Academic journal article Rural Society

Beyond the Call of Duty: The Integral Role of Rural Local Government in Emergency Management

Academic journal article Rural Society

Beyond the Call of Duty: The Integral Role of Rural Local Government in Emergency Management

Article excerpt

Introduction

In Australia, the roles and responsibilities for emergency management are clearly outlined; constitutional arrangements stipulate that States and Territories have jurisdictional responsibility for emergency management. Each state and territory is founded in partnership, not only with the Commonwealth, but with all levels of government and business, industry and community (Australian Emergency Management Institute, 2014, pp. 3, 4). Local government is integral to local disaster mitigation and management although overall arrangements are defined by State and Territory law. Local government are considered a lead agency during emergencies and recovery periods (Australian Emergency Management Institute, 2011, p. 4). The responsibility placed on local government by state government during emergencies recognizes the strength of relationship between local government and the local community, and of the established understanding of local resources needed during an emergency (Australian Emergency Management Institute, 2014, pp. 6, 7). It is for similar reasons that local governments globally are assigned to integral roles in community disaster planning and response (Henstra, 2010).

Recently, devastating disasters in Australia have shifted emergency management policy and broadened frameworks to become more sustainable by focusing on preparation, mitigation, response and recovery (Commonwealth of Australia, 2012) as emphasized during the Victorian Floods Review (Comrie, 2011) established following severe flooding in Victoria in 2010 and 2011 causing far reaching damage, cost and community disruption (Comrie, 2011, p. 19). This report highlighted emergency management shortcomings, including a lack of overarching policy or framework and no centralized operational control which led to an uncoordinated approach to large scale emergencies, communication barriers, role confusion, lack of municipal resources and inadequate consideration of local knowledge (Comrie, 2011).

Comrie report recommendations focused on building stronger communities to enhance local response and disaster recovery, aligning closely with national and international disaster prevention strategies and policies for building community resilience through disaster preparedness, response and recovery including the Australian National Strategy for Disaster Resilience (Commonwealth of Australia, 2012), the Office of Resilience within the National Security Council in the United States, and the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005 by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) (Manyena, 2006; UNISDR, 2005). Thus, to build community resilience, an emergency management approach is required that is coordinated across all emergency response and recovery organizations with clear responsibilities and roles, flexible and adaptive, empowers the community, is well resourced, and enables information sharing using two-way communication throughout the community (Ainuddin & Routray, 2012; Cutter et al., 2008; Maclean, Cuthill, & Ross, 2014; Nicholls, 2012).

The role of local government within the context of disaster response is substantiative and its role will likely grow in response to the predicted effects of climate change and a greater number of extreme weather events (CSIRO, 2014). This research uses a case study to consolidate the current role and responsibilities of a rural local government following severe floods and landslides in the Grampians National Park, Australia in 2011. Data were collected from local residents and business owners from the affected communities and representatives from local government and emergency management organizations involved with the emergency response. This research examines the role of rural local government, consolidating data from different participant groups to establish a comprehensive understanding of local government's role and duties during the disaster and in recovery. Key factors for successfully managing natural disasters (Kusumasari, Alam, & Siddiqui, 2010) are considered to identify how they informed local governments' preparedness for future natural disasters. …

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