Unofficial Evacuation Centres and Community Resilience

Should we be afraid of the rise of the spontaneous ‘unofficial’ evacuation centre?

During recent bushfires and floods in New South Wales, there has been an increased prevalence of unofficial evacuation centres being established by local community groups to assist affected residents. Significant planning occurs through all levels of government and within the community to ensure that we can assist and care for those affected by disasters. Usually, emergency services and government agencies work alongside not-for-profit organisations to provide a place of safety and security for people during evacuation; in line with basic public expectations of government during disasters.

Well intentioned community groups feel obliged during disasters to actively support local affected people through opening unofficial evacuation centres. The challenge for government and relief agencies is that there are risks which unofficial evacuation centres pose for disaster affected people. Not least, the centre could be at risk from the hazard or may not have adequate services to address a vulnerable person’s needs. These risks need to be understood by emergency services and government agencies to ensure that clear policy is articulated on how these groups can be involved in disaster relief. This is made especially difficult when these groups are outside of established emergency management arrangements. Indeed, the unofficial evacuation centre can take the pressure off relief agencies and support the community resilience agenda but there is no simple answer to this challenge.

The presentation by Mr Mitchell Clout from the NSW Ministry for Police and Emergency Services will draw on case studies from recent disasters in New South Wales with reference to current policy and guidelines. It will also consider the opportunities and risks which government agencies and emergency services should consider when non-traditional organisations operate unofficial evacuation centres.

To view the educational program with 70+ presentations and the book of abstracts please visit the conference website – www.anzdmc.com.au

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