Supporting rural Australian communities after disaster: The warrumbungle bushfire support coordination service

Publication Type:
Journal Article
PLoS Currents, 2015, 7 (DISASTERS)
Issue Date:
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© 2015, Public Library of Science. All Rights Reserved. Aim: Natural disasters inflict significant trauma upon the individuals and communities in which they occur. In order to gain an understanding of the role of community-based disaster recovery support services in the post-disaster environment, we assessed the acceptability and perceived effectiveness of the Warrumbungle Bushfire Support Coordination Service (BSCS) implemented in response to the January 2013 bushfires in the Warrumbungle Shire, New South Wales, Australia. Method: A mixed-methods approach was taken to explore the perspectives of former BSCS users and key stakeholders involved with the service. A survey was distributed to former services users (in both paper and online modalities) and included closed and open-ended questions. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with key stakeholders (face to face or via telephone). Results: A total of 14 former BSCS users and six key stakeholders participated in the research. Almost half of the former service users had accessed the BSCS for more than six months. Regardless of the duration of their use of the service, most reported that the decision to use the service stemmed from the need for ‘help’. The majority of former service users were satisfied with the support provided by the BSCS and would recommend the service to others. Although most indicated that the BSCS informed them about where to get support, just over half were confident that they could access appropriate recovery services without the BSCS. Key themes arising from the former service use surveys were connectedness and support, whilst key themes in the interviews with key stakeholders were connectedness and the operation of the service. Both former service users and key stakeholders reported that the BSCS played an important role in facilitating community connectedness in the post-disaster period. Key stakeholders also identified challenges for the BSCS, including finding an appropriate agency and location to oversee the service and made suggestions about sustainability. Conclusion: On the whole, the BSCS was perceived by former service users and key stakeholders as acceptable and effective. To develop a better understanding of the role of community-based disaster recovery support services, there is a need for more timely, rigorous and representative evaluation of disaster support services like the BSCS. Recommendations are made for the planning and development of future disaster support services. Key words: bushfires, natural disaster, Australia, disaster recovery support service, rural and remote, communities.
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