How Disaster Management is Impacting Engagement

In the past decade, across Australia a significant number of major disasters; including floods, fires, cyclones and storm surges; have caused billions of dollars damage to city and towns. As a result, a broad range of reviews and commissions into the issues that may have exacerbated disasters have been undertaken and recommendations to lessen the future impact of disasters are now being implemented across the country.

Over the past 12-months we have been working with local councils who are starting to implement recommendations of such commissions and we are finding it puts an unusual spin on stakeholder and community engagement.

Engagement professionals often consider strategies and tactics that will balance the influence of NIMBYs (not in my back yard) and WIIFMs (what’s in it for me). When it comes to mitigating disasters, there are still individuals that will be impacted more than others. However, more than ever policy makers are being driven to take action and protect their communities, despite possible individual opposition.

So, what can be done to foster greater acceptance when the health, safety and future prosperity for an entire region are at stake?

  • Explain the drivers for action. Councils are at risk of being held responsible if they don’t take action on information they have about disaster behaviour – they must act.
  • Engage as early as possible. Allow impacted parties the opportunity to gain a deep understanding of all the information being considered in decision making.
  • Validate the information you are working with to inform decisions is an accurate reflection of disaster behaviour. Engage with the community to confirm the accuracy of information.
  • Test the community’s tolerance for disasters by engaging with the community in what they believe are the most important issues to respond to locally.
  • Try to get individuals to think about the big picture by engaging the community in the protection of significant regional assets and what is most important to protect if the region is remain healthy, safe and prosperous.
  • Gauge early opinion about potential policy responses. Engage the community in the spectrum of policy responses, understanding if there is deep opposition to certain policy responses can inform decisions and help plan for future communication and engagement about proposed policy responses.

As more findings and recommendations are published, it is expected that focus will turn from funding disaster recovery to planning and funding for disaster mitigation. We anticipate this policy change will have a significant impact on planning decisions and engagement with impacted communities and stakeholders into the future.

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