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Disaster season hits early | A powerful story on ABC | User-testing migrant support

11 September 2019

Are We Ready?

Last week I told you how we supported nearly 65,000 Australians affected by 51 emergencies and disasters in the past year and many more impacted by heatwaves and the ongoing drought. 

The question in my mind today is are we ready, as a nation, for this year’s coming summer season?

We have been taken aback by the extent, ferocity and human impact of the fires in NSW and QLD over the past week. The manager of predictive services for the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services told the ABC - "It is an historic event. [We've] never seen this before in recorded history — fire weather has never been as severe, this early in Spring." he told them. "So this is an omen, if you will — a warning of the fire season that we're likely to see ahead in the south-eastern parts of the state, the driest parts of the state, where most of our population is."

The windy and hot weather is exacerbated by the drought with large parts of the country (particularly NSW and Qld) at very high risk as we approach summer.  Recent bushfires highlight the stark reality of this risk and some of the impacts of the changing climate in which we live.

The human and social impact is deep and well beyond the immediate risk of lost lives – the destruction of homes and personal belongings, the loss of livelihoods, the loss of jobs, school closures and disruption, and the loss of community infrastructure just to name a few.  It takes years for people to rebuild their lives and the impact of natural disasters is growing. 

Responding to recent fires

So far close to 120 volunteers and Red Cross staff have been actively involved in supporting communities and individuals

Despite conditions easing in NSW, there are 41 fires still burning across the State. We have been working across three locations in NSW - Yamba, Dorrigo and Tenterfield – supporting people in the evacuation centres, providing information and helping people stay in touch with loved ones through Register.Find.Reunite.
In QLD, currently 70 fires continue to burn across the State.  We have been supporting people evacuated, providing a ‘meet and greet’ service, psychological first aid and reunification services through Register.Find.Reunite.  We have supported more than 300 people at evacuation centres on the Sunshine Coast and will be providing telephone outreach support to people in the affected areas.
We’ll be working in both states for at least another two weeks.

Are Australians ready for the increasing intensity and frequency of natural disasters like these?

In short, no.  Our research tells us most Australians don’t feel they need to be prepared. So this year more than ever before we’re encouraging Australians to get ready for all climate related weather events – from fires to heatwaves.  Preparedness Week beginning 23 September, is an important reminder to everyone about what they can do to be better prepared.  

We recently evaluated our South Australian Climate Ready initiative which is about supporting communities to understand the impact of a changing climate, and what they can do to build their own resilience and adapt.  We reached around 5,600 people. Of them, 71% worked on getting more informed, 49% connected with their neighbours and local communities and 44% helped others by taking care of those most at risk. 

The programs seems to be addressing an urgent and growing need to support communities in developing their own grass roots responses to climate change, not just relying on authorities, and to me this is the most powerful way to build true resilience.

~ Nadja from Marion, SA took part in our SA Climate Ready initiative

Is Red Cross Prepared

The seasonal forecasts told us we we needed to do more than usual to be ready for this summer.

A key for us is to ensure that we have the right people in the right places with appropriate skills to meet any demand, by reviewing our current workforce, identifying gaps and recruiting new volunteers to address those gaps.

We have just over 4000 amazing and highly skilled volunteers who drop everything to support others in times of disaster. We are bringing on another 800 for the summer season. Our focus is on areas of highest risk, particularly along the Eastern Seaboard of the country.

As a key player in all State and Territory emergency management plans our emergency services teams are involved in a range of pre summer exercises and planning forums. These activities ensure that when the balloon goes up, agencies work collaboratively to provide the best possible support to communities in their time of need.

And of course we have a strong focus on the well-being of all Red Cross people working in the field. We have strengthened our support, based on feedback from volunteers over the past few years, by making sure that shift lengths are manageable, strengthening our independent well-being checks, and revamping our briefing and debriefing of people going into the field.

We’re also ramping up our activities to encourage and support people to get ready for heatwaves. In South Australia this includes touching base with all of our clients who are registered for the Telecross Redi heatwave program and promoting the service widely. We’re also going to use our existing services like Telecross, transport and other social support programs to start talking to people about how to be prepared for heatwaves.

Sharing a Powerful Story

Some of you may have seen on ABC’s 7.30 last night the story of Hayfa, one of hundreds of Yazidi rebuilding her life in Tawoomba, QLD.

In the lead up to the day of the disappeared, the Media Team set out to tell a powerful human story about our tracing work, targeting a major outlet. They worked together with the Tracing Team who introduced them to Hayfa and worked diligently to help her tell her story through one of the country’s most watched news programs.

Hayfa was separated from her husband when ISIS came to their village in northern Iraq. What she endured is confronting to hear but her bravery for the sake of her children and her quest to find answers about her husband are even more powerful. I encourage you to watch it.

Testing our migration supports with people who use them.

Last week the folks in our Migration team spent time with people who have had to seek asylum, to get their advice on Project Safety Net. This human-centred design project has worked with Red Cross clients past and present, and people with experiences of seeking asylum to improve our emergency relief work. This work provide a ‘safety net’ of financial and material aid for people seeking asylum, who have little or no access to mainstream services or support.

The sessions were facilitated by one of our past Red Cross clients, Amir Abdi, a community leader and a refugee himself. Whilst Amir ran the session in North Melbourne, the team was delighted to look after Amir’s guide dog Sally who charmed the office for belly rubs.

By asking very specific questions about the ways in which people would like to be supported, and opportunities to improve our design we can improve the way we support people seeking safety in Australia, and ensure that their voice is at the centre of our work.

Remembering Red Cross worker 18 years after 9/11 attacks

Wednesday marked 18 years since the 9/11 attacks in the USA. Among those killed was Red Cross volunteer and staff member Yvonne Kennedy. Her son Simon Kennedy recently spoke to about his mother - "I’ve always had this idea in my mind that she would have been comforting people and looking after those around her… she was the kind of person who would have been holding someone’s hand." 

Our thoughts are with everyone who lost someone they love on that terrible day.

Until next week,