Will the Twain Ever Meet? the Experience of the Emergency Services and the Local Community Services through the Blue Mountains Fires of October 2013

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal 5A G (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Valerie INGHAM, Charles Sturt University, Australia
Sarah REDSHAW, Charles Sturt University, Australia
The research team for ‘Community Connections: Vulnerability and Resilience within the Blue Mountains’ drew members from Charles Sturt University, Blue Mountains City Council, and two local neighbourhood centres. The focus was vulnerable community members, in particular the aged and people with chronic illnesses. Soon after the research launch fires broke out in the Blue Mountains of NSW, directly affecting hundreds of households, four schools and many local businesses. Despite the frequent threat and occasional fire, the local community found itself relatively unprepared for the scale and devastation of this event. In addition, knowledge of vulnerable individuals and their needs was fragmented across the community and across multiple service providers.

The Community Connections team were ideally placed to document the recovery process and to collect narratives from vulnerable people as well as local leaders. The pressing question addressed in this paper relates to the roles and responsibilities of the local community services and the local emergency services. The role of the community services is recognised within the Australian ‘National Strategy for Disaster Resilience 2011’ where they are directed to share responsibility for building community disaster resilience. The community sector, however, is not often invited to the table of disaster committees and bodies.

Prior to the October 2013 fires in the Blue Mountains, the role of community services in strengthening community resilience was undervalued and relatively unacknowledged by the local emergency services. Likewise, disaster management was a foreign concept to local community services. This paper explores the Blue Mountains experience, where the fires initiated new growth in the form of collaborations and connections in the previously barren space between local community services and local emergency services.