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After a Disaster

Overview

Community resilience involves helping the community prepare for, cope with and recover from the adverse impacts of disasters through prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery - with the end goal of achieving resilience. Once a disaster has occurred, the focus is on recovering and then reconstructing the damaged homes, businesses and lives. Just as important are the lessons learned after the disaster event has occurred, to better support community resilience into the future. 

This section outlines information on assistance available for current disasters and links to assistance and responses to previous disasters that have impacted Australians. It will also increasingly include information on building resilience to better prepare for and withstand the impacts of disasters.

Recovery

Disaster relief is the provision of immediate shelter, life support and human needs to persons affected by, or responding to, a disaster.  Disaster relief activities are undertaken during disaster operations. Disaster recovery is the coordinated process of supporting affected communities in the reconstruction of the physical infrastructure, restoration of the economy and of the environment, and support for the emotional, social, and physical wellbeing of those affected.

Timely coordinated establishment of disaster recovery is as equally important as effective disaster response in minimising the impact on, and supporting the resilience of, communities affected by a disaster.  Clear transition arrangements from response and recovery to recovery are necessary.  The scope of disaster recovery operations are to be identified and clearly articulated.

For the purpose of effective coordination aspects of recovery are conceptually grouped into four  functions.  It is important to acknowledge that the four (4) functions of recovery overlap and recovery arrangements must reflect the inter-relationship between each of these functions. 

  • Economic Recovery
  • Environmental Recovery
  • Human-Social Recovery
  • Infrastructure Recovery
Economic Recovery

Economic recovery includes renewal and growth of the micro economy (within the affected area) and the macro economy (overall economic activity of the state).  Economic recovery includes individual and household entities (e.g. employment, income, insurance claims), private and government business enterprises and industry. It includes assets, production and flow of goods and services.  It includes capacity for the export of goods and services from the affected region, and securing confidence of overseas markets. 

After a disaster, there can be a lot of confusion and fear. Many times, this relates to the financial pressures that are created from a disaster event. Where possible, it is recommended to avoid making major financial decisions during the early recovery period. Also, if required, do not hesitate to seek psychological counseling to help deal with the trauma. However, some financial issues need to be addressed quickly after an event. The following tasks should be undertaken as soon as practical:

  • Contact your insurance company or broker to report how, when and where the damage occurred. You will need to provide a general description of the damage.
  • Create a list of damaged or lost items for insurance or financial assistance purposes. Consider photographing the damage where it occurred for further documentation to support your claim, as well as providing receipts if possible. Keep any additional receipts for expenses that may be incurred such as accommodation, repairs or supplies. Make copies of all documents and pictures given to your insurance company for your own records.
  • Retain the damaged items (where possible) until the insurance company visits your home. Do not throw away things you plan to claim without discussing it with your insurance company first.

Besides insurance, there will be questions related to taxes, expenses and determining just how you will recover from a personal (and business) financial point of view.

The functional lead agency for economic recovery is the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning.

Environmental Recovery

Environment, or natural environment, recovery includes restoration and regeneration of biodiversity (species and plants) and ecosystems, natural resources, environmental infrastructure, amenity/aesthetics (e.g. scenic lookouts), culturally significant sites and heritage structures. It includes management of environmental health, waste, contamination and pollution and hazardous materials. 

Natural disaster usually have a significant and detrimental effect on our natural resources.  It is important to have a plan for the environment's recovery in the aftermath of disasters events. 

Early action by the community and government to respond to environmental issues after a disaster will ensure any impacts on plant and animal life are minimised. To assist in this recovery, volunteers are usually at the forefront of the recovery efforts, protecting the environment and develop recovery and rehabilitation strategies.

Environmental recovery after disasters may include the reconstruction of wildlife corridors, as well as the removal of debris spread by flood waters. Funding from government is often required to support recovery efforts following the impact of natural disasters.

  • Information on Caring for our Country and disaster recovery is available at www.nrm.gov.au.

The functional lead agency for environmental recovery is Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

Human-Social Recovery

Flood damaged roadHuman-social recovery includes personal support and information, physical health and emotional, psychological, spiritual, cultural and social well-being, public safety and education, temporary accommodation, financial assistance to meet immediate individual needs and uninsured household loss and damage. 

After a disaster has occurred, the community is generally impacted greatly.  This is not only by damaged roads and infrastructure, but communication is also very difficult to get out to those affected.  An effective recovery management approach is needed to ensure that the community affected by disaster is able to start the community recovery process.

In most instances, one of the best approaches to assist in community recovery is to support them to get back on their feet themselves. Using resources already available within an affected community will ensure ownership and keep decision making powers locally.

However, it may be necessary in some circumstances to provide additional resources to support the community component of the recovery process. In particular, the employment of one or more community development workers may be necessary to facilitate a range of activities which will enhance the recovery of individuals and the broader community affected by any given event.

Fundamental to any assessment of community need resulting from a disaster is change to the existing state of community. The challenge for any recovery manager is to determine how much of the community's need is due to the impact of the disaster and to estimate what level of resource is required to support an effective community development approach to the recovery process.

Generic issues that may indicate the impact of a particular disaster include:

  • Scale of the disaster
  • Number of homes damaged or destroyed
  • Disruption of social networks
  • Psychological maladjustment
  • Media and political interest

A vast array of information is available on approaches and methodologies of community recovery. A guideline has been developed by the Emergency Management Australia that does not to compete with or repeat information which may already be available, but rather considers the way in which a community recovery approach can best be utilised to enhance the process of disaster recovery.

Psycological Recovery

The emotional care and recovery of you and your family are just as important as rebuilding a home and healing physical injuries. It can be surprising how people feel after a disaster. They can stir up many a range of feelings and thoughts. People can experience fear concerning their own or family safety, shock, grief, anger and frustration. Anxiety and depression are also quite common for people who have been greatly affected by a disaster.

The Red Cross outline some basic steps for people who may have gone through disaster situations:

  • Try to return to as many of your personal and family routines as possible
  • Get rest and drink plenty of water
  • Limit your exposure to the sights and sounds of disaster, especially on television, the radio and in the newspapers
  • Focus on the positive
  • Recognise your own feelings
  • Reach out and accept help from others
  • Do something you enjoy - do something as a family that you have all enjoyed in the past
  • Stay connected with your family and/or other support systems
  • Realise that, sometimes, recovery can take time

The functional lead agency for human-social recovery is the Department of Communities.

Infrastructure Recovery

Infrastructure, or built environment, recovery includes repair and reconstruction of residential and public buildings, commercial, industrial and rural buildings and structures, government structures, utility structures, systems and services (transport, water, sewage, energy, communications) and other essential services and dam safety. 

When disaster strikes, the first response is to save lives. While each disaster creates unique circumstances and the response needs to be tailored to meet the specifics of the situation, a key consideration must be the rebuilding and repair of vital infrastructure required for our communities to operate effectively.

Depending on the type of disaster and scale of event, the infrastructure recovery activities may focus on rebuilding roads, electricity and telephone networks, water pipelines, and waste disposal systems.  Access to communities through accessible roadways and power provided through electricity are some of the most important infrastructure elements to have back on line to then allow other recovery activities to take place.

The functional lead agency for infrastructure recovery is the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning