21 February 2019
Since the catastrophic 2013 bushfires in the Blue Mountains, which were centralized in the townships of Springwood, Winmalee and Yellow Rock, and resulted in the destruction of 196 homes and forced evacuation of residents and students, two Charles Sturt University researchers have been leveraging community connections in the Blue Mountains. In collaboration with community and emergency service leaders, dramatic results have been achieved: equipping more than 1000 residents – including some of the most vulnerable – with awareness, access, and tools. Their evaluation demonstrates that the programs have had real impact in the community, and will save lives at the next major disaster in these communities.
CSU researchers Associate Professor Valerie Ingham and Dr Sarah Redshaw oversaw two projects in partnership with community organisations and local emergency services. These researched the benefits of bringing together disaster management organisations, including emergency services, councils and neighbourhood centres, in order to minimize risk for communities facing an approaching fire.
The first project, on community resilience and vulnerability to fire, was already in progress when the 2013 bushfires broke out. The research, based on actual responses by community groups during the bushfire, demonstrated that even if a community was well-informed about an oncoming fire, some vulnerable groups, including senior citizens, were still at risk. Disaster management procedures were not serving the full breadth of the community.
In the second project, Ingham and Redshaw built on valuable lessons learned in the first project to provide expertise for three new Fire Awareness Programs. Their research showed that information-sharing processes between emergency services and community service organisations were sometimes inefficient or flawed. The team made informed recommendations to improve coordination.
Research was conducted involving of community organisations, emergency services and the local council with the aim of improving the way they provided information on resilience and preparedness in the community. Evaluation of the three Fire Awareness Programs as they were implemented in various communities across the Blue Mountains via CSU and community partnerships quickly established the benefits of working together. Using community organisations allowed emergency services to reach more people with the preparedness message, and by working with emergency services, neighbourhood centres could support local inhabitants to be more prepared for fire emergencies. These networks and partnerships established through the CSU research projects are continuing in the Blue Mountains today.
Research from the two projects resulted in:
A range of information resources were developed in conjunction with the research, including The Get Ready! Guide a one-stop booklet for the general community of the Blue Mountains with phone numbers, addresses, websites and other information for emergencies; and a BSAFE 5 point reference guide for seniors to prepare effectively for emergencies. Vulnerable community members who previously may have been isolated can now be connected so that they are able to get the assistance they need in times of emergency.
The CSU research was widely praised by community leaders. Parliamentarian Trish Doyle MP in the NSW Legislative Assembly referred to the research in a Community Recognition Statement. Ms Doyle highlighted that in the BSAFE project was “a unique partnership emerged between community services and emergency services”. She commended the project, and noted that there would be long-term benefits for other communities across the State.
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