginal communities, when the water sits around for 18 months.
The Queensland floods of 2011 saw an area nearly nine times the size of Iceland underwater. While it is the oldest and most stable country in the world, there is still an earthquake risk, as residents of Newcastle, a city larger than Reykjavik, found out in 1989, killing 13 people.
And if you think that is picture looks hot, it is. I understand a heatwave is 24 degrees here in Iceland. Try doubling it.
On top of this, there are a fair share of technological disasters, mining collapses, train accidents, structure fires, industrial accidents, influenza pandemics. And while not on the same scale as elsewhere, Australians have been affected by terrorism abroad and home.
A recent insurance company report on risks indicates that 25% of people live in areas subject to high or extreme flooding, and just under 10% subject to bushfire, over 58% of people live in areas subject to high or extreme earthquake risk, and over 17% at risk of cyclones.
It was found by Joe Reser and his colleagues, that one third of the Australian population will face a natural hazard or the threat of one in their lifetime, and Phoenix Australia, the national post-traumatic stress centre of excellence, suggests that two thirds of people will experience a traumatic event.
And that’s not to mention all the creepy crawlies that will kill you as soon as look at you
And, Australia, like so many nations, is changing. The climate is changing, with increases in global temperature is likely to see in Australia, according to the Climate Council:
- An increase in heatwaves
- Increase in warmer days, and a reduction in cooler days
- Increase in drought conditions, and a trebling of fire danger days in southern Australia
- Fire seasons in eastern Australia are also lengthening, into October and April
- A Black Saturday scale event in Victoria every 3 years rather than 30 years
- While an overall reduction in rainfall in south eastern Australia, there will be increased severe storms and high intensity rain events, leading to flash flooding
- Increased storm surge and coastal flooding due to raised sea levels
- The number of moderate and medium cyclones in Northern Australia may reduce, however the number of intense cyclones may increase.The number of days over 35oC per year in Adelaide will increase from 20 to 47 by the end of the century
Increases in Australia’s population sees shifting settlement patterns, we are adding the equivalent of the population of Iceland each year, and people moving into areas previously undeveloped, but at higher risk to hazards and less access to services. A changing demographic profile (ageing, migration, health) of the community may also change people’s ability to cope with the impacts of disaster
But it’s a wonderful place to visit!
I would like to briefly paint a picture on the emergency management arrangements in Australia. We are a federation, 8 states and territories, and federal government. The constitution devolves EM responsibilities to the states. There is no federal legislation, and their role is to coordinate support for the states, and deal with overseas disasters. So this means there are 8 different ways of doing things. Many of the states devolve responsibility further to local government (except when it gets politically too hot), and often local government are suspicious of the states, thinking they are cost shifting. And the local community just sigh and say, get your shit together and give us a hand.
We also subscribe to community led recovery, but equally don’t hesitate to send in the generals or “ pop up” authorities rather than trust existing arrangements.
There is a delineation in approaches between the northern (NSW/QLD) and southern states. The northern states tend to be more command and control in approach, the southern states more devolved responsibility. This funnily enough lines up with the split in football codes, with the northern states play the various forms of rugby a rigid game based on strength, played in straight lines, and the southern states, and Australian Rules a fast paced, unpredictable game requiring high levels of coordination, fitness and skill.
Like many countries, we have caught the disaster resilience bug. I don’t think this is a bad thing. In 2012, the Council of Australian Governments adopted the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience. While this strategy didn’t set out clear outcomes or targets, what it did do was bring together the states into a national document, and articulated that we needed to do things differently.
It’s a recognition that there were significant resources in the community that could be tapped into, if only the system knew how, and vice versa. EM, has been a bit of a club. If you were in Fire/Rescue or Police and local government, you were in. Red Cross was kinda in, but only if we sat in a corner, and spoke when we were spoken to (not like in this country, I have learned).
What the dialogue about resilience means is it recognises there are a whole lot more players, it’s a whole of community, society thing, and taps into available resources. We need to be careful that it is also not seen as an abrogation of government responsibility, which I know is spoken about in some quarters. Our experience is that most people are resilient, do not rely upon or expect government to bail them out.
The focus upon strengths and self-efficacy is good. People want to be in control of their destiny. They might just need some help along the way.
A quick word on resilience (is there such a thing?). There are many definitions. I like, and we use the IFRC definition, because it amongst all the other words it includes the words “without compromising people longer term prospects” A true recognition of what’s at stake. Not bouncing somewhere.
So this is what we are dealing with. How do we reduce the stress, distress, heartbreak, loss and trauma, caused by these ever present events and risks
Not long after being sent as part of an Australian team to the US to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I met up with my now manager, who had gone over to Red Cross to head up their new national emergency services team. “We want to do preparedness”. He said. “What do you want to do?”. “Um, Preparedness”. “What have you got now?”. A blank piece of paper. Off the back my experience in Katrina, here was an opportunity to put that nagging to rest.
So after some thinking, reading, and talking with people,. It dawned on me, “In preparedness, we were being linear; starting at the start, the hazard, and not the end, the consequences or recovery”. In the words of noted philosopher, Cheryl Melhoff, in conversation with Walter mitty, “You start at the end, and work backwards”
Before long, we were on an amazing journey, somewhat like longboarding down a road in eastern Iceland. We had to start with recovery.
From the opportunity to stop and think, an idea formed, that we needed to move from what we think is important, to what is important to people.
This is where the “I wish I had” conversations we’d had started to make sense. They were potentially avoidable impacts.
- The farmer in high country, I wish they had have saved the milking sheds, not the house. At least I could have earned an income.
- The guy who wrote to me and said I need money to fix my fences, but really in all honesty, I really want to take my lovely lady away somewhere nice for a weekend, as things are a bit rocky at the moment
- The mother that said “I don’t have any rights in my sons case”
- The alpha male who, in protecting his property during a bushfire said “I was prepared, I did it, but I’m never doing it again, it was too fucking scary”
- Or the father that said, we’ve lost the video of when he first walked.
So, when I started to look at what was around, to ensure that a) we are consistent in advice, and b) not duplicating, I saw that the advice was all about 3 litres of water. A lot. Radios,. Torches. Tinned foods. All important, but not the whole story. Not with what I had seen and heard in my recovery experience, I wish I had.
And as the legendary thinker, Robot said often “This does not compute” We as a nation were focussed on survival and not what comes after. And there was nothing wrong with this. We don’t want people to die in disasters, but …
It is easy to trace the origins of this approach. These programs are the preserve of the fire and emergency services agencies. Their remit, and their experience, is saving lives and protecting properties. Someone else will fix the rest. This is not a criticism, as our EM systems are set up that way. You have recovery agencies to sort out the mess. The problem with that thinking, is that it is based upon a welfare model of recovery. Ie someone will come in and provide “stuff”, people will be grateful, and they’ll get on with their lives. It presupposes that Emergency Management operates within the baseline of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. It also sees EM in isolation, a purveyor of the black arts, that only comes out when summoned, and disappears again. Again, we know that this is incorrect. Disasters and emergencies, don’t take place in isolation of other processes going on in people’s lives. But we approach it as, put everything else on hold, deal with the disaster, then get back to everyday life. We should view disasters as just one of the bumps in the road that people experience
It also presupposes a simplistic view of disaster impacts that if you survive you can replace what’s lost. But we increasingly understand the complexity and long term impacts of disaster.
A report done for the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience, found that the economic costs of the social impacts are equal to, if not greater than the physical costs.
We know that people experience the ups and downs, the quiet and the loud, the incomprehensible, the fragility and the complexity of shifting rhythms much like….
The impacts on individuals (and communities) can be long term, and complicated in terms of loss of life and injury, changes in health and wellbeing, housing, financial relationships and material losses, shifts in, education and employment prospects, and changes in community dynamics and the environment. And as we have found out in studies we have done, and I will talk about on Friday, after the Black Saturday Bushfires, the recovery process itself has a negative impact on people’s long term health and wellbeing. The impacts are not days and weeks, they are years into decades. We are seeing this, you are seeing this through the
The United Nations Development Program recognises that disasters can erase development gains and the UN has begun to measure the impact of disasters in terms of life years lost, that is the time required for economic and social development). But in Emergency Management, we don’t recognise this integration.
In short, we have to make sure we were thinking disasters can cost people not only their lives, but if they survive, also cost them years of their lives. We needed to move from “I wish I had” to “I’m glad that I did”
Hence emergency rediplan was born; an all hazards, consequence focussed community preparedness program in 2007.
We borrowed from our American cousins, Be Informed, Make a Plan, Get a kit. And we added a step. Know your neighbours. Douglas Paton’s work, and his comment that connected communities are prepared communities resonated, and the knowledge from Kobe earthquake that 80% people were pulled from the rubble by a passerby or neighbour. And around that time, my attention was drawn to an NPR interview with Daniel Aldrich, which talked about the importance of social ties and social capital to give people resources to draw upon, as well as provide signals about the affected community. Again, what he has saying resonated with me. For years we had wondered why the community barbeque was such an effective recovery measure. But it was very difficult to get government to approve to spend funds on BBQs. “You want to do what?” But this seemed to put a theoretical framework around the humble BBQ as an intervention.
As we developed rediplan, we went to talk with people, potential partners, others in the sector. And to say that people threw open the doors and welcomed us, I’d be lying. We received a very cool reception from others working in this area. I still bear the scars from the death stares that I received from community education managers from fire and emergency services at an early meeting. They were hostile. This is our space, what are you doing in it, your role is a welfare provider. Not only did they not see there was a gap, they did not like “competition”.
We were fortunate in two ways, firstly having corporate funding support from the outset, a large real estate agency, First National Foundation, and then Landrover and Medibank, meant that we were free to do what we wanted to do. Secondly when we said we wanted to work with “vulnerable” groups, their mood shifted. The comfort zone of many of these providers was white, male, middle aged, middle class. Diversity challenged their approaches. And this is not necessarily a criticism, they recognised it but just didn’t know what to do with it.
Of course once we said we’d work with vulnerable communities, we thought, what next. We produced a couple more booklets (seniors, disability), but felt again, something wasn’t quite right. Yes there were groups that were overrepresented in the statistics, but not because of a demographic factor. And some were hidden. IF we just used demographics Stephen J Hawking, The rolling stones, Barack Obama and Bjork would be included in a list of “vulnerable people” We felt there was another story.
We began to look at a strengths based approach, and that resilience was made up of certain factors. Drawing upon the work of Fran Norris, John Handmer, and the international federation of red cross, we developed 4 interlinked adaptive capacities to help us better target our work. These capacities are Wellbeing, Knowledge, Connection and Security, and in short a resilient person could be described as happy, health, secure, connected and wise. This would allow us to target our work, and our actions according to the strengths and weaknesses that people had. It could also turn up some surprises, like women escaping a violent relationship. The homeless.
Over time, we managed to train 150 volunteers, deliver to over 40,000 people through over 570 presentations, run public awareness campaigns that reached 3million people. This was all on a budget of around $AU900,000 annually.
Some of our key themes (neighbours, social capital, resilience capacities) were taking hold in the national agenda, and people were coming to us to partner (some people).
We were kinda pleased with ourselves. We were established. We’d acheived a lot, with a little. Like someone else..
In 2014, we decided it was time for a review. The need for a review is reinforced every day when you live with one of the models for the first rediplan, and you realise how much she has grown.
We found that things had stood up pretty well. We were well regarded in the sector. Rediplan had a good set of messages, but, we could do better. A clearer articulation of our point of difference from the hazard agencies. Focus on the psychosocial dimension.
We needed to engage, and deliver through networks. Noted disaster management expert Albus Dumbledore foresaw this with his derisory opinion on the ministry’s preparedness pamphlet, in the Half Blood Prince. We couldn’t just develop another pamphlet and deliver it by owl.
We need to engage, and make it less boring and more engaging. Use new technologies. And so a new rediplan was born.
Think. This is the part about psychological preparedness, addressing the issue of “its too fuckin’ scary” We call it Prepare your mind, and used Joe Reser and Shirley Morrisey’s AIM framework for psychological preparedness, we opened the new document with this, it was an underpinning principle.
ACT is the four action oriented steps, reshaped and reordered. We elevated Get Connected to the second most important. We felt it shouldn’t be considered an after thought. As my colleague Dan Neely from Greater Wellington Council in NZ says, you need a door opener, not a can opener. We took out plan as a step, because the whole thing is a plan. Many of the actions are linked to building resilience capacity, financial plans (security) protect valuable items (wellbeing) .
And we took out references to 3 litres of water. Which was tough, and we are still copping it from people. We told people you can find all that and more on how to not die in a disaster elsewhere, and we directed them there, to fire agencies, to emergency services.
Finally we knew the importance of trust in people’s decision making, and we wanted people to take action and pay it forward. One national survey we did we found that over 80% of people thought disaster preparedness was important, but only 20% (which is still 5million people) had done anything about it. So we wanted to use people who had done rediplan to be advocates.
We revamped the education activity, with a greater emphasis on flexible delivery, form one on one, to small group delivery, to large education sessions. We are seeking to deliver more through partnerships with agencies with reach into the community, such as community services providers, and now that we are clear about our messages and outcomes, the fire and emergency services are seeking partner with us to deliver psycho-social preparedness messaging in high risk areas.
What do we mean by psycho-social preparedness. At its basic definition, we say it is
the practical, psychological and social actions a person takes to prepare themselves for the impacts of an emergency. These actions include: acquiring knowledge about their threat environment; building their skills and capacity to take care of themselves and others, both psychologically and practically; and increasing their social connections within their communities.
More so, we are seeking to link preparedness actions with the Stevan Hobfall, Patricia Watson and others five pillars of psychosocial support, Safety, Hope, Calming, Connection, and Self Efficacy, as a precursor to post disaster support. By taking this approach, we can see that preparedness is an even earlier “intervention” than Psychological First Aid.
The actions do link; Knowing your hazards contributes to safety. Psychological Preparedness links to calming, building networks, links to connection etc. This approach sees psycho-social support in a continuum from predisaster through to post disaster.
Our approach draws on Douglas Paton’s Social Cognitive Model, to help understand the motivations and barriers for achieving preparedness and Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of Change/Transtheoretical Model to help us understand where someone might be in their journey towards being and staying prepared. Preparedness is an ongoing challenge, as the risks are ever present.
Our initial approach to targeting our work was very ad hoc. The resilience capacities work mentioned previously, suggested that we needed to be more nuanced. Targeting work segmented our target audience into 4 groups, mindful that we sought to help those less resilient build their capacity:
- people at risk,
- people with responsibility for others (formal and informal),
- people in recovering communities, and
- early adopters.
The rationale for these four were; the first group are our primary concern, as they are less resilient to the impact of emergencies. The second group is seen as a conduit, as those people more at risk maybe reliant upon others for assistance in daily living activities. The third group is in response to a community identified need in most of our recovery programs. The fourth group is seen as a quick win, as they are likely to adopt our messaging with minimal effort, and potentially could be a good advocate, and reach others more at risk.
Through the preparedness campaign 2015, the majority of the people who engaged with our digital messaging was women, 45 and above. Further exploration has seen the potential for a gendered approach to our targeting. Christine Eriksen has identified that bushfire preparedness is very male oriented. Alison Cottrell identified that women must be considered in disaster preparedness, as they generally perform the household management role, the ABS identified in Australia that 68% of carers are women, and the average age of carers is 55. We also know that women are at higher risk of developing longer term mental health issues in disasters. So our focus is upon women who care, who know that they should do something, but haven’t got around to it.
Equally, given the need to take a long term approach to behaviour change, the adoption of healthy behaviours starts in childhood. Child centred disaster risk reduction activities have benefits of targeting a high risk group, as well as being able to reach into communities through parents making changes in household preparedness, and establishing a foundation of preparedness that can be drawn upon later in life.
In 2012 , we trained a group of 8 asylum seeker clients to be community educators to be able to speak about preparedness within their own communities, a group of people that is highly at risk (no connections, little resources, health and wellbeing compromised, poor knowledge of the risk environment). The positive benefits have been huge. They reached 956 people, and we saw large shifts in levels of preparedness from session positive responses to preparedness indicators being between 3.5% and 50% to being over 90% post session ) and improvements in self esteem (being able to contribute).
Working with my colleague Danielle Every of Central Queensland University looking into, for the first time in Australia, the issues of homelessness.. Over half of the agencies we surveyed are located in areas in which clients have experienced floods, and almost half in areas affected by extreme cold and bushfires. For agencies, in any given weather event, just over half of their clients (57%) are, on average, affected. However, for some agencies more than 90% of their clients were affected, depending on who they worked with (e.g. rough sleepers) or the type of event (e.g. widespread flooding). This means that, during extreme weather, services can be working with 50 to 90% of clients who are impacted by severe weather. As for the housed population, people experiencing homelessness most commonly lost their shelter or their shelter was damaged in severe weather (39%) . The homeless community was also most strongly impacted by worsening or new mental health issues (34%), together with other impacts on mental health – increased substance use and conflict. Surprisingly, 19% indicated that extreme weather events had contributed to their state of homelessness. There was also dichotomy between what agencies think and what clients think.
Is it working? We think there are some positives. A monitoring process that we run at session, and three months after shows shifts in people state of preparedness, their position on the behaviour change continuum, and their action.
Out of a sample of 243, at 3 months after the session, 70.66% felt as they were highly prepared (up from 31%).
We see positive shifts in people’s state preparedness, with a shift from 37.63% of people taking action before the session to 50.93 at the end of the session, to nearly ¾ of participants (74.02%) taking action after 3 months.
Think: Overwhelmingly (86%) people had an increase in their belief in their ability to deal with an emergency.
Act: At the 3 month follow up 93% of participants had taken some action after the session.
Share: Nearly two thirds of respondents (63%) reported having a conversation with others This is a positive indication of people paying the preparedness message forward.
The big challenges going forward are how to link preparedness to recovery. The Australian Government is doing work on identifying recovery outcomes. I’d like to see if we can link preparedness actions to these outcomes. We see the notion of $1 spent saves xx dollars. This is usually focussed on mitigation activities. How can we link preparedness actions to recovery outcomes. Can we? Then a Cost Benefit ratio may be applied. This will be enormously beneficial in pitching/pleading for funds.
How do we normalise/mainstream preparedness activities. Audience test for the development of a digital solution, confirmed much of our thinking, but threw up some surprises. People don’t think about this stuff until it happens. Life gets in the way.
Reach more people, make behaviours normal. Like putting on the seat belt. It starts in schools. But we need to make it easy. And sexy.
We have a big bold goal to equip 3 million Australians to be more prepared. This will require different thinking.
There are a lot of thoughts and ideas, and words. As someone who has had countless conversations with people over the years, about death, life, trauma, feelings of happiness, sadness, frustration, and joy, I have come to recognise that these are all empty unless we continue hold centre to what we do the notion that long term prospects are not compromised.
So children can grow up in safety, with food, water, shelter, education; the little boy from Iceland can triumph in the World Cup, or the girl from Ghana can become a Nobel Prize recipient in economics, or the boy from Peru conduct Beethoven’s 9th at the Berliner Philharmonic, or the girl from Elwood can be a footy star.