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Building a Victoria without poverty: Help the community sector to prepare and plan for emergencies Analysis

Building a Victoria without poverty: Help the community sector to prepare and plan for emergencies

The state government can increase vulnerable people’s ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from disaster and emergency events by supporting emergency planning in the community sector that builds disaster preparedness and resilience, both within community organisations, and in the broader community.

Experience and research tells us that disasters are profoundly discriminatory in where they strike, and the way they affect people. For people who are already facing disadvantage, they can be overwhelming.

It is estimated that around half of all community sector organisations would be out of operation for a week if in the event of an emergency they sustained serious damage to their premises. Up to 25 per cent might never provide services again.[1] This indicates a significant risk for those who rely on the services community organisations provide on a day to day basis as well as during and after an emergency.

Emergencies present significant challenges to the health and human services sector generally, and community service organisations in particular. The following organisational impacts have been documented by VCOSS in the last few years alone:

  • Dislocation and relocation
  • Financial implications
  • Impacts to business continuity
  • Impacts to continuity of care
  • Disruption to supply chains
  • Difficulties in maintaining the normal mechanisms of an agency
  • Surges in demand leading to workforce loss
  • Occupation Health and Safety liabilities
  • Short-term contracting of services impacting job security as well as continuity of support for communities
  • Difficulties in recruiting temporary staff to backfill positions, on top of the demands of responding to the emergency and resourcing recovery work
  • Lack of capacity to maintain long term support to communities
  • Progression from relief to recovery work with no respite
  • Disruption to day-to-day activities, as well as service delivery
  • Clean-up or repair issues
  • Transport issues
  • Staff health, mental and physical
  • The need for additional support, money and personnel with uncertain funding
  • The risk of governance issues as disaster arrangements are put urgently into place
  • Demand for support growing, not reduce, over the longer term
  • Collaboration and/or competition with other service providers
  • Putting everyday work on hold, at the expense of other vulnerable people

Emergencies add a further layer of complexity to the work of community organisations when demand for services has them working at capacity and above all the time.

A fundamental challenge for community sector organisations is the capacity to meet the demand for services, while at the same time managing funding and resourcing constraints. Around 80 per cent of Victorian frontline agencies are unable to meet current levels of demand with the resources they have,[2] and this limits their capacity to meet their day to day demands, let alone undertake emergency planning,

The community sector is becoming increasingly recognised for its role in disaster resilience planning, provision of response and relief services, and importantly long term recovery support. A 2013 Australian Senate committee report into recent trends in and preparedness for extreme weather events made the following recommendations:

The committee commends CSOs (community sector organisations) for their significant contribution during and after extreme weather events. It is the committee’s view that the important role of CSOs in assisting communities and individuals during times of natural disaster should be recognised and supported. The committee urges authorities to give due regard to CSOs in both planning responses to and responding to extreme weather events, in particular those organisations that provide vital services to vulnerable groups.[3]

The VCOSS State Budget Submission calls on the state government to reverse funding cuts to support services and work closer with the community sector to develop comprehensive emergency plans. Supporting emergency planning for the community sector will build disaster preparedness and resilience, both for the sector, and for the broader community.

[1] Mallon, K et al 2013 Adapting the Community Sector for Climate Extremes, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold Coast, pp. 286.

[2] Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) 2014, Australian Community Sector Survey 2014,  Sydney

[3] The Senate 2013, Environment and Communications References Committee, Recent trends in and preparedness for extreme weather events, Commonwealth of Australia, ACT.