Building Community Resilience: The Eden Disaster Preparedness Project - DisasterWISE
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Building Community Resilience: The Eden Disaster Preparedness Project

In the idyllic, coastal town of Eden, located halfway between Melbourne and Sydney, a remarkable initiative has been unfolding, led by two community-minded women, Jodie Stewart and Sharon Wellard. The Eden Disaster Preparedness Project, initiated in 2021 by the Eden Community Access Centre, aimed to bring the community together to co-design a disaster preparedness plan over a two-year period.

Sharon’s commitment to her hometown stems from a desire for a greater sense of community and a recognition of the unique needs in Eden. After growing up in and eventually returning to the area following a corporate career in Sydney, she wanted to make a social investment in where she lived.

Jodie, who has always lived in the region, has a background in academic history and community engagement and brought a wealth of skills and a passion for caring for one another to the project.

Jodie, appointed as the Disaster Preparedness Coordinator, spearheaded the project’s efforts to engage the community actively. The project received a significant boost with a funding grant of $350,000 over two years from the NSW government This funding facilitated Jodie’s role, supported project officers, and enabled community engagement.

The initial goal was to form a committee representing various aspects of the community, such as emergency services, community groups, sporting organisations, and more. However, the project’s inclusive approach resulted in a committee that became quite extensive and ambitious, comprising 25-36 volunteers from a population of 3,500 residents.

The project’s timing coincided with the aftermath of the devastating 2019/2020 bushfires, which prompted communities to apply for substantial funding. Eden was surrounded by fires, facing the threat of a mega-fire. The project, which was set up to include surrounding villages, encountered unique challenges as each community had its own experiences, and some already had preparedness plans in place.

The bitter experience during the fires left Eden’s residents disillusioned with the slow recovery led by the government. The onset of the global pandemic further complicated efforts to bring the community together, as COVID-19 safety measures hindered physical gatherings.

Jodie, Sharon, and the team, including project assistant Deb Austen, adapted by using innovative approaches. They implemented “table talks,” small group discussions around kitchen tables or in small public meeting places, to create a safe space for community members to share their experiences and collaboratively address complex issues.

Despite initial setbacks, the project made significant strides. The community engagement group collaborated with David Newell from Cobargo, facilitating gatherings and discussions that have led to numerous projects. The table talks became crucial in gathering information about community experiences during disasters.

The collected data revealed key themes and priorities, including the need for education on emergency services, improved communication strategies, and strengthened community connectedness. This information formed the basis for a strategic plan for Eden.

One notable outcome of the project was partnering with the Eden Community Access Centre Youth project’s team to develop the disaster preparedness game, “Blaze,” aimed at engaging young people in disaster preparedness. Additional funding applications resulted in a youth preparedness project, focusing on initiatives like a Red Cross Community-led Resilience Team (CRT) and youth engagement projects in local high schools.

The Project Lab, initiated in January 2023, aimed to bring community members together to turn ideas into actionable projects. Despite challenges, including limited exposure to project planning among older participants, the lab continues to build bridges between emergency services and the community successfully.

As the project’s funding ended in June 2023, Sharon continued her involvement linked to her role as a Community Access Centre board member. The Project Lab focused on delivering tangible outputs, such as a two-page emergency preparedness guide and a community connection initiative called “Prepared to Party.” These efforts aimed to demonstrate real results and to help build trust within the community.

The Eden Disaster Preparedness Project, born out of necessity, has evolved into a testament to a community’s resilience in the face of adversity. Through collaboration, innovation, and a commitment to building relationships, Sharon, Jodie, and the community have laid the foundation for a more prepared and connected Eden.

Sharon and Jodie were interviewed for DisasterWISE by Sabrina Davis

More information can be found here:

Disaster Preparedness Project

The Project Lab


  • Pete Williams
    Posted February 22, 2024 at 8:24 pm

    It is great to see the level of funding given to the community to build connections and preparedness

  • Carina Severs
    Posted February 23, 2024 at 3:22 pm

    This project was actually led by the Eden Community Access Centre Inc (ECAC), coordinated by Dr Jodie Stewart, supported by Sharon Wellard and funded through the NSW Governments “Bushfire Community Recovery & Resilience Fund. ECAC is continually working towards the betterment of the local area both socially & economically.
    The Disaster Preparedness Project ran from July 2021 through to June 2023 as a community-led initiative bringing together community members, community groups, emergency services and response agencies, community services, and state, federal and local government in the co-design of a Disaster Preparedness, Recovery and Resilience strategic plan for Eden and surrounding villages.
    The strategic plan has now been published It reflects the extensive community engagement undertaken throughout the life of the project. It takes a sustained view of disaster preparedness for the region and the ongoing need for improved communication and collaboration between the community and emergency agencies, better community understanding about personal preparedness and how emergencies are managed and enhanced community connection.
    ECAC is now partnering with Katungul Aboriginal Health Corp to deliver “The Community Sector Disaster Capability and Resilience Project”. This project is about strengthening the connections between the local community, local community organizations and emergency management systems in the Bega Valley and Eurobodalla Shires, to take action to reduce local disasters risks.
    The Project aims to build a collaborative, networked approach to local disaster management, providing an opportunity for local community organizations, and the communities they support, to bring their knowledge and connections into play.
    The Project will strengthen the role of the local community service organizations in disaster risk reduction and promote and facilitate their role supporting communities, particularly vulnerable population groups, to reduce disaster risks.

  • Maree O’Neill
    Posted February 23, 2024 at 5:59 pm

    The ladies did a great job and recognition should also go to the Eden Community Access Centre, it’s Management Committee and Manager, Carina Severs for applying for and being awarded the grant and choosing the correct people for the project and also helping to steer the project in the right direction – the involvement in the project by community spear-headed the development of a wonderful brochure for all the community around disaster preparedness – what an all round community effort – well done all

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