Resilience is defined as a capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, a toughness, or the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape. We have heard much about resilience as bushfires, drought, flood and the covid pandemic engulfed our nation testing our personal and professional resilience as well as that of our city, our systems, and our economy.
While different circumstances may demand different responses, to Shane Fitzsimmons, NSW’s first Commissioner for Resilience, we need to be more resilient. In fact it was having visited over fifty communities during the 2019 – 2020 bushfires and backed by his near three decades in the rural fire service, the last twelve as Commissioner, that Fitzsimmons said to the NSW Premier that “we need to do recovery better”.
Now as NSW Commissioner for Resilience, Fitzsimmons is charged with building the capacity of our places and people to recover better. Taking the lessons learnt, measures made, and changes identified, Commissioner Fitzsimmons has rolled up his sleeves and is developing a plan, framework and capability to prevent, prepare, and recover from any crisis which may impact any community across the State.
Embedded in his approach are three important principles – local matters, collaboration is key, and language is critical. He makes a point that he will not be referring to the devastating fires of 2019- 2020 as “Black Summer’ as this understates those fires that were impacting communities well before then and in the context of the Covid restrictions, he firmly uses ‘physical’ distancing over ‘social’ distancing in recognition of the critical human need to remain socially connected during these challenging times.
Because every recovery situation brings with it a different set of circumstances and is cloaked in a context specific to that community, by necessity it all must start at the local level. By energizing, engaging and mobilizing the local community, its resources and its ‘spirit’ not only is a pathway formed and capability developed to come out of the current crisis, but there becomes an enhanced community capacity to respond, recover and rebuild – a resilience for the future.
Learning lessons from the past, collaboration across government and between all levels of government is a centre piece to a robust resilience framework. Accessing resources from the various government agencies and leveraging resources from industry and the community simply means more can happen faster and in a more targeted way. It means getting the right support to the right people in a shorter time frame.
The Commissioner has much praise for how individuals, communities, and businesses have rallied to help those less fortunate than themselves. ‘City dwellers’ reaching out to aid regional communities and families impacted by natural disasters of fire, flood and drought, businesses and business organisations establishing and backing ‘Business to the Bush’ campaigns and neighbours checking in on others during this period of enforced physical distancing.
While these selfless and sacrificial acts reflect a valuable attribute of our Australian culture, the Commissioner is less praiseworthy of our cultural attitude that “she’ll be right mate”. The Covid pandemic has highlighted that a crisis does not discriminate, so many people’s lives and livelihoods are directly or indirectly impacted by what nature or the world brings that we cannot be complacent and rest on our laurels in the belief that ‘it won’t happen to me”.
With nearly six months in the job, Commissioner Fitzsimmons has put his shoulder to the wheel, driving actions and activity to build a State-wide local and collaborative resilience capacity – so that together, we will be able to do recovery better.
Sydney Business Chamber held an online forum with Shane Fitzsimmons, Commissioner, Resilience NSW on Thursday 29 October 2020. Listen to the podcast below.