Resilient Community Infrastructure - DisasterWISE
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Resilient Community Infrastructure

The Black Summer Fires created havoc in so many communities. Roads were blocked, power was out, telecommunications were down, not just for a few days but for weeks. The flow on effects of loss of power meant there was no refrigeration and no fresh food; petrol and diesel couldn’t be pumped assuming you could get to the petrol station so generators were good while supplies lasted, ATMs and Eftpos didn’t work without power or communications so you couldn’t buy the things you needed. Loss of communication meant communities didn’t know what was happening in their local environment as well as outside of it; family and friends couldn’t find whether their loved ones were OK; people and communities couldn’t communicate what their needs were. The loss of homes and other household infrastructure such as water supplies meant people had no accommodation, bathroom or cooking facilities or access to food or water.

For many small communities the local community hall became the safe space, the gathering point, the relief hub, the information hub, the meeting place, the kitchen, the bathroom and storage facility. Many of the community halls I visited in the weeks and months after the fires resembled a giant opp shop and food store with the local volunteers and hall committees trying to get by as best they could.. in most cases they were overwhelmed.

A positive aspect that did emerge was the number of projects across the country where the role and importance of community halls was not only understood but projects were initiated to improve the capacity of community halls in terms of resilience and recovery. I was involved in working with Community Halls in terms of fundraising in Cudgewa, Biggara and Thowgla and was on the Project Reference Group on the Cudgewa Hall. In Cudgewa we upgraded bathrooms, brought in modern equipment for food storage and a commercial kitchen (which is important for the community in normal times but more crucial in times of disaster), solar and batteries, heating and cooling, extra water storage, a storage shed and a whole lot more.

 

In East Gippsland the shire worked with 37 communities to upgrade their community halls. The picture outlines the key focus points under Lessons Learnt. The key issues were communications, power, removal of isolation, social support and basic food and water. The approach included:

– improving the overall facility safety ensuring they were at BAL 29 standard, providing ember proofing
– Power with Solar and Secure Generators that were easy to operate
– Providing of the STAND Satellite connectivity (Strengthening Telecommunications against Natural Disasters)
– Provision of Large Screen and Audio Visual Equipment

We are excited to have, at our next get together on 11th April, John Appleby and Julie Saunders from Wairewa. After suffering four years of drought, Wairewa in Victoria’s south-east, was badly impacted by the catastrophic fire event on 31 December 2019. The firestorm that blasted through the community resulted in many losses. 11 homes, hundreds of livestock, and millions of dollars of farm infrastructure and equipment were destroyed. That night while the fire burned just metres away, 30 people sheltered in the Wairewa Hall. With the mains power failing and affecting the activation of the water pump, the CFA teams set off their hoses. This prevented a potential tragedy and saved their lives and the hall. Immediately, post-bushfire, the hall became a community relief centre. The hall was utilised by the community as donors and agencies arrived to assist

Thanks to the generous donors of the Victorian Bushfire Appeal, Wairewa Hall/CRC received a $151,645 grant from donations to CEF.

The project includes:

– A fully installed bushfire attack sprinkler system to protect the hall and evacuees in the future;
covered BBQ area with wheelchair access; and
– A toilet upgrade to allow for disability access with showers in case of emergency evacuations/burns injuries.
– Upgrades to the hall will provide greater community confidence and resilience knowing that, in event of another disaster, the hall is a safer place in an emergency
– A STAND Satellite System with AV Equipment

 

John and Julie will share their story and the importance of resilient infrastructure at the next DisasterWISE Get-Together.

Written by Pete Williams.

1 Comment

  • Steve Cameron
    Posted April 9, 2024 at 9:34 am

    Thanks Julie, John and Pete.

    This is great info and I’m looking forward to the discussion at the Online Get Together. I notice this has been developed in the context of bushfire which is very much needed in many communities. I wonder if there are people who may also like to join the discussion to share their experiences in preparing facilities to manage bushfire and/or other/multiple hazards in Australia and overseas?

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