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Disasters loom but calm collaborations can bolster global agencies

Published:13 June 2017

Professor Kevin Ronan pictured at the recent Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.

A CQUniversity academic is part of a global network dedicated to ensuring concerted approaches among agencies focused on disaster risk reduction.

Professor Kevin Ronan’s own research focus is on preparing children and schools but he’s also part of a wider push to ensure there is adequate research, a shared agenda and transferable tools to underpin how world-wide agencies design, develop, evaluate and implement their programs.

Locally, it’s ensuring that kids have the learning and abilities to “reduce risks” and enhance disaster resilience, including at home and at school. Globally, it’s supporting multi-agency collaborations to implement the principles behind the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030).

Global agencies which are part of the Sendai Framework recently redoubled their efforts during a ‘Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction’ event in Cancun, Mexico.

Professor Ronan initially signed on to the Cancun event to represent CQUniversity and the Bushfire & Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, while also co-presenting and facilitating a researcher-practitioner meeting with Dr Marla Petal of Save the Children Australia, linked to work led by UNESCO and UNICEF and the Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience in the Education Sector. Work underpinning this meeting was funded by the C&A Foundation and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre.

He was also invited to be part of the official Australian delegation organised by the Office of Attorney-General and Department of Foreign Affairs and led by the Minister for Development and Pacific Islands, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

Professor Ronan gives a simple example why it’s important that children are involved in planning for emergencies.

“Most people have heard about the ‘duck, cover and hold’ drill for earthquake zones,” he says.

“However, there have been cases recently in Nepal where kids who were safely outside ran into buildings which were shaking to seek out something to duck under, putting them at more risk,” Professor Ronan says.

“One of the things that we feel needs to come in advance of key messaging is building in a set of skills that help kids learn not just what to do but also how to do and why they are doing it.”

Professor Ronan says the Sendai Framework features children and youth as “agents of change” for disaster risk reduction and resilience.

“Based on that organising theme, there have been many different initiatives involving children but the problem is there have rarely been evaluations about whether these are effective in promoting reduction of risk or increased resilience,” he says.

“Beyond the issue of program effectiveness, you can get a program that seems to be effective but these tend to be pilot projects, one-offs or demonstration projects. They tend not to take the next step towards scaling up, for scaled implementation.

“The main form of a child-centred approach in this country are disaster resilience education programs for kids in a school setting.

“These programs have typically focused on safety messages, on how to prepare, on what to do in case of a flood or a cyclone or whatever … it’s based on a key messaging approach … what are the key things you have to do to keep yourself and your family safe.

“In advance of this key messaging, we also need to be building in a range of social and emotional learning abilities, that is, resilience skills. Part of the take-home message is helping kids learn a set of skills that help them not only solve problems relating to disasters but also other problems, so they more equipped as they move through childhood into adulthood.

“Hence there is a movement towards putting disaster resilience education within a larger whole-of-school context.”

Professor Ronan says the Global Alliance is now advocating strongly for a “comprehensive school safety” framework with three pillars – safe learning facilities, school disaster/emergency management and risk reduction and resilience education.

“Our goal is to promote research that informs policy and practice that can help  schools become more of a living laboratory where students become involved not just in education programs but also in learning and contributing to school (and home) emergency management planning in ways that are kid appropriate.”