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Beyond the Blanket report reinforces community role in emergency management

A new report released by Australian Red Cross, Beyond the Blanket: The role of not-for-profits and non-traditional stakeholders in emergency management, confirms the important role that not-for-profit, community sector and other non-traditional organisations play in emergencies.

Community sector organisations provide support and assistance to Victorians on a daily basis – from mental health, family violence and disability services through to aged care. Community sector organisations are also called upon to provide support to individuals and communities following an emergency. From immediate assistance at relief and recovery centres through to long term counselling, community sector organisations have earned the trust of their communities and bring significant local knowledge, experience and connections to their work. Community sector organisations also remain in their communities for the longer term, providing ongoing support.

Based on a national roundtable that brought together senior researchers, policy makers, peak bodies, business representatives, not-for-profit organisations and community members, including VCOSS and ACOSS, the Australian Red Cross report finds that community organisations and other non-traditional stakeholders have both the capacity and interest to make significant contributions to emergency management.

The report acknowledges that not for profit and community sector organisations bring unique perspectives and skills to all phases of the emergency management cycle. The report recognises that these organisations:

  • Capacity extends beyond that which government can offer in regard to individual service provision as ‘compassionate service providers’
  • Play an important role within the community in articulating specific needs and building resilience
  • Have well established links in communities, with the majority of their client base being the same vulnerable people that government try to target
  • Provide advocacy, social policy, community development and risk management integration
  • Possess a local volunteer base, embedded within communities
  • Have developed trust with communities and individuals over time
  • Have the capacity to empower the community and encourage community engagement.

Community sector organisations have expertise in outreach, information referral, crisis management, volunteer management and special services. They are also trained in language and cultural sensitivity skills and for working with people who have vision, hearing or other impairments. They also have regular contact with disadvantaged and vulnerable people. The community and social services sector has been acknowledged as contributing to emergency management across four areas:

  • working with individuals and families
  • accessing resources
  • managing complex inter-agency coordination
  • working with communities.

The practical and crisis-oriented services that not-for-profits and community sector organisations provide include are broad. This includes short term crisis driven support such as access to food, shelter and clothing, through to long term support required post-crisis often for years after the emergency such as preventing physical mental health problems and family break-down.[1]

Community-based approaches are vital to successful emergency management. Local people and community organisations are often the first to respond when a disaster occurs and are acutely aware of the specific vulnerabilities, needs and demands of their communities. Local communities and the community sector organisations that work with them have the skills, knowledge and resources to provide support to those who need it most.

Beyond the Blanket: The role of not-for-profits and non-traditional stakeholders in emergency management argues that not-for-profit and community organisations need to be part of the committees and conversations that take place around emergency management. It states:

… the demands placed on traditional community services typically provided by CSOs are increased during emergencies. NFPs and CSOs are inevitably involved in emergencies given their well established links to the community. As such, their services are inherently included within the management of emergencies; despite this not always being formally recognised in arrangements by governments. It was noted that the role of CSOs and NFPs would be better framed as ‘non-recognised’ rather than ‘non-traditional’. Furthermore, to recognise these organisations as an ‘add on’, rather than as a core component of emergency management, risks alienating valuable organisations from partnership arrangements.

VCOSS has long called for the role of community sector organisations to be incorporated into emergency management planning. Emergencies of any scale involve the delivery of relief and recovery activities by a broad and complex range of government, statutory and community sector organisations. These responses across the spectrum of emergency events work best when each part of the relief and recovery effort has a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities and has the resources to fulfil these.

VCOSS welcomes Australian Red Cross’ recommendations in its new report for greater recognition, collaboration and formalisation of the roles of community organisations and other stakeholders in emergency management.

[1] Cooper L & Briggs L 2014, Do we need specific disaster management education for social work?, Australian Journal of Emergency Management, Volume 29, No. 4, October 2014