In this episode, I’m talking with Miriam Lumb, Manager Policy and Strategy and Sue Gould, Program Manager Disaster Resilience from the Office of Emergency Management at the South Australian Office of Fire and Emergency Services (SAFECOM). We’re talking about state-wide disaster resilience the SA-way.
I’ve been so impressed by the South Australian Disaster Resilience Strategy since meeting Miriam and Sue a year or so ago. I guess the title says a lot – Stronger Together.
While listening to my conversation with Miriam and Sue you will learn a lot about their focus on the group I often refer to as the “forgotten stakeholders”… our small businesses. SA is definitely doing disasters differently via their strategy to support this important group.
A little bit about Miriam and Sue...
Miriam spent 6 years in emergency services at Red Cross working across preparedness, resilience, operations and disaster recovery, with some of her time spent in the Philippines contributing to disaster risk reduction and resilience initiatives. She’s worked for DFAT managing the smart traveler public information campaign and supporting crisis response.
Miriam has a master’s in social change and development specializing in organizational leadership and capacity building, and she’s a strong commitment to influencing positive and lasting change. In her current role, Miriam develops and contributes to emergency management policy and strategy at a state and national level. She facilitates a greater focus on resilience and risk reduction through leading the development and implementation of South Australia’s disaster resilience strategy.
Lucky for me, alongside Miriam I’ve also got Sue Gold. Sue has worked for over two decades in state and Commonwealth Government in a range of community service roles in aging disability, education and health. Initially, she worked as a social worker moving into strategic Policy and Planning, with a more recent focus on service delivery reform. In 2013, Sue made the change to follow her passion and study environmental management In 2017, she moved into a role at safecom. Working to embed disaster resilience in South Australian policy directions, bringing together her community development experience and concern about the impact of climate change.
I like to start with where we met...
So I like to start with where we met. So Sue reached out to me, I’m pretty sure it was through email or via LinkedIn, when she was working on the development of the strategy because she heard that I was doing some work in the small business in the business space when it comes to disasters.
And we had a few conversations and then I quickly decided I needed to hear a little bit more and meet these people who were developing the South Australian strategy.
So I went over and we had some conversations and it was really quickly clear to me that there was a fantastic focus on businesses being inclusive to the resilience approach that was being created for South Australia. And I think it’s been wonderful to connect and stay in contact and see how the strategy has progressed and then also watch how it’s being activated, given the disasters that we’ve since.
Here are some questions I asked...
1. So let’s start with who’s behind the development of the South Australian disaster resilience strategy. So whose idea was it that South Australia needed to think resilience?
So I think there were quite a few triggers for us developing a state level disaster resilience strategy. As you mentioned, I’d been working at Red Cross for the six or seven years prior to coming into state government. And my role there was very focused on disaster resilience. It was a relatively new thing for Australian Red Cross. We’re working on developing new policies and programs that are about you know, real resilience and connecting up communities and getting communities involved in emergency services and emergency management. So when I came to SAFECOM, I was kind of passionate about disaster resilience and wanting to embed some of those learnings into what I was doing here?
Then, in 2011, after the Black Saturday fires in Victoria SAFECOM released a national strategy for disaster resilience. So there was the road dedicated to embedding that strategy in South Australia which I stepped into initially. And then also, we’ve been doing a lot of work at the zone level in the state, like doing risk assessments and identifying what our top hazards were. And then looking at risk treatment options for those hazards. So one of the top treatment options identified was this real need to build community and organizational resilience. So that was sitting there as well.
And then as most people would remember, in 2016, South Australia experienced an entire statewide account. So following that, we had an independent review conducted, and SAFECOM fit into that quite a lot as well. And I was speaking to Gary Burns, the person conducting the review quite a lot about resilience. And what needs what needs to be done in that space. And he wrote up quite a lot in his findings, creating a recommendation specifically about the need to develop a practical policy outcome that supports resilience. Following that, we had a trigger to quickly develop the strategy that was kind of the final trigger. And then it was my role to project manage that. And then we had to in to backfill my position.
So you in many ways, so you both kind of been there from the beginning in many ways.
Yeah, absolutely. In terms of the disaster resilience strategy. Yes, we have been.
Yes. And I remember clearly that I started on June the 19th 2017. And my first week, Miriam sent me to New Zealand. So I thought, wow, this is going to be an amazing job. But I haven’t been overseas since.
South Australia is a beautiful state so so I don’t know why you’d want to be moving anyway. And I have to say, we are doing this during the Melbourne COVID lockdown. So I would move to South Australia in a nanosecond currently at the moment.
2. Can I ask you who is the South Australian Disaster Resilience Strategy for? So who have you written this strategy for?
We tried really hard from the outset to have it not just as a government kind of policy document. We wanted it to be a strategy for essentially, everyone potentially. Because the whole kind of ethos around resilience is that everyone’s got a role to play. You know, everyone can be doing something to build their own resilience but also their communities or organizations. resilient. So we wanted a whole variety of people and sectors to have buying into the strategy. So that was why we decided to use a user centered design approach in the way that we developed the strategy.
And I think that comes through really, really clear. So my background, obviously, is stakeholder engagement. And a lot of the conversations I have in this space is about, you know, where is your inclusive stakeholder engagement? And where is your strategic approach to include participation and contribution by the stakeholders that you’re developing the strategy for? Because I think that’s a big gap and missed opportunity in this space. So you, I mean, in the strategy, it obviously clearly states, but can you just share how because you clearly engaged various stakeholder groups in the development of it. Yeah,
yeah. So we ended up I think we’re aiming for about 150 people to contribute to it. And we ended up with over 500 Wow. Yeah, yeah. I was actually surprised. Yeah, we just had a really positive response. But yeah, that was spread across community members to small businesses, to NGOs. And then obviously, the emergency management sector, you know, from state and local government, and other agencies. So yeah, we apply centered design framework, we intentionally wanted to start with a bit of a clean slate. So we didn’t know what we wanted it to look like, we’re going to do all the ideas and solutions and recommendations to come from the consultation. So essentially, from the users and the people that would benefit from the framework. So it was this real process about not worrying about just government needs, but about the user needs. And in this case, the users were in like, potentially the whole of society. So it was it was quite challenging in that sense.
So we tried to approach this in a way that we we, I guess, saw people in different settings and got to talk to different people. So for example, we did quite a bit of country Regional visits. And we met with groups like I remember going to having a lovely afternoon at the Nola bowls club, a small country town in the southeast. And in Barrie, I just went into various shops in the main street and talk to shopkeepers also did a trip to the regions, while Lance and Miriam went to some other regional areas. So we really tried to meet people at all different levels, in all different ways that they’re connecting in the community.
So there’s a lot I love about this strategy that you have created in South Australia. And we’ll come on to my forgotten stakeholder group in a minute. I’m really impressed and excited about the approach that you took to engage the stakeholders and also that you’ve activated it based on the 2011 national disaster resilience strategy, which is about identifying the notion of shared responsibility.
What I think is so great about this approach, too, is that you’re activating that notion of shared responsibility by engaging and inviting contribution. But then also, like what Miriam mentioned, you’re creating a solution that is relevant to an inclusive of those stakeholder groups as well. Now you’ve titled it stronger together.
3. I could probably answer this myself, but I’m not going to so why have you called it that?
One of the things that really became clear is, the way I kind of look at it is disaster resilience. And building disaster resilience is all it’s part of a system. Like there’s so many different sectors and people and it’s involved that, you know, you need to look at it as a system. And that, rather than just focusing on what we’re doing, our own agencies are now our own silo, or our own projects, we need to do more kind of looking outwards and across like looking not just across whole of government, but also government looking really broadly outside of what other people are doing. So one of the focus areas is all about having strategic and connected networks. That’s all about improving those connections and links between people, which is something that we’re really passionate about. So I guess the stronger together title is just reinforcing that, that, you know, if we all work together on this and share what we’re doing and collaborate, then we’ll have a much better result. It’s so true. And I think,
Again, I love all the work that Daniel Aldrich does in the social capital space. And there’s so much evidence to say, and suggests that connected communities are stronger and more resilient communities. Now, in the strategy, I really like the I guess, the overall context of your strategy. And one thing I pulled out is that you have that disaster resilience is the ability to survive, adapt and grow, no matter what happens. I mean, that is so simple, and it’s so clear, so all stakeholder groups could understand that and see its relevance.
4. Is this strategy for natural disasters only or does it have an all hazards approach?
Yeah, so it’s definitely an all hazards approach. And we knew that from the outset, but again, always hazards, you know, in this sector can sometimes quick, necessarily all hazards, things like drought and pandemic are always up for debate as to whether they’re included. And because we’re co designing the strategy at the start, I was trying to keep the scope, you know, kind of as open as possible. So, I think where you said with a definition, you know, the ability to survive, adapt and grow, no matter what happens, we definitely landed on a definition that can encompass, you know, genuinely, all hazards, which I think is really important. And I think when we’re doing the consultations, we found that, you know, lots of people can relate to, like bushfires was obviously kind of the front of mind risk.
When we were developing it, lots of people just dismiss that and can’t relate to it. So, I mean, I think, look at where we’re at now with COVID you know, if you include any kind of disruption or shock to society like COVID and like the blackout that we had, you know, people something to relate to, and then they can understand that they need be preparing for things like that.
And I’ll also just add, one thing we found when we started to talk to businesses was it became very clear, very quickly, that disasters weren’t on their radar for small businesses that was about surviving on a daily basis in the tough, you know, economic climate. But it was also impacts of a smaller nature or local adverse events that was there that was more front of mind for them such as small localized blackouts, or all their frozen food stocks, or, in one case, a blocked down part that caused the flood in a it business. And we’ve heard quite a lot about where business or roadworks are in front of the business. They were disasters in the minds of some of the people we met.
Broader than disasters. If you’re talking about all hazards resilience, and in the context of preparing and getting ready for an event pit, you know if it’s a bushfire or a flood or a pandemic, a lot of what you’re going to do to become more resilient and to be prepared is the same. You know, it’s we’re encouraging people to make sure they’ve got insurance and make sure they’ve got the right level of insurance doesn’t matter, necessarily what the impact is, that’s going to affect that person. It knowing your neighbors, you know, things like that, that are important no matter what the hazard is, you know, steps that you can take to be ready,
Miriam that’s like music to my ears. I say that to people all the time that the majority of preparedness you can do before any type of disaster or impact is probably 80%. The same with the 20% relevant to what’s actually happened. And people look at me like I’m from Mars. So I’m going to take that and I’m going to say that you said it to me when I’m talking to other people, because it’s not just me now.
Yes, yeah. Well, I mean, another example of are waiting his business records, you know, if people have it on a portable drive or backed up in the cloud, whatever happens, you know, from a fire flood through to just a blackout. They’ve got their information available. So they can continue their business in general. Yeah,
It’s amazing how sometimes just those little things you don’t think about can actually make the biggest difference. So, you know, having backups of your it data or your passwords or your important information so that you can access if you can’t get to your premises from a business perspective is really important and you know, often quite overlooked in the business of day to day.
Now, as I mentioned before, when we first connected so you and I had a conversation because you were doing some work in the small business space and I’m obviously quite vocal about the small businesses being there. I say it the forgotten stakeholders, but when I started talking to you, I realized, well, South Australia is the small business place to be because you guys absolutely had them in your radar and excitingly for me, it had a real center point of your South Australian disaster resilience strategy.
5. So can you share with me the four focus areas that you’ve specifically identified for your strategy?
Yes, definitely. The first one was neighborhoods and communities and that’s about informed and connected neighborhoods and communities working together. The second is children and young people actively engaged in reducing their risks and increasing their self reliance. on businesses. It’s about prepared and adaptable businesses that continue to operate during and after an emergency or disaster, maintaining their income and supporting their community. And the final one is strategic and connected networks which is about broadening the emergency management sector. And working towards shared outcomes. And I’ll just add that in addition to that there’s two cross cutting things that we say is integral to building resilient a resilient community. That’s diversity and inclusion and health and well being. So they’re the building blocks. Okay.
So can I just put a recommendation there, I just write a letter. Let’s just pick you guys up and transform you up to camera, and we’ll just pop you down and you can just do it for the nation.
Yeah. I have to say obviously, this podcast is called doing disasters differently. And there’s a reason I’ve been talking about it for a few years. But I yeah, I think what’s what’s really showcasing to me though, given you know, the current bushfires that we’ve had at the start of this year, and now COVID, is there’s really great work and people doing really great work already. So we should just be activating that in a broader scale.
And that’s why I’m really excited to talk to you both today and to share what you’re doing in this space. Now getting back to my focus and my little forgotten stakeholders, small businesses. So these ultimately are organizations with between zero or one up to 19 full time employees. And obviously, resumes for small businesses is now no longer a buzzword. So resilience now is a necessity. And I, I kind of feel like resilience has to become the new skill set that every small business or every business owner learns.
6. So what made you include small businesses specifically, so not industry or not all businesses, why small businesses in South Australia?
Well, what we found with the research we did so desktop research was that internationally small businesses had a very high rate of closed closure, and then never reopening after a disaster. So that was repeated in in a lot of documentation, but also to Add to that South Australia is of course, the Small Business state. At the time we developed the strategy, small businesses made up 98% of all businesses here. It might be quite different now.
We haven’t sort of rechecked those figures, but there may have been some changes. Unfortunately, due to COVID and bushfires. The evidence in talking to businesses was certainly they were unprepared and their focus was was not on preparing themselves for events. I think until the blackout in 2016. It really wasn’t in people’s minds. It was still that well, it won’t happen to me if I just keep working keep my business I should be fine.
7. Can I ask do you think given the bushfires the blackout now COVID. Do you do you think the openness to or the understanding towards resilience in the small business sector in South Australia is moving a bit?
Yes, Miriam might be able to add to this, but definitely, we’re seeing the focus certainly on the government’s work in the recovery for the bushfires. The 2019-20 bushfires in the Adelaide Hills has certainly and now on COVID is very much focused on the recovery businesses and also building resilience as part of the recovery process. So the work that we started doing less involvement across government in this space, we’ve now got a whole joined up approach from I think it’s four or five different government agencies now looking at joining together on building business resilience for a range of events, including economic change through to disasters. So yeah, it’s really good. Unfortunate way to get there, but it is good.
Yeah, and I think that, I mean I 100% agree you would not want or wish any type of event like what we’ve had in 2020 or previously in 2016 on anyone but I guess in many ways now you’re activating the stronger together.
Yeah, it has given us the opportunity to kind of bring it to life. So there’s a team that are working on the initially it was the bushfire recovery process, improvement of premier and cabinet. And the premier actually directed the bushfire recovery needed to take on a resilience approach that had to be underpinned by stronger together. And part of that role was also working to embed stronger together, you know, across government agencies and into their decision making processes. That’s a real positive thing. Um, and also, like Sue was saying that our state government’s focus for the clever recovery is very much on, you know, the economic recovery, amongst other things. But yeah, we’re taking a resilience based approach, and it seems to be seems to be being embedded, you know where it can, but I think we’re still at the very kind of very started a long a long process.
But Miriam and Sue that is so exciting like to think about, you know, you started the conversation of resilience in South Australia. And now, I mean, I often talk about why do we have bushfire recovery agencies set up after disasters when the recovery includes preparing for the next one, because let’s be honest with you, the next one’s probably not far away. But how what how wonderful to have, you know, resilience, not just created as a document, but to actually be recognized and seated across government departments and seeded into recovery processes and systems because it’s considered real, you know, value add to the community and a need going forward. I mean, I think you know, you should be patting yourselves on the back for that one.
Yeah. And hopefully moving forward now, it will kind of set up a model where, you know, area we’re working very closely with, well across all areas, but including, like the recovery teams that are out there, you know, in the field.
With my final question always…
What 2 things would you like to be done differently in the disaster space?
1. Well, this is Sue, so I think one of the key things is we need to keep pushing and shifting the focus of investment and time and resources from predominantly a response focus. We need to look more at the risk reduction and community risk. resilience and building that for all hazards. I think that’s, that’s a key area that the whole of country needs to work on. Yes. So we have to, we have less need to put more resources into an event after it happens.
2. And mine probably came through through my answers already, but mine is all about, you know, joining up what everyone’s doing, working together more. I’m all about busting down silos. Yeah, the whole stronger together concept. So I think, you know, the more we work together, the more impact we’re going to have. And the more we understand everything that’s happening out there can capture that, you know, the better we’ll be able to demonstrate it as well. So yeah, joining up and collaboration.