Complexities of disasters call for collaborative response

By Jelenko Dragisic

We have a strategy on how to make Australia resilient to natural disasters; a strategy adopted by COAG on 13 February 2011. It came only a few weeks after the largest floods in the State’s history washed over countless communities, causing death and destruction on an unprecedented scale, and a few days after Cyclone Yasi devastated numerous communities across north Queensland.

It’s been three years since the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience emerged and it would be natural to think about what it has done to make Australians better off, especially when we know natural disaster threats in the form of major bushfires and floods are all too real. Any practitioner of the art of strategic planning knows that people who are expected to benefit from strategies would expect to see some results, and indeed any strategy should provide some signs of life after three years. By now there should be some clear indicators to tell us if we are on the right track to achieving the original intention.

There are some obvious questions that deserve early attention. Given that the strategy is aimed at making the people of Australia better prepared for disaster, better equipped to respond and more confident in recovering from any disaster, it would be natural to expect more people to know that there actually is such a plan. It would be equally important to believe that most people by now are starting to become familiar with the term ‘resilience’. Furthermore it would be realistic to expect some practical outcomes that clearly demonstrate that individuals and communities across the country are actually taking the issues of resilience seriously.


Resilience building goes beyond disaster management. Its main concern cannot be only the ability of a community to bounce back. The real test lies in the ability of an individual, community or business to continue to grow.


I cannot answer those questions with absolute certainty at the moment. I am confident that others may be better informed. However, I am confident that I can provide part of the answer as a person who was responsible for the implementation of one of Australia’s largest natural disaster resilience program run by a community organisation. At this point, evidence clearly proves that one of the most critical phases of resilience building should be focused on making individuals and communities better connected, informed and confident to act. I am not talking about fuzzy, soapy connections where people just talk and play good neighbours in the hope that that would automatically make them resilient. The connections I am particularly concerned about are the ones that serve to make information flow more effective; connections that inspire people to reach out beyond the local and educate themselves about initiatives, programs and plans such as the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience 2011.

Resilience is a multifaceted beast, but it should not deter people from trying to engage with its complexity. Small, simple steps can make a huge difference. In a range of examples based on evidence collected from a variety of initiatives, I can see that it is the precisely the small steps that lead to concrete results, which in turn make people feel more confident about their ability to again face the next season of disasters. I have seen projects that were initiated by a single individual, directly as a result of their inspiration and knowledge gained after participating in a funded resilience project. The information, knowledge and belief in self-action leads people to understand their own capacity as a resource that with some support can be converted into social capital of immense value to a larger number of people.

It is of critical importance that we now start paying serious attention to the limitations of the disaster resilience narrative. The strong community response to resilience programs is a vital indication that the community does not see resilience building as being the same thing as disaster management. The links may be obvious and are, in fact, real and should be maintained. However, resilience building goes beyond disaster management. Its main concern cannot be only the ability of a community to bounce back. The real test lies in the ability of an individual, community or business to continue to grow. Attempting, as a seemingly logical goal, to go back to ‘normal’ is not what resilience building should settle for. After all, isn’t what seemed normal before a major disaster in fact proof that the community may have some inherent inefficiencies that should be improved?

Some resilience programs concern themselves with only community dimension of resilience building. That alone is not supposed to replace, nor in any way detract from, a host of other areas that are currently being worked on. Major infrastructure such as telecommunications, transport, water and food supply are only the start. However, it makes little sense to approach resilience building by pretending that we should prioritise one at the expense of the other.

Resilience building has to work as an interlocking strategy, which ensures that all areas of work are done in tandem and support the collective effort – an effort that can successfully bring about a level of collaboration between individuals, the local community, local, state and federal governments, big business and other institutions such as churches, universities and so on, can perhaps best be described as ‘super-cooperation’. I think we need to acknowledge that what to me seems a tyranny of self-interest can serve as the basis for super-collaboration that would produce both the social and monetary capital necessary for a resilient Australia.

Natural Disasters Still Aren’t Good for the Economy

By Art Carden 

Tornado season is in full swing (US), and late April saw big storm systems that did serious damage in parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. Hurricane Season is but a few months away. Just as every year brings weather disasters to some places, every year also brings stories claiming that disasters are good for the economy (here’s a 2011 example from the New York Times). As I have written here before, though, stories like these make an elementary mistake by focusing on the new bursts of economic activity while ignoring the alternative uses of those resources…



80,000 Nikes overboard: but not a sole was lost!

By Bruce Grady

What, you may well ask, do Nikes overboard have to do with a collaboration and emergency management blog? Well quite a lot in fact.

Our story starts on 27 May 1990, the freighter ship Hansa Carrier was caught in a horrific North Pacific storm en-route to the USA. It seems that 4-5 Nike containers were tossed overboard. In that one storm Nike lost roughly 80,000 pairs of shoes, all of them just drifting along in our oceans (interesting fact: a running shoe can float for around 10 years).

“Collaboration creates opportunities for innovation and innovation solves problems. Problem solving is the life-blood of good disaster management.”

Eventually the shoes started washing ashore one by one, and all of them were wearable after a quick scrub-down. The problem, however, was that the shoes were not tied together. So this beachside bonanza was for nought as people were finding tens, or even hundreds, of shoes: all odd feet, sizes and styles.

Still not convinced this has anything to do with emergency management? Pieces of information gathered during a crisis or a disaster can be a bit like this jogger jetsam – it might look good but is actually pretty useless by itself. Even lots of information might be of little value unless it matched. In a disaster many agencies and organisations hold pieces of information, and mostly they seem to hold on to it.

Now comes the interesting bit from the Nike story. Somebody started to arrange swap meets to find matching pairs. One bright-spark even created a web based matching system where people could log and match the shoes they found. Sounds simple, and it is – but this practical approach to collaboration is all too often the missing ingredient from crisis response. COLLABORATION is the point of this tale.

Pressure, unrealistic timeframes and attitudes often conspire to keep information in silos. Information is the only asset that grows in value when you give it away.

Let’s look at a real life example: Tropical Cyclone Larry, far-north Queensland, 2006. A high voltage transmission tower was blown over, cutting power to Cairns and beyond. Hundreds of thousands of people without power. Estimates of more than a week to fix the problem. If the problem and the information were left in its organisational silos that’s exactly what would have happened – leaving a battered community suffering even more. What actually happened was the right people were put together in a spirit of collaboration. What was created was a solution: a pre-fabricated tower was located; the military accessed a heavy lift helicopter; Local council identified a location; disaster powers were applied and road cut through a cane farm; a concrete pad laid; the tower “choppered” into position and lines reconnected. Hey-presto high voltage power – in less than two days. Nothing overwhelmingly complicated but all impossible without the frameworks, commitment and attitudes to getting the right people in the right place with the right mission. They each had a piece of the puzzle but they could only solve it when they all came together!

Make sure that your emergency systems and processes actively create collaboration and don’t constrain information into silos and keep it there. Collaboration creates opportunities for innovation and innovation solves problems. Problem solving is the life-blood of good disaster management.

It’s certainly more important than a washed up pair of sneakers!

Bruce was the Assistant Director-General leading Emergency Management Queensland, and now lends his expertise and experience by consulting to governments and organisations seeking to outperform the impacts of disaster and crisis. Bruce is member of Global Resilience Collaborative.

Make resilience a business asset

By Dr Rose Gantner.

Dr Gantner is a wellness consultant based in USA and a member of Global Resilience Collaborative.


Most people want meaningful and enriched lives for themselves and significant others. Why is this so hard to accomplish and blend together in one’s personal life, the workplace, and the community? Or, how do individual employee habits, attitudes, beliefs, skills, motivation, and values align with the organization’s goals to form a mutual partnership of trust and higher morale so individuals, teams, and companies grow and benefit emotionally and financially?

Once people know the ”why” and “what “ of resilience and positive psychology components, they will be able to learn the “how” to achieve their present and future goals, make the best out of any stressful situation, and become stronger and more emotionally agile, with a clear focus on their immediate choices and the potential consequences.

Human capital is an important investment. Equally important is psychological capital1, the positive resources of efficacy, hope, optimism, and resilience. These resources may be the key to helping employees move from less stress to more energy and to improving the workplace culture fit with the employee’s skills, knowledge, and attitudes. The progression should move towards talent optimization, training, and retaining high performers with high resilience. Research supports that highly resilient leaders are more successful, creative, and innovative and display more emotional stability, strength, honor, and integrity when faced with adversity.2

Evidence shows that resilience and the emerging field of organizational behavior, along with positive organizational scholarship, can improve engagement, performance, and productivity; increase individual’s cognitive flexibility to adapt to change with a calm assertiveness, and encourage striving towards success and personal accountability.3..READ ON…

Reputational risk and resiliency: The branding of security in place-making

By Dr Peter Rogers and Dr Jon Coaffee

This paper on reputational risk and resilience by Dr Peter Rogers and Dr Jon Coaffee was first published in 2008 and it is now kindly shared by our collaborator. Dr Rogers is Co-Director of Climate Futures at Macquarie University and a member of the Global Resilience Collaborative.

In light of new international security challenges and the ongoing terrorist threat, the need for places to adopt security and resiliency measures to retain reputation has increased. This paper uses the concept of ‘reputational risk’ to argue that security is becoming one of many key selling points in the practice of city branding. We highlight how aspects of security and emergency preparedness are increasingly becoming affiliated with branding practices and utilised by governance regimes to promote and brand particular locales as safe, secure and resilient to attack. Utilising both historical and contemporary examples from UK cities, we argue that security and resilience is quickly becoming another tool in the armoury of place branders at local, regional and national levels, and emerges as a factor in the attraction of inward investment and conference-led or ‘meetings’ tourism and in the evolution of post-industrial cities…READ ON