As more disasters loom, helping people help each other is key: UniSC study | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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As more disasters loom, helping people help each other is key: UniSC study 

A new study will gather insights from the way coastal communities across four states worked together during recent disasters, to inform ways Australia can adapt to a future with more frequent and intense weather events.

University of Sunshine Coast Research Fellow Dr Carmen Elrick-Barr has received a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award of more than $390,000 from the Australian Research Council to determine the resources and support that communities need to prepare for, and respond to, climate hazards.

“Recent disasters that have devastated some communities had highlighted the value and contribution of local connection – residents supporting each other in times of need,” said Dr Elrick-Barr, a human geography specialist.

“To date, research and investment to build Australia’s resilience has focused on infrastructure, such as flood levees and seawalls, and supporting local governments and emergency response authorities as critical responders,” she said.

“Individuals, households and neighbourhoods also play a significant role in times of natural disasters and could also benefit from practical support to truly build their resilience.”

The project will compare case studies of four communities that are vulnerable to coastal threats in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.

Residents and organisations in these neighbourhoods will be surveyed and interviewed to better understand relationships between them, and how they draw on those connections and share resources in times of stability and in times of need.

The research is based on the concept of neighbourhood resilience that recognises in each community there are individuals and organisations that collectively have the capacity to adapt to change and adversity.

"We all have a role to play in meeting this challenge,” Dr Elrick-Barr said

"This project has relevance for over 20 million Australians living in coastal areas by creating new knowledge on neighbourhood adaptive capacity,” Dr Elrick-Barr said.

“By working with Australian Red Cross, state and local government agencies and community members across four states, this data will guide the delivery of targeted financial and educational support, empowering individuals to manage their preparation and response to natural disasters effectively and collaboratively," she said.

“Authorities can then best understand how to invest in communities to build their resilience. In turn, more meaningful support – beyond providing information on hazards – should be delivered to communities."

Storm surges, coastal erosion, and coastal flooding are some of the natural disasters forecast to cost Australia $1.2 trillion over the next 40 years, as the impacts of climate change worsen.

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