As Australians prepare for another disaster season, new evidence has emerged of the value of preparing for a natural disaster.
Research from Curtin University examined the effectiveness of Australian Red Cross emergency preparedness programs among people who experienced the devastating 2021 Wooroloo bushfire in the hills of Perth. The fire destroyed 86 houses and damaged 100 other houses, burned 10,000 hectares and caused loss of electricity, water, communications and road infrastructure, as well as the loss of countless animal lives.
Australian Red Cross Emergency Services Manager, Western Australia, Jennifer Pidgeon, said the Red Cross has had all community emergency preparedness programs in place in the region since 2015 The programs support community preparedness in an area at high risk of multiple and aggravating hazards. “This includes a program for primary school children, another for young people and community sessions that encourage residents to have a plan in case of a bushfire or other emergency.”
Study authors Dr Elizabeth Newnham and Dr Peta Dzidic said: ‘Preparedness programs have fostered community-led preparedness in an area at high risk of multiple and aggravating hazards’,
Dr Newnham said their study involved an online survey of 51 people and qualitative interviews with 15 people – all of whom were residents of Perth Hills affected by the fires. The main results were:
- Most people felt mostly or very prepared for an emergency, had increased confidence when responding to the emergency, evacuated earlier, and said their plan had reduced harm to themselves and their families.
- Most people continued to maintain their level of preparedness for future emergencies
- The most common preparedness activities included planning the best ways to leave the area, talking with family members about preparedness, learning about the hazards affecting their area, and securing adequate insurance.
- Among respondents, psychological distress after the event was no higher than the Australian average, but most people cited mental health issues after the bushfire as a key issue for the community.
“There is clear evidence of the value of preparedness training, and that it supports post-disaster psychosocial outcomes. Despite exposure to repeated disasters, preparedness activities have improved people’s confidence in their ability to respond and recover,” said Dr Newnham.
The study recommends that community preparedness training be continued, with wider access and inclusion. He also called for more investment in community psychosocial preparedness. In addition, it recommended greater coordination between agencies to support a unified community approach.
“There is no reason to believe that these findings cannot be applied to any community across Australia facing the prospect of increased disasters. People have pointed to the increasing level of bushfire risk and reduced opportunities to prepare for climate change, therefore we also recommend advocacy for climate action to support communities at risk.
In September, the Australian Red Cross is asking Australians to get prepared using the free resources, where they can also download the Red Cross Get Prepared app and donate to the Emergency Response and Recovery Fund. Red Cross disaster.