Disaster survivors an untapped resource

Australians who survive disasters are an untapped resource in preparing for more, researchers say.
Australians who survive disasters are an untapped resource in preparing for more, researchers say.

Australians who have survived natural disasters are an untapped resource for lessons in resilience and preparedness, researchers say.

Not only are they keenly aware of the danger and risks disaster events can pose, they are much more likely to feel confident they can do it again, a survey by Monash University's Fire to Flourish initiative reveals.

The survey of more than 3500 Australians found 71 per cent of people who had lived through such an experience felt confident their communities were prepared for the next one, compared to 51 per cent of those who had never experienced one.

Sixty seven per cent of survivors said they would cope 'well' or 'very well' if a disaster was to strike in the future, compared to 48 per cent who had never experienced one.

They felt greater confidence that their household was prepared (68 per cent, compared to 43 per cent) and felt more connected to their communities, regularly sharing information and initiatives, (61 per cent to 49 per cent).

"While disaster survivors are often depicted as victims with reduced capacities, this is not how they see themselves," Fire to Flourish CEO Briony Rogers said.

"In fact, Australians who have gone through a natural disaster bounce back, more confident in their ability to cope with whatever the future may throw at them."

The survey results show there's a lot to learn from such survivors, Associate Professor Rogers said.

"These communities form the backbone of any response, yet they're often under-utilised in broader disaster preparedness and recovery.

"Harnessing the strengths and unique lived-experience of disaster survivors can support community-led recovery, tailored to local priorities and place."

Fire to Flourish was set up in the wake of the devastating 2019/20 bushfire season with the intention of supporting communities to lead their own recovery.

With natural disasters projected to increase in frequency and intensity, equipping communities with the tenacity and resilience to cope ahead of a disaster is invaluable, Prof Rogers says.

Especially when you consider the number of Australians living in disaster prone areas who have no idea of their level of risk.

"Our survey revealed a significant portion of the Australian community do not feel prepared for a natural disaster and feel their household and community will have low resilience in the event a disaster hits," Prof Rogers said.

"This reveals an opportunity to better support our communities to build a foundation of resilience, that can be a support in times of disaster and beyond."

Australian Associated Press