Disaster Risk

Disasters are an inherent part of life across the globe, be they caused by the impact of natural hazards such as storms or earthquakes, or come from human activity such as accidents or terrorism. Understanding the nature of the risks posed by disasters is the first essential step in minimising their unwanted consequences.

According to the Productivity Commission (2014), in the past five years in Australia the impact of bushfires, cyclones and floods alone have claimed over 200 lives, destroyed 2670 houses, damaged a further 7680 and affected the lives of hundreds of thousands. Australia, however, is a country with a highly advanced system of disaster management supported by the sophisticated monitoring and modeling of all natural hazards. This information underpins well established warning systems and programs of community education that help to minimize the exposure of communities at risk. Australia also has a robust nation-wide disaster response and recovery capacity.

Such highly developed disaster management systems generally do not exist in all of our South-East Asian and Pacific Island neighbours where the loss of life and property from disasters of all kinds remains very high.

With the prospect of an increase in both the frequency and severity of extreme weather events as a result of changes in the global climate, as well as the growth of populations, industries and economic infrastructure, the potential for future catastrophic losses is increasing across the world.

If this threat is to be confronted the first step is to undertake appropriate disaster risk assessments and implement appropriate disaster management systems to reduce the risks and enhance the sustainability and resilience of global communities.

ERSA is a leader in the practice of disaster risk assessment and disaster risk management across the full spectrum of natural and anthropogenic hazards with significant experience in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

The disaster risk management methodology that ERSA’s risk science specialists have developed over the past 30+ years can be applied anywhere in the world to assess the risks posed by any hazard and at any scale of community. It is based on four key criteria:

1. That the objective of disaster risk management is directed towards community betterment by maximizing community safety. Community safety is a prerequisite for community sustainability, community resilience and community prosperity.

2. That the disaster risk management approach followed is founded on the scientific understanding of the hazards to be considered, the elements of the community that are potentially exposed to those hazards and the degree to which those elements are vulnerable to that potential exposure.

3. That the research and analysis undertaken as part of the disaster risk assessment is conducted by a multidisciplinary team of experienced experts across the full range of disciplines needed for the study.

4. That the risk assessment methodology follows well established and agreed protocols, particularly those established in ISO 31000 Risk management – principles and guidelines, the ERSA risk assessment methodology published by Granger (2014) and guidelines such as the (Australian) National Emergency Risk Assessment Guideline (EMA, 2010).

By following these criteria the core ERSA experts have been successful in undertaking more than 35 single and multi-hazard disaster risk assessments over the past two decades. They have included single hazard risk studies of landslide, earthquake and bushfire risks in several local government areas in South-East Queensland, a landslide hazard study of the 50,000 sq km of the Otago Region of New Zealand and a pioneering heatwave risk assessment covering the 18 local governments that made up the South-East Queensland Regional Organisation of Councils.

Our multi-hazard risk assessments have ranged from a review of the risks faced by the 9 hectare site of the Queensland Cultural Centre in Brisbane (following the 2011 floods), to three peri-urban villages near Port Vila in Vanuatu, to rural local government areas in Queensland such as Balonne Shire and Lockyer Valley Region, to urban local governments including Newcastle and Lake Macquarie in NSW, Port Adelaide in SA, as well as Cairns, Mackay, Gladstone, Brisbane and Gold Coast Cities in Queensland.

The hazards covered in these studies have ranged from the key natural hazards of flood, bushfire, cyclone, earthquake and landslide that are covered by the Natural Disasters Relief and Recovery Agreement between the Commonwealth and State/territory governments, to consideration of heatwave, pandemics, terrorism and major hazardous materials incidents.

In the Newcastle multi-hazard risk assessment, for example, we were required to assess the risks posed by some 25 natural and anthropogenic hazards and make recommendations on risk treatment strategies.

One of the key strengths of the ERSA approach is the use of geographic information system (GIS) technology to drive the risk analysis by integrating data on the hazard, the elements exposed and their vulnerability within the one spatial framework. We see geography as being the central risk science around which the other physical and social sciences orbit.

ERSA also has developed considerable experience in the development of appropriate information management infrastructures designed to support decision making across the full ambit of disaster management. We have also worked to transfer the philosophy and technology of such infrastructures to our clients.

ERSA is able to offer the following range of disaster risk management services covering the natural hazards such as bushfire, storm and severe wind, flood, storm tide, tsunami, landslide, earthquake and heatwave. Services offered include:

  • risk identification studies including analysis of the elements in the community at risk and their vulnerability
  • risk assessment studies for single hazards or for multi-hazard situations
  • GIS-based disaster management information system design, development and training
  • post-disaster surveys and studies
  • community consultation, community education and community awareness programs; and
  • peer reviews and technical assessment panels.

ERSA has also undertaken studies of the risks posed by a range of anthropogenic hazards such as the loss of containment of hazardous chemicals and accidents at major hazard facilities. The planning implications of the siting of hazardous facilities and their potential exposure to a range of natural hazards have also been a focus for our work.

ERSA Directors published an article in the Chartered Accountants Journal (NZ), which considers lessons our recent work might have for the ongoing earthquake recovery in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Examples of disaster risk studies undertaken by ERSA personnel include:


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