Despite our existing strengths, every year, Australian communities are subjected to the damaging impacts of disasters caused by destructive bushfires, floods, and severe storms. The impacts of these disasters on people, the economy, our infrastructure and the environment remind us of the need to continue improving our resilience to disasters.
The size, severity, timing, location and impacts of disasters are difficult to predict, and our changing climate increases the uncertainty about future risks. Scientific modelling suggests that climate change will likely result in an increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Rising sea levels are increasing the likelihood of coastal erosion and severe inundation.
Across Australia, managing emergencies is largely the responsibility of state and territory governments, and local governments also play a significant role. It is uncommon for a disaster to be so large that it is beyond the capacity of a state or territory government to deal with effectively. State and territory governments have arrangements with each other to share resources when necessary. In particularly major disasters or adverse events, a state or territory government may seek federal assistance.
In the past, standard emergency management planning emphasised the documentation of roles, responsibilities and procedures. Increasingly, these plans consider arrangements for prevention, mitigation, preparedness and recovery, as well as response. Building upon our existing emergency planning arrangements, we need to focus more on action-based resilience planning to strengthen local capacity and capability, with greater emphasis on community engagement and a better understanding of the diversity, needs, strengths and vulnerabilities within communities. Disasters do not impact everyone in the same way, and it is often our vulnerable community members who are the hardest hit.
Underlying this effort, emergency management in Australia is built on the concept of prevention, preparedness, response and recovery (PPRR). Over the last ten years there has been a considered move to give greater emphasis to prevention and recovery in addition to the focus on response. It is vital, however, that governments and emergency services remain well prepared to respond to disasters and other adverse events. Significant effort is now being devoted to preventing disasters, where possible. Governments also have in place comprehensive systems to support recovery.
Governments are continually preparing for prevention, response and recovery activities. Preparing for each of these elements of emergency management helps builds resilience. In this way it is important to understand that the concept of disaster resilience builds upon rather than replaces existing strengths and arrangements.
The fundamental change is that achieving increased disaster resilience is not solely the domain of emergency management agencies; rather, it is a shared responsibility across the whole of society.
Local government agrees with proposition that there is a need for a new focus on shared responsibility; one where political leaders, governments, business and community leaders, and the not-for-profit sector all adopt increased or improved emergency management and advisory roles, and contribute to achieving integrated and coordinated disaster resilience. In turn, communities, individuals and households need to take greater responsibility for their own safety and act on information, advice and other cues provided before, during and after a disaster.
The key elements of emergency management at the national level are the mitigation of risk, the promotion of community safety and warning systems, engaging partners and communities, protecting built and natural environments and a significant investment in community resilience. These are undertaken through a whole-of-government, multi-agency, "all hazards" approach.
National Strategy for Disaster Resilience
Every year, a number of Australian communities face devastating losses caused by disasters. Bushfires, floods, storms, other hazards and their associated consequences have significant impacts on communities, the economy, infrastructure and the environment.
Over the past decade, all levels of governments have collaborated on reforming disaster management approaches. On 6 November 2008, the Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management – Emergency Management agreed that the future direction for Australian emergency management should be based on achieving community and organisational resilience. To build on this work, on 7 December 2009 the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to adopt a whole-of-nation resilience-based approach to disaster management, which recognises that a national, coordinated and cooperative effort is needed to enhance Australia’s capacity to withstand and recover from emergencies and disasters.
While the Strategy focuses on priority areas to build disaster resilient communities across Australia, it also recognises that disaster resilience is a shared responsibility for individuals, households, businesses and communities, as well as for governments.
This new focus on resilience calls for an integrated, whole-of-nation effort encompassing enhanced partnerships, shared responsibility, a better understanding of the risk environment and disaster impacts, and an adaptive and empowered community that acts on this understanding.
While the Strategy focuses on natural disasters, the approach it articulates may also be applicable in preparing communities to deal with other disasters such as pandemic, animal disease and terrorist events.
The National Disaster Resilience Strategy is the first step in a long-term, evolving process to deliver sustained behavioural change and enduring partnerships. Local government is committed in assisting in building such resilience.
Australian Emergency Management Institute
The Australian Emergency Management Institute (AEMI) is a centre of excellence for knowledge and skills development in the national emergency management sector. As a part of the Attorney-General’s Department, AEMI provides a range of education, training, professional development, information, research and community awareness services to the nation and our region.
AEMI is located at Mount Macedon in Victoria and was opened in 1956 as the Australian Civil Defence School. Since then, AEMI has had a significant role in building the capacity and professionalism of the emergency management sector in Australia.
The Institute continues to focus on improving knowledge and development in the emergency management sector. It supports broader national security capability development efforts to build community resilience to disaster.
Courses offered at AEMI include nationally accredited training courses and professional development programs. AEMI also hosts a range of workshops based on the national research and innovation agenda agreed by the National Emergency Management Committee. http://www.ema.gov.au/www/emaweb/emaweb.nsf/Page/Education
To find more information on emergency management, you can visit some of these useful websites.
Australian Government websites:
Websites for emergency services organisations in each of the State or Territories:
Websites for students and teachers: