How can improving our emergency response capability have the opposite effect of reducing community resilience?
Every time we improve the ability of our emergency services, and those that will respond in times of disaster, we inadvertently provide the community with a false sense of security, that there will always be someone there to look after them during an emergency or disaster. When we see those pictures of people being winched off roof tops during the recent flooding in Bundaberg, or we hear of the emergency services coming to rescue capsized sailors, or lost bushwalkers, we build up this belief that should I ever be in that situation they will come to save me.
How many people think about what they will do in case they lose power for a week, and of those how many have actually taken steps to be prepared? This can happen at any time without notice, and we have recent examples that show just how reliant people are on society functioning as normal, and when it is not they have little ability to cope.
Even though it might be true, a government is unlikely to advertise the fact that sometimes you will be on your own when a major emergency or disaster hits. This is especially true in those highly populated areas, where the requests for assistance are far likely to outnumber the available resources who can respond immediately, and then it may still be a number of days until anyone can get there to provide assistance.
Take for example the Gap storms back in 2008, when the SES received thousands of requests for assistance, and it took nearly two weeks to respond to all of the requests for assistance, and this was with a greatly bolstered number of responders including some groups from interstate, the Australian Defence Force, our local emergency services and our own emergency service volunteers including the SES and Rural Fires, and others.
This event only impacted a small number of suburbs in Brisbane and to anyone outside of this area, life pretty much went on as usual, but for those impacted it took weeks before some semblance of normality returned. Now imagine if a storm like this impacted 10 or 20 suburbs, how long do you think it would take before anyone could respond, or how long it would take for the community to return back to normal?
This is what the community needs to be reminded off, and why everyone needs to look at what they and their community can do to prepare for a disaster or severe weather event, and then act upon it?
Unfortunately to change the mindset of the community, to move from being reliant to being resilient will take more than advertising campaigns, and public events. The community needs to be made aware that ultimately they are in charge of how badly they are impacted by a disaster or severe weather event, and to lessen the impact requires them to take some action.