Lessons from the floods

For Ciara Sterling, CEO of Thriving Communities Partnership (TCP), three things are needed when supporting communities during a natural disaster: flexibility, agility, and empathy.

Speaking at EWON’s first Consultative Council Meeting for 2022, Sterling stressed the importance of prioritising a human-centred approach to major disasters like the recent northern NSW floods.

“The reality is disasters like what we’ve seen in NSW and Queensland recently have exceptionally long impacts,” said Sterling, “As an essential services ecosystem we need to look at things like planning and recovery.”

Sterling’s presentation to EWON members, government, industry stakeholders, and community groups outlined TCP’s Disaster Planning and Recovery Collaborative Research Project.

The project mapped the experiences of people negatively impacted by the 2019 North Queensland Monsoon disaster. The research emphasises there is no single “correct” pathway to recovery, instead listening to, and working closely with, affected communities is the best way to find a solution that works for them. 

Sterling noted that many community members face long and complicated journeys to recovery, and essential service providers need to make it easy for people to access the help and information they need. 

 Sterling recommended that energy providers and second responders:

  • Develop clear, consistent and inclusive communications that cater to the needs of all Australians including CALD and First Nations communities
  • Collaborate closely with their sector partners to ensure consistent messaging and offers of support
  • Develop deep community ties and networks that can be tapped into in a time of crisis
  • Prioritise the mental health of affected customers and their own staff 
  • Recognise how important small businesses are to communities and tailor messaging and support accordingly

Sterling also highlighted that as natural disasters like those recently experienced in NSW and Queensland become more common, lessons from the past can help shape our responses to future crises. She explained that developing response coordination and community education programs in the lead up to a disaster are just as important as the response afterward, and stressed the importance of working with small businesses to help rebuild communities.

“Small businesses are an absolute pillar in the community, and they are vital for recovery,” she said, adding that small business can sometimes be overlooked in disaster recovery efforts. For many communities, she noted, small businesses reopening was often one of the first signs of recovery and a much-needed symbol of hope.

Following Sterling’s presentation, CCM attendees also heard from Danielle Manley of Endeavour Energy and Belinda Kallmier of Essential Energy.

Since 2019 EWON has been a proud partner of TCP, a non-profit organisation that fosters cross-sector collaboration across businesses, NGOs and government. In March 2022, alongside 30 other community organisations and essential service providers, we contributed to their 2022 QLD & NSW Flood Disaster Response resource platform