Interview with Tal Fitzpatrick - Coordinator of Volunteering Queensland, Australia's "Natural Disaster Resilience Leadership Project" by Willi Paul, Media
Interview with Tal Fitzpatrick - Coordinator of Volunteering Queensland, Australia's Natural Disaster Resilience Leadership Project by Willi Paul, Media

"The odds are stacked against disaster resilience. If people and organizations need to experience a disaster before they start thinking about resilience, we are fighting a losing battle. Even then, when some do experience a disaster, if the incentives or disincentives don't support building back better, stronger and more resilient those actions are unlikely to be accomplished."

-- Eric Holdeman - Disaster Resilience

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Interview with Tal by Willi

What is the Natural Disaster Resilience Leadership Project?

The Natural Disaster Resilience Leadership Project (NDRLP) was developed by Volunteering Queensland, the state peak body for volunteering, alongside a suit of resilience building projects back in 2010. The NDRLP is a four day capacity building workshop for community leaders, volunteers and members of emergency services that focuses on: developing a more holistic understanding of community resilience, creating a greater understanding within the community about the local emergency management arrangements, building leadership capacity at a grassroots level, and facilitating the creation of 'action plans'.

These 'action plans' are basically project plans developed by the participants that are designed to address local issues and improve local community resilience. Since 2011 I have delivered this project in over 15 communities across the state as well as in New South Wales.

This project takes a very grassroots approach to community building and encourages people to consider the roles of community leaders, groups and non-profit organizations in resilience building and disaster management. Some examples of the action plans that have come out of the project include:

+ Community wellness days and education campaigns run by local community organizations with the support of local councils and emergency management agencies

+ 'Safety Warden' project in a residential caravan park designed to help local emergency services provide timely and accurate information to residence and ensure that any evacuations are better managed due to improved information from that community

+ Aged and Disability support providers pledging to work with their patrons to increase their personal preparedness

+ Development of a youth leadership project which incorporates elements of disaster risk reduction and personal preparedness

+ 'Street Party' initiatives that encourages people to host disaster-preparedness themed street parties

+ Local chamber of commerce involvement in ongoing business continuity programs designed to help small local businesses prepare and mitigate for disaster

All of these action plans were initiated by the participants of the NDRLP and were delivered by community members or community organizations with little to no financial support. However, many of these projects relied on in kind support and expertise from local government and emergency management agencies.

What is Resilience?

There is a bit of confusion about what resilience means - it's a term that has been adapted from the physical sciences and is now used in many other disciplines including emergency management. Across these various disciplines the term resilience is used to mean slightly different things but simply put, in its broadest application, resilience describes how well a system is able to adapt positively when faced with adversity and cope with abnormal or unexpected threats without changing beyond recognition.

Within emergency management I suggest that what is being talked about when the word resilience is used is more accurately described as 'disaster resilience'. Which is any given community/state/country's capacity to mitigate or prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from natural (or man-made) disasters.

However the Natural Disaster Resilience Project is more concerned with 'community resilience' a term which takes a more holistic approach to understanding what makes for a community healthy that is able to work together to avoid or overcome adversary.

One of my favourite and often quoted papers on the subject of community resilience is: "Community Resilience as a Metaphor, Theory, Set of Capacities, and Strategy for Disaster Readiness" (2007) by Fran H. Norris Æ Susan P. Stevens Æ Betty Pfefferbaum Æ Karen F. Wyche Æ Rose L. Pfefferbaum. It explains that there are four key adaptive capacities which resilient communities display:

1) Social Capital
2) Economic development (based on the principles of social justice)
3) Community Competence
4) Information and Communication

'United States civil defense refers to the use of civil defense in the history of the United States, which is the organized non-military effort to prepare Americans for military attack. Over the last twenty years, the term and practice of civil defense have fallen into disuse and have been replaced by emergency management and homeland security.' Can you offer any insights into how your program compares to the old civil defense program in the USA and more currently the homeland security program?

The natural disaster resilience leadership project is not similar to these programs in any way. It is a community development program not an exercise in training people to respond to disasters. It focuses instead on the other phases of emergency management: mitigation, prevention, preparation and recovery.

Please critique my Sharing Center vision:

Actually you vision for a 'sharing center' is a good example of what an action plan might look like. By focusing on using exhibiting skills and resources within a community It incorporates a holistic view of resilience- as long as it is flexible and responsive to the needs within the community it is created in.

But there are lots of these kinds of models - what we need more local leaders and local communities actually making these kinds of projects a reality. It doesn't have to be a 'one stop shop' it can be spread out across a community, it can be used as a way to reinvigorate communities in decline - the way we are seeing individuals, entrepreneurs artists and locals in places like Detroit re-imagine and reinvest in their own community with creativity, innovation and pride.

Basically we need less talk more action- that's what the process of helping people come up with action plans is all about.

Do you agree that the neighborhood is the best place to educate and drill for disasters?

There is no 'best place' to educate for disasters - we must take a holistic approval and prepare on all levels of society all the way from individuals, to communities, businesses to cities, states to nations and International cooperation between countries.

Don't have some folks have less to loose than others? Doesn't individual wealth usually offset lack of community resilience?

I don't believe that "some folks have more to lose than others" all human beings experience loss, grief and trauma in the same way. If you lost your home due to a disaster even it doesn't matter if your house was a mansion or a shack - which experience is going to be devastating for you regardless. What makes a real difference in one's ability to cope with disaster events is physiological resilience - a person's capacity to cope with stress and adversity and to respond positively and constructively in the face of potential trauma.

At an individual level physiological resilience is the most important thing we can develop. It is main reason why some people who lose everything, including loved ones, can go on and lead happy lives while other people who may in comparison have 'lost less' are never able to fully recover from the trauma of their experience. So similarly to the fact that wealth does not equate to happiness, it also does not equate to being better able to cope with disaster and the trauma that results from experiencing a disaster.

In saying that social capital (your social support network) and the ability to access resources does make a difference for both individual and community resilience.

So if you are rich you will arguably have more access to financial resources which would be helpful in the recovery process - however, it is often the case that affluent communities are less prepared and less experienced in dealing with shock and adversary and that means they are less able to cope on an individual level.

I would however argue that where wealth does impact on a community's capacity to recover quickly is the fact that wealthy communities have more political power and influence. This community competence means that it is more likely to be given media attention and greater political support to assist in the response/recovery efforts.

Is a severe drought an emergency issue in Queensland?

Australia experiences a wide variety of regular natural disaster events which are growing in frequency and intensity as our climate changes. These include sever long term drought, bush fires, cyclones, severe storms/hail, flooding, dust storms, and we event have earthquakes and tornadoes. unfortunately, Queensland is twice as likely as any other state to experience natural disasters which means that emergency services in Queensland have their work cut out for them.

Growing up on the Gold Coast I lived through a 10 year drought that saw our damn levels dangerously low, the Gold Coast City Council even built an expensive desalination plan, which luckily we haven't yet had to use. We are pretty good at managing water here because of how often we experience drought, and more often than not we have water restrictions.

Does the Natural Disaster Resilience Leadership Project integrate permaculture or values in the Transition Movement?

The Natural Disaster Resilience Leadership Project was not actively designed to integrate the values of Permaculture or the Transition movement. However, one could argue that the values of this project do align with some of the values of these movements as it focuses on encouraging people to consider the following characteristics of a healthy community:

- a safe community
- a welcoming community
- a learning community
- a fair and just community
- an active and empowered community
- an influential community
- an economically strong community
- a green community
- a caring community
- a lasting community
- a disaster resilient community

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Tal's Bio -

Tal Fitzpatrick is a textile artist, craftivist and community development worker who is currently completing a PhD with the Centre for Cultural Partnerships at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) Melbourne University.

Currently Tal is involved in several socially engaged community art/craft projects as part of her PhD research. Including projects with Emerald Community House and Igniting Change Inc. She is also the conference coordinator of the IV New Materialisms conference happening at VCA in September 2015. Previously to this Tal worked in Brisbane as a project coordinator in the Education, Research and Policy department of Volunteering Queensland (2011-2014). Leading projects such as the Queensland Resilient Australia Award winning Natural Disaster Resilience Leadership Project, the inaugural National Student Volunteer Week and the International Student Volunteer Initiative. Tal has also worked as the coordinator of Crossing Divides Inc. (2010-2011) a Gold Coast based non-profit organization than runs arts and music programs for young people living with disability or disadvantage, where she also volunteered as a board member.

Tal was born in Israel in 1988 and moved to the Gold Coast, Australia in 1996 where she went on to graduate from Griffith University in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts with 1st class Honors majoring in Contemporary Arts and Studies in Arts and Creative Industries. She practices across many mediums including drawing, painting, paper-cutting, video art, installation art and silkscreen printing. However, her primary medium is textile art, specifically Cloth-Art - a medium developed by her grandmother artist Dawn Fitzpatrick which involves combining the techniques of appliqué quilt making, drawing and painting in order to create figurative cloth wall-hangings.

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For more information -

Natural Disaster Resilience Leadership Project

Emergency Volunteering

Tals' Web Site

Willi Paul Transition Consultant | Media
@planetshifter @openmythsource @PermacultureXch
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