Preparing for and responding to natural disasters and environmental emergencies: a guide for state housing authorities

Summary

This research found that state housing authorities (SHAs) play a critical role in responding to the needs of individuals and communities affected by natural disasters but can still improve their planning and capacity by studying the experiences and lessons learned from previous disaster response efforts. This research involved an international literature review of disaster management policy and practice in the USA, UK and Australia with a focus on housing issues. Three case studies were conducted examining some of the most common and costly disasters affecting Australian SHAs. These covered the floods in Newcastle NSW in 2007, the ACT bushfires in 2003 and cyclone Larry in Cairns and far North Queensland in 2006. Key areas identified for improvement in SHA disaster preparation included better management of data, the development and update of inventories, templates, pro forma and checklists and more routine use of tolls such as risk mapping as well as the effective training of all staff. In response and recovery, SHAs must operate effectively with other agencies and there is a need for cross agency understanding of different roles and responsibilities as well as a strong chain of command and control.

Project Number: 40520
Research Theme(s): Public and community housing
Project Leader: Jacobs, Keith
Funding Year: 2008
Research Centre: Southern

Description

An international literature review was conducted on disaster management policy and practice in the USA, UK and Australia with a focus on housing issues. New empirical material was then collected and analysed in three case studies of the most common and costly types of disasters affecting different state housing authorities: coastal storms and floods in NSW (following Newcastle’s floods in 2007), bushfires in the ACT (following the Canberra bushfires in 2003), and cyclones in Far North Queensland (following TC Larry in Cairns in 2006). One-on-one, semi-structured interviews and focus groups were held with SHA staff and tenants in the three case study locations.

The key findings of the research are:

  • SHAs differ in their experiences and capacities to understand and manage natural disasters. Institutions can learn from an event but knowledge gets lost and the perceived need and momentum for change is soon dissipated.
  • Key areas for improvement in SHA disaster preparation include the better management of data, the development and update of inventories, templates, pro forma and checklists, more routine use of tools such as risk mapping, and the effective training of all staff.
  • In response and recovery, SHAs must operate effectively with other agencies and there is a need for an understanding of different roles and responsibilities as well as a strong chain of command and control.
  • Conflicting roles and competing demands divide SHAs in their provision of social welfare and asset maintenance, and between service delivery and corporate concerns, and these differences are intensified in a disaster.