Communities feel ill-prepared in face of natural disasters, survey finds

Monash University

  • A national survey has revealed how Australians feel about facing natural disasters where they live.
  • Nearly half of the 3,522 Australians surveyed said they wouldn’t cope well, or at all, if they experienced a natural disaster event in the next year.
  • Almost one-third of people in high disaster risk areas believe their community was not prepared for future disasters.
  • The study also found that experiencing a disaster greatly influenced how prepared and confident people felt about the future, with 71% of disaster survivors confident their communities were prepared for the next disaster, compared with 51% of those who have never experienced one.
  • The survey highlights the need to better support communities to build preparedness and resilience strategies that can be drawn upon in times of disaster.

Ausralians who have lived through a natural disaster are more confident to face one again, but many feel ill-prepared and unable to cope if disaster were to strike within the next year, a national survey found.

Fire to Flourish program at Monash University surveyed 3,522 Australians about their perceptions of preparedness and resilience to natural disasters such as fires, floods and major storms. It compared responses between those who had lived through disaster and those who had not.

The study found that experiencing a disaster greatly influenced how prepared and resilient people felt if disaster struck again. When asked about future disasters, 67% said they would cope ‘well’ or ‘very well’, compared to 48% of those who had never experienced disaster.

But some respondents living in disaster-prone areas were completely unaware of their level of risk, and almost half of all respondents indicated they did not feel their community was prepared for a natural disaster.

With natural disasters projected to increase in frequency and intensity, Fire to Flourish CEO Briony Rogers said the study shines a light on the need for increased and ongoing investment in initiatives that build community resilience and support a community-led approach to recovery when disaster does occur.

“Our survey revealed that a significant portion of the Australian community do not feel prepared for a natural disaster, and feel that their household and community will have low resilience in the event a disaster hits,” Associate Professor 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.”

For those that experienced a disaster, the survey also shows this challenging experience can become a source of strength.

Participants with disaster experiences reported greater confidence that their household was prepared (68% vs 43%), felt more connected to their communities, shared information about local problems and initiatives more regularly (61% vs 49%), and had people in their community equipped to step up and lead recovery efforts if they need to (62% vs 49%).

“While disaster survivors are often depicted as victims with reduced capacities, this is not how they see themselves. 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,” Associate Professor Rogers said.

“All disasters, including fires and floods, happen within our communities. 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.

The findings will help to inform ongoing Fire to Flourish program work, reimagining community resilience by supporting communities to lead their own local initiatives that strengthen disaster recovery efforts and resilience, and disrupt cycles of disadvantage.

“Our approach seeks to facilitate transformative change and demonstrate what can be achieved when communities are not just passive recipients of recovery funds, but are supported to actively find their own ways to rebuild and recover,” Associate Professor Rogers said.

“We aim to see the Fire to Flourish community-led approach to building resilience to natural disasters shared across all Australian communities.”

About Fire to Flourish at Monash University

In partnership with communities affected by the 2019/20 Australian bushfire season, Fire to Flourish is a five-year program that aims to support communities to lead their own recovery, co-creating foundations for long-term resilience and wellbeing. The program will trial and scale innovations in community-led resilience, amplified through partnerships with government, philanthropic, not-for-profit and private sector organisations.

Fire to Flourish is a partnership between Monash University’s Sustainable Development Institute, the Paul Ramsay Foundation and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation. Cornerstone funding is provided by the Paul Ramsay Foundation and Metal Manufactures Pty Ltd, with additional funding from the Lowy Foundation.

The program is currently working directly with communities in the following LGAs.

  • Eurobodalla (NSW)

  • Clarence Valley (NSW)

  • Tenterfield (NSW)

  • East Gippsland (VIC)

www.monash.edu/msdi/initiatives/fire-to-flourish

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).