Community Resilience Committee blossoms

Now in its seventh month, Inner Sydney Voice’s Community Resilience Project has advanced through its first stage of community consultation about the issues involved in coping with an emergency in public housing estates. A working group will identify priority tasks and create education programs to address them.

“We now have 15-20 people in the [Redfern-Surry Hills Community Resilience] Committee, and they have met four times. People are coming to me asking if they can come to the meetings, rather than me reaching out to people to take part,” said Samuel Beattie, the project officer based at Inner Sydney Voice, the tenant advocacy organisation.

Northcott Public Housing Estate. Photo: Peter Murphy

Northcott Public Housing Estate. Photo: Peter Murphy

The committee involves NSW Fire and Rescue, police, community organisations, and the tenants from the Northcott and Poets Corner Estates in Surry Hills and Redfern. The Land and Housing Corporation (the part of the NSW Department of Family and Community Services which owns public housing assets) is an active member of the committee and best able to implement the learnings of the project in public housing communities across NSW.

“In practice, emergency services and community organisations rarely interact with each other, yet both have very important roles to play when a disaster occures. Our committee is helping to bridge these chasms,” said Samuel.

“One of the issues we came up against early is ‘alarm fatigue’, because the smoke alarms continually go off in the estates, triggering the alert alarm on relevant floors. Everyone ignores these alarms, and so there is very low awareness about another alarm, the evacuation alarm, let alone the need for a personal emergency plan,” said Samuel.

Samuel Beattie. Photo: Peter Murphy

Samuel Beattie. Photo: Peter Murphy

“Behind every door is a ‘floor evacuation plan’, which hasn’t been checked and upgraded in years, and which no one reads. But if there is a major fire, or flooding, residents will have to know what to take and how to get out, and the relevant building management will have to be able to assure the safety of the residents in the emergency,” he said.

The committee has been talking through the possible emergency scenarios, and trying to identify who is actually responsible in these situations.

The project is a direct response to the Sendai Framework, an international collaboration in 2015 on how to respond to calamities. Sendai is the region of Japan where earthquakes and a tidal wave devastated communities and then triggered the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns in 2011. The Australian government played a strong role in the Sendai Framework, which developed the concepts of an “all-of-society” approach and “shared responsibility” in coping with an emergency.

“Key partnerships in the community enable the initial shock of an emergency to be absorbed and the recovery to develop faster, and the community to emerge stronger,” said Samuel.

The committee is now grappling with the very clear but narrow focus of NSW Fire and Rescue and the police in an emergency, and the vague sense of responsibility of land owners and body corporates.

“While commercial buildings and workplaces are legally required to have emergency plans, regular drills, and a structure of fire officers to implement the plan, public housing estates and private residential buildings are not,” said Samuel. “We are discussing the need for new laws.”

The project has another 17 months to run, and is yet to start its third stage, the rollout of programs to address the priorities identified by the committee. After stage three, the lessons learned will be available for application across Australia.


This project has been running since June 2017. For more information please contact Samuel Beattie on projectworker@innersydneyvoice.org.au or phone 9698 7690 or 0413 596 583.

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