Australia's National Strategy for Disaster Resilience

Australia's National Strategy for Disaster Resilience (NSDR) was released in February 2011.  This strategy acknowledges the increasing severity and regularity of natural disasters in Australia and the need for a coordinated and cooperative national effort to enhance Australia's capacity to withstand and recover from emergencies and disasters.

Disaster resilience is described in the NSDR as the collective responsibility of all levels of government, business, the non-government sector and individuals.  Where these sectors work together with a united focus and a shared sense of responsibility to improve disaster resilience, they will be far more effective than the individual efforts of any one sector.

Understanding Disaster Resilience

Disaster resilience is a well-used phrase, but there is no single universally agreed definition.

There are, however, common themes that run through the definitions of disaster resilience and frequently, the term is defined by the combination of two independent definitions.

The definitions used by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) provide a useful starting point:

  • Disaster: A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses and impacts, which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources.
  • Resilience: The ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions.

These definitions are helpful but are by themselves insufficient to effectively define disaster resilience.

  • The UNISDR addresses this through the use of additional definitions, including disaster risk reduction and coping capacity.
  • The Australian National Strategy for Disaster Resilience takes an alternative approach and describes the attributes of disaster resilience in communities as:
    • functioning well under stress
    • successfully adapting to change
    • being self-reliant, and
    • having social capacity and support systems.

What is clear is that there is an emerging consensus that a disaster resilient Australia is both a desirable and  achievable long-term outcome and that the journey will require a persistent and long-term commitment.  Achieving that outcome will require a significant investment of time and effort across all levels of our national community - it is not just a role for governments.  Collectively, we will have to:

  • understand and acknowledge that natural and man-made disasters will happen and that regardless of the preparation that is undertaken, our lives will be disrupted
  • prepare ourselves at individual, community and national levels so that we know what we need to do and the limitations of our capabilities when confronted with something that is, or has the potential to become, a disaster
  • understand and contribute to the connectedness of our infrastructure (houses, office buildings, utilities, factories and transport), the environment (including weather and natural resources) and human behaviour, and
  • acknowledge that as the scale, frequency, severity and variety of threatened disasters grows, the 'rules' that we have used to respond to those events may no longer work and we will need to have the capacity to adapt in the face of serious disruptions to our way of life.