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Researchers create first national snapshot of disaster resilience

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A new measure of disaster resilience illustrates how capacity to withstand natural disasters differs between Australian communities, helping insurers and other stakeholders tackle bushfires, floods, storms and earthquakes.

The Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre (BHNCRC) says its new Australian Disaster Resilience Index provides a crucial snapshot and support tool for decision makers, offering them a nationally standardised index of resilience for the first time.

Research Director John Bates says the index provides much‐needed knowledge to help prepare for and recover from natural hazards and also acts as a base to measure change and assess how effective policies and investments have been.

“By measuring the capacity for resilience, we can better understand how different regions will be able to adapt to, and cope with, natural hazards,” Mr Bates says.

The index identifies disaster resilience capacity across 2084 statistical areas in Australia. This is presented as an interactive website available here, with navigable maps.

It identifies five disaster resilience profiles based on the values of eight resilience factors, classifying every region in Australia by strengths and barriers.

Graphs can be generated showing the status of the eight disaster resilience factors in relation to state and national medians.

Areas that share similar capacities for disaster resilience can quickly be found, knowledge that can support the coordination of resilience‐building initiatives and sharing of resources.

Areas with low capacity for disaster resilience are home to about 3.8 million people, the index shows, with the NT featuring prominently. These communities may have limited capacity to use available resources to cope with adverse events, and adjust to change through learning, adaptation and transformation, it says. Limitations may be contributed to by entrenched social and economic disadvantage.

Areas assessed as having high capacity for disaster resilience together house about 7.6 million people, the index says.

These communities were concentrated in the capital cities. Employment, education, income, good access to resources and services, community cohesion and ample opportunities for adaptive learning and problem solving were contributing factors.

Across Australia, 1042 areas were assessed to have moderate capacity for disaster resilience and together about 12.3 million people live in these areas, the index reveals.

The index, developed with the University of New England, will enable organisations to tailor programs and policies that strengthen disaster resilience.

“Communities around Australia are not equal when it comes to their capacity for disaster resilience,” lead researcher at the University of New England Melissa Parsons says.

Many social, economic and institutional factors contribute to disaster resilience, and what works in one location won’t necessarily work somewhere else, she says.

“This research captures a national picture of disaster resilience to help communities, governments, emergency services and other organisations develop the right capacities for resilience to suit their communities,” Ms Parsons said.