Bridging the gaps and playing safe in crisis

This session was part of the Disability and Disaster Resilience Forum held online on 27 august 2020


People with disability have the right to be supported and stay safe through disasters just like everyone else. This panel session distilled the issues and failures that have been thrown up so far in this year of disasters, and then moved the focus to finding practical solutions to make crisis management inclusive.

Where are the gaps between the policy framework and protections and the lived experience and what needs to happen to close the gap in the future? How do we ensure that everyone has access to the supports they need to stay safe?

Bridget Tehan is the Policy Advisor Emergency Management at VCOSS and she facilitated this discussion with her guests:

  • Christina Ryan, CEO, Disability Leadership Institute
  • Adrian Terranova, Executive Officer, Gippsland Disability Advocacy Inc. 
  • Michele Watson, Coordinator for Community Programs, Aged & Disability Services and Deputy Municipal Recovery Manager at Yarra City Council 
  • Angela Cook, Project Manager, Community Engagement, Country Fire Authority



Links to the resources mentioned in this session can be found at the bottom of this post.

Transcript and audio


So let’s go to our panel of experts to discuss.  Remember to put your questions for the panel in via the Q&A box.  Who best to lead a discussion than the amazing Bridget Tehan, Policy Officer of Emergency Management at VCOSS who will guide our panel of experts through a discussion about all we’ve heard today.  Welcome Bridget.

Thankyou Melissa, thank you for that lovely introduction it’s made me smile and it’s made my day.  I just wanted to really firstly start off by acknowledging you Melissa and the amazing work you’ve done and all the team in pulling this together.  It’s just been so incredible so far what we’ve heard.  

I really wanted to I guess acknowledge the work of Michelle and Angela with those really practical projects, working with people with a disability around person centred emergency planning and preparedness.  Actually encouraging people to own their own plans being best placed to do that planning.

Secondly Angela’s project which she discussed in the second session or in the third session of this morning.  Looking at the Country Fire Authority or the CFA, as it was then, an amazing project that Angela had undertaken looking at supporting bushfire planning for people with additional needs and working with local community organisations to undertake that work as well.  Really extraordinary work going on right across Australia.  

Look there are many other projects underway as well.  I’m really pleased to be here today and be supporting this forum and enough about me I don’t want to talk too much.  I do want to say though well done to Toni for appearing live today.  We could just see that was a really really tough thing for her to do and I want to pass on a huge congratulations from not only me but from the many many people that commented.  As you appeared live Toni, you did such an amazing job and the messages that we parted were really profound and really meaningful and hopefully make a different thought for other people with a disability.

What I’m going to do today is not do too much talking.  We have a fantastic line up of panellists here and I know we’re all keen to hear from them.  Who we have with us today is Christina Ryan of The Disability Leadership Institute.  We have Adrian Terranova, Executive Officer of Gippsland Disability Advocacy, Michelle Watson whose the Coordinator for Community Programs Age and Disability Services and is the Deputy Municipal Recovery Manager at Yarra City Council and again we have Angela Cook, Project Manager at the CFA.

I just want to start out by saying that emergency management is really complex.  An emergency event might need the help of police, firefighters, ambulance, rescue or lifesaving services.  If it’s a bigger event, it might involve a local council and other organisations.  A really big event like COVID-19 might include the whole of the State Government.  

The way, which emergency and management arrangements operate are also complex and they do tend to focus on those emergency services and Government as I mentioned above.  There is a movement to community lead emergency management where community and members are involved in all aspects of emergency management from planning and preparedness through response and relief and right through to the long-term recovery process.

We know that people with disabilities are isolated from the mainstream community on a day-to-day basis and face significant barriers in participating in everyday life.  How can we make sure at the outset that they’re an integral part of this community led approach?  Each of our panellists is going to share some of their experiences and reflections of emergencies and propose some real ways forward on a whole lot of different levels that can feed into this complex emergency management arrangement.

I’m going to start off by introducing Adrian Terranova who’s the Executive Officer for the Gippsland Disability Advocacy.  Adrian if you would like to tell us a bit about your experiences and your organisations experience in both the 2018 as well as the 2019/20 bushfires and some of the challenges you’ve faced in undertaking that work.  I guess particularly with regard to funding which I know has been really troublesome for you.  Over to you Adrian.

Thank you Bridget and good afternoon everyone.  I would like to acknowledge I’m meeting on Gunaikurna Land and pay my respects to elders past present and emerging.

It’s been a wonderful forum, thank you Melissa and the team at DARU for facilitating.  My name is Adrian I work with Gippsland Disability Advocacy.  My role is the Executive Officer.

I might just quickly if I may talk a little bit about Gippsland Disability Advocacy.  We’re the regional service for Gippsland and our mission is to advocate, promote and be responsive to the welfare rights and interests of people with disabilities and to build a more inclusive community.  Once we’re talking about emergency management, you can see this is front and centre.

I think what happens with emergencies is initially we go into a little bit of preservation when there’s bushfires and things like this, instantly we start thinking about ourselves, our family and our friends and very quickly we then think about who may be impacted.  We then think about our community, where we’re working and instantly you see and know of a number of people working in disability advocacy who would be really really in a lot of situations where they could be in a lot of problems.

As a result of that across East Gippsland on the 29th, 30th and 31st December there was a number of community meetings in Lakes Entrance, Bruthen, Metung, we just felt it was really important to have presence and know what was happening at the community meetings so we could at least start engaging with our community, people with disabilities.

From the 1st to the 10th January, our organisation had presence at the relief centres, which were established across the region.  They initially started in Bairnsdale, East Gippsland and that flowed on down to Sale and Morwell.  On one day, alone we worked with 19 new clients across those relief centres and it’s fair to say that there was a feeling of isolation, a lot of trauma with regard to that.

We just felt it was really important that as a disability advocacy service that the voices of people with disabilities were heard at any point in time.  The issues were really widened, varied from departmental grants to breaking down the barriers, to accommodation as my colleague Denise mentioned earlier.  Lots of different situations.

Throughout these times, it was high intensity, certainly a lot of engagement through our funding bodies, the Office for Disability as well as Department of Social Services through the National Disability Advocacy Program.  They were really keen to know what we were encountering.  We certainly had a good opportunity to talk to them but without the support of Mary Mallet at Disability Advocacy Network Australia and the senior management team at VCOSS we may have struggled somewhat.  They were wonderful in breaking down those barriers for us.

In saying about the support Paul Malavasi from the Office of Disability took a very special and keen interest about the work, we were doing and were really supportive of that.

Difficult time, talking about 29th, 30th December up to the 10th Jan.  We had lots of staff on annual leave.  We were really blessed my colleagues Denise Lamble and Sam Gambilen who is our systemic advocate were willing to come off annual leave and do some work at the relief centres.

I think there is a couple of things here, which are really important.  I spent a lot of the time at that time advocating and it sort of took me away from being where I needed to be was advocating that we got some systems based scenarios and problems here.  What it’s let us to continue to think about is a contingency fund that organisations like ours who can evidence that we’re in this space, that Governments can start thinking about supporting that because it literally, it was like they got, everybody got caught short and found out by “o, a disability advocacy organisation is at the relief centre.”  

It was like it was something out of this world.  From our perspective, we felt it imperative we were there and I would advocate for my colleagues across the state and country that the disability advocacy organisations need to be at relief centres.  It did show up a few flaws in that from a contingency point of view and funding, how do we make this happen.  

One thing else I will just say is being locally and place based is really important as well.  We had a situation where our systemic advocate had really good intel and knowledge of the local Gippsland Grammar school, which obviously had accommodation on site there, which was very accessible.  We had a family in East Gippsland who were wheelchair users.  We heard from Denise earlier on there was no accommodation available, importantly needed to be accessible.  Sam was able to join the dots.  A local place based organisation was really able to connect in.

Look, we could talk about it for hours and hours our work.  We’re really passionate about it but there’s just some things that really stuck.  Just being place based, knowing our community, being able to build the links with what was available with regards to accommodation.  Also the gaps regarding contingency, funding and the like.  

That’s great, thank you so much Adrian.  I think you’ve kind of undersold your story in terms of the role you did play in supporting people with a disability through those fires.  I know for one that you went absolutely above and beyond.  I know that your organisation was struggling at the very bottom of its bank account to continue doing the work that you were doing.  A real credit to you to be there not only for your community but for local people with a disability.

I think it really shows what disability organisations can do and the role that they can play really at the forefront of emergencies right in that response and relief phase.  But they do need recognition, they do need support and they do need the funding to be able to do this effectively.  Thank you so much Adrian for sharing and I’ll come back to you a little bit later.

Michelle, I’m really keen to hear from you from a perspective from a local council, from a local government, the City of Yarra and the work that you do and the insights you’ve got around working with and for people with disability in a emergency management context.  Over to you Michelle.

Thank you Bridget.  Like Adrian and everyone else at this forum, I would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people.  

[Audio cutting out for a few minutes]

As I was saying, I would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the traditional owners of the land we know and pay my respects to elders both past present and merging.  

Thank you Bridget for the introduction.  It’s been as always a very busy time for local governments and I think before I talk about my experiences, I’d just like to acknowledge what a valuable and learning experience this forum has been for me.  And I look forward to many more opportunities where we can hear people’s voices and stories and experiences so we can take them on board and learn from them.  

And build that wisdom and knowledge into our practice in emergency management because I think there are incredible strengths resilience’s, knowledge and passion in the disability space that we can learn about what is working, what’s acceptable, and what the gaps are for our communities and where we need to improve.

At Yarra, a lot of the planning I suppose there are different stages to emergency management and I think I’m quite proud of the fact that our planning committee, the Municipal Emergency Management Planning Committee has representation on that committee with a person with disability which helps bring insight and understanding to our planning processes which is just awesome.  I would encourage every local government to have representation at the planning table.

I think in response a lot of our focus and efforts have been around the food safety and food security space.  I think we all saw what happened in North Melbourne and Kensington and how quickly COVID-19 can really impact on everyone in the community but the extreme impacts it has on people that have difficulty isolating or participating in the community.  And I think one of the strengths that we I suppose observing what happened on the media and the news, it’s always take it with a grain of salt but I think some of the lived stories that we heard about were really really appalling.

I think we leverage that understanding and knowledge that we need to do better at Yarra as well.  Right from the start, we were establishing community forums and meetings a couple of times a week to hear what was needed from the community, what was working, what wasn’t working and what we do differently.  

One of the biggest issues we experienced in listening to community members and that includes people with disability, was that the 1800 number really didn’t work for a lot of people in the community.  A lot of the information out there wasn’t working for people with disabilities.  We looked at establishing some supported referral pathways that specialist agencies like us in the disability sector could fast track people needing support or additional support for us to work with and link into those supports and that’s been a very effective strategy.  

I think we’ve had about 36 referrals through that pathway where the 1800 number hasn’t really worked for them.  Anecdotally people were on hold for over an hour, giving up and just trying to make do as best that they can where there were supports and assistance available.  That was a really good learning that we got from the community but also I think using the community leaders is essential in getting the messaging out and in simple ways and also assessing what people need.

I remember Anne there was a question to Anne Cavanagh right at the beginning of this forum to what work is done with local governments in the high rise at North Melbourne, and Kensington.  I suppose part of what we get from the health service is it is tricky.  We do get information about people needing supports in the high rise but because of privacy and confidentiality, we don’t get specific information of those people.  

We actually rely on people giving their consent and then our staff can follow up and find out what the needs are and what the supports their requiring to either self-isolate or get retested or have access to a tester or what their needs for PPE are and then aim to deliver that to them.

We had some interesting requests it wasn’t just about food.  We had one person with disability who had broken their arm and they couldn’t brush their teeth and needed an electric toothbrush so we were able to supply that.  I think it’s not easy because of privacy and confidentiality and I think that going back to where I started with, having those conversations and meetings and forums with the community and community leaders and agencies in the community, and leveraging off those strengths and connections and partnerships enabled us to use them to do a lot of door knocking and with interpreters, Auslan interpreters if we needed them to actually find out what was happening and what was needed on the ground.

I suppose that’s in a nutshell.  I think just a personal reflection I think COVID-19 has given us all a small taste of what it’s like to be unable to access or participate in our community and how that impacts on our well-being and our mental health.  My hope is that we can use our COVID-19 experiences to do more to empower people with disability to live well and be safe in our community once this is past.

That’s great, thank you so much Michelle.  It certainly sounds like the City of Yarra does amazing work in working with it’s very diverse community across a range of areas and great to hear some of those really concrete examples that you’ve been able to share with us.  Also you’re sitting there saying we’ve got more to learn, we can do it better, we can improve and to be part of this discussion today it’s really fabulous.

I’d like to pass over to Angela Cook from the CFA.  Angela gave us a presentation this morning about the work she’s doing with the CFA on supporting people with vulnerabilities to prepare and plan for bushfire and working with the community of disability organisations who support people with disability to support that planning if you like. 

I’m not going to get Angela to go over the details of her project again, but she can certainly touch on them.  Angela I’m wondering if you’ve got any further reflections based on what you’ve heard today and what you’ve seen today from the various presenters and people with lived experience, over to you Angela.

Thanks Bridget.  I think like I said in my presentation that when I did some research about what is best practice in Australia, nationally or working with people who have a disability around fairness planning, the person centred emergency preparedness approach kept coming up, I contacted Associate Professor Michelle Villenueve from the University of Sydney and we’ve been working with her.  I think that’s been fundamental in shifting the project in a way.  

CFA already has I think reasonable focus on community engagement.  We run a number of programs but I don’t think we always focus it down that level of the individual and in a person centred guided conversation way where that individual feels empowered.  We often come at it with more of an expert led approach.  Here we are we are the fire service, we know what you need to do and here’s the list and we just tick it off.  

We actually know we want people to take ownership of the risk and what it means to them and how their capabilities affect that.  We definitely need to utilise more of that person centred approach.  I think that’s quite critical.  The only time and that will work really well in the preparedness space, when we get to response that doesn’t work so well.  That’s where we’re telling you what to do.

I was kind of thinking as an emergency services we need to be really clear in this preparedness stage we can have these personal centred conversations, that’s where we need to be.  Unfortunately when we get to respond we’re not always going to be able to do that unfortunately.

That’s one thought in my mind about how this needs to happen before.  Another thought was around how – at CFA, we tend to focus things on a community resilience, trying to do a lot of our programs at a community level.  I wonder how we do that.  We don’t reach everybody, not everyone can come to that community-based kind of session.  

Part of my thinking is how can we be more inclusive with our community resilience space programs.  They’re the kind of things that I’m thinking about.  I was really interested in the project that Michelle is doing and what Queensland has been doing.  There’s some of my reflections.  I don’t know if anybody else had something to add from the group here about that.

Look I would certainly echo what you’ve said Angela.  I think the people we’ve heard from today, the people with lived experiences, the videos and the footage and Toni and her presentation have made it really evident to me that we aren’t the experts.  Us in emergency management are not the experts.  People with a disability are the experts in their own lives in their own strengths and needs.

What we need to do is make sure they’re at the table as we work to embed disability inclusion in all of our approaches to emergency management whether it’s planning, whether it’s relief or whether it’s recovery.  Adrian, you’ve got your hand up.

I just want to reiterate some of those thoughts.  I went to a community meeting as this was happening as it was, New Year’s Even in Lakes Entrance.  Instantly when I walked in it was like I don’t know how accessible this venue is and I’m not sure how accessible some of the language is.  There certainly wasn’t the thought about plain or easy English.  

Again, it was a highly stressful time for the community.  That was just an observation and it was like it’s all a bit confronting as well.  The venue wasn’t accessible. It was a bit of everything, all of the above captured in.

Thanks Adrian.  Thank you Angela for that, really great to hear your reflections based on what you’ve heard and seen today.  I would like to introduce Christina Ryan.  Christina is the CEO of Disability Leadership.  Over to you Christina.

Thanks very much Bridget.  The Disability Leadership Institute and a couple of things, which I have done which might be relevant.  Firstly, I will acknowledge I’m on Bunarong land and also mention that I openly identify as a disabled person. 

A couple of other things that I’ve done in the past have been coordinating the community sector response when I was working at ACTCOSS when we’ve had a couple of major disasters over the years.  I have also run an advocacy organisation so I know Gippsland Advocacy well through that and for some period of time I was the Chair of the Disability Advocacy Network of Australia.  I’m bringing all of that into the conversation this afternoon.

I think we’ve touched on some really important things here.  One of them is that if disabled people aren’t in the room it’s all about retro fitting.  By the time we get to retro fitting it’s a bit late.  What we’ve learned this year particularly is that things can go wrong and they can go wrong fast and they can wrong in multiple occasions.  

We’ve started the year in fact our year started last spring when we were all starting to deal with responding to bush fires, that seemed to go forever.  There were horrific hailstorms, floods, all sorts of things that happened before we finally landed with a pandemic.  Excellent.

What that’s shown us is if we try doing our consulting and if we try get out there and talk to people with disabilities once those things are underway, well it’s too late.  Angela’s talking about bringing people into the room earlier.  Michelle has talked about having someone on the emergency committee.  All of these things are ways we need to be doing things and traditionally it hasn’t happened, even what Adrian has mentioned about having accessible relief centres and evacuation centres.  

We’ve had multiple examples of people evacuating to centres.  They might have been wheelchair accessible but people couldn’t get to the mattresses on the floor.  The places were so noisy the people with sensory overload really struggled.  All sorts of things come into play.  What it’s telling us fundamentally is we can’t just forget about disability until somebody turns up at a relief centre.  That’s the absolute end point.  

We did learn during the 2003 bushfires in Canberra a very important lesson.  The people who are connected to existing services are the ones who get remembered.  The service providers know them the advocacy organisations know them.  Even if they’re not current consumers there is somebody going hang on what’s happening to so and so.  It’s the people who aren’t engaged with the service providers or the community services in one way or another.  

That’s actually a larger proportion of disability community than we realise.  It’s only a very small percentage of disabled people who are engaged with services on a regular basis.  Making sure that things are going to be suitable for the broader community is about that planning, the pre-work, making sure that the committees are in place.  It isn’t about consulting it’s about having people in decision-making rooms, it’s about being part of government, non-government, fire response services, it’s a part of being in those spaces.

Something that we have also learnt is there’s a lot of scenario planning and work that the fire authorities go through off-season.  They do a lot of work to make sure they’re ready for the next summer or most of the year as it’s turning into being these days.  That is where we need to be, in those scenario-planning situations.  We need to make sure that disabled people are included so that we’re remembered.

It’s not about some passing person with disability in the street suddenly becoming an expert in all matters disability it’s about having enough of a presence that disability isn’t forgotten.  People know they have to go find the information.  I’m not the specialist in the deaf and hard of hearing community, I would need to speak to them to understand exactly what’s going on.  I do have a broader range of understanding than most people with a disability in community because of my work history and what I’ve done in the past.

We need to recognise that it’s the ground-based experience so that those individual solutions can be arrived at without it being an afterthought.  It needs to be something that we’re almost ready for in advance.  It is about being in the room early, and making sure that we factor disability in right at the very front end of any talk about disaster responses, emergency responses that way we won’t be forgotten and we’ll potentially have a wider range of solutions and flexibility.  A much greater capacity for flexibility and that’s what we really need to be looking at.

That’s fantastic Christina.  From my perspective and the work I do at the Victorian Council of Social Service I couldn’t agree with you more.  I think it’s really critical that people with a disability, organisations that support them are there from the very outset.  That they’re included in decision making, at local levels, at state levels and at national levels.  

The strengths and needs of people with a disability are really built in from the ground up so it’s not a question about whether their needs are going to be met it’s part of the process from day one.

I’d also advocate that that’s true of a number of different sectors within community sector.  For example, organisations that support culturally linguistically diverse communities, support Aboriginal communities and other key groups that may be vulnerable and have additional needs when it comes to emergencies and disasters.

This is a fantastic discussion so far and I’d love for us to talk for the rest of the afternoon but we will run out of time if we’re not careful.  I’m really keen to hear suggestions about something that could be implemented really quickly.  If you had a pot of money or somebody, had a pot of money that could be thrown at something that would make a tangible differences to people with a disability in your community come the next fire season?

There’s a number of things.  I think initially what needs to occur is each local council has a disability action plan.  Some of those disability action plans have greater details across different councils than others.  Some are outstanding with their level of information others it appears they’re just it’s a tick and flick, we do it because we have to it’s a mandate and they have a disability action plan.

We’d be advocating that the disability action plan actually has some responses with regards to emergency situations.  Now that won’t meet any additional resources or money that just needs organisations like the Local Disability Advocacy Organisation engaged in the disability action plan.  But importantly being peer led.  Having people with disability as part of the reference group that is developing the disability action plan.  

It’s a front, it’s a no brainer and it’s something that Christina has certainly touched on.  Particularly in these times if disability action plans were reflective of current pandemics and bushfires that is a start because it’s at a minimum.  It’s getting councils thinking about the situation.  

I loved Christina’s thought, discussion before, disability and accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought.  James alluded to that in his lovely vignettes video, which was really powerful as they all were.

It’s really important that we’re not an afterthought and we’re actually at the table.  That’s the key take home message.  We could talk funding, all different areas.  There are things that don’t need funding it just needs community conversation.  

Fantastic Adrian, I really love that idea about community conversation.  Bringing these things to light, making these things visible, having community members understand the people that might live next door to them have different challenges and may face different risks and vulnerabilities in the context of an emergency.

Fabulous suggestion and very achievable Adrian, in regard to disability action plans as well.  Michelle, what about you from a local perspective towards quick wins?


I totally agree, with an action plan and access inclusion plan but I think sitting alongside that is at Yarra we also have a disability advisory committee that provides advice and support to all our business functions on how we can improve the well-being of people with disability in our community.  Also, their carers and that can be universal access, could be inclusion and what best practice is and aim higher.  Just always, aim higher.

I think for me a quick win would be when we look at our emergency management system and apparatus is everyone in that space actually disability awareness trained or had that awareness training, because I think until you hear the stories and can appreciate what that experience is like from someone whose lived it you just don’t get it.  You just – it’s not in the front of your brain, it’s not something that you even necessarily – it’s not for want of not knowing it’s just I think that awareness is really important and having the opportunity to hear peoples stories understand what that’s like, have empathy and use that knowledge and understanding to improve our processes and systems is critical.  That’s an easy win.

Great thank you so much Michelle.  It certainly is an easy win and a very cost effective win as well.  I’m really liking these cost effective approaches even though I suggested there was this mythical amount of money to be thrown at you.   

Angela, what about you at the CFA and emergency services more broadly.  What we know in the emergency management sector is there’s lots and lots of fabulous pilot projects of things that can make a real difference they’re really exciting and then they’re finished, packaged up and popped on a shelf and then collect dust.  How can we make this move on?

That’s a good question actually, why do things end up on a shelf gathering dust.  Perhaps people might move in.  I wonder if there’s an issue with continuity, relationships that exist and things happening between people rather than an organisation or systems level.

Practical solutions is something I really am figuring out.  I think we’re really practical at CFA we’re on the ground.  We have thousands of members on the ground who deliver community safety, community engagement.  Less so at the very moment with COVID.  We’re doing a bit more online but the fact is we’re out there, we’re in the community.

Solutions there are many and I think you said two to three so now I’m thinking how do I fit this in.  For me I think it’s planning and preparedness conversations is number one.  

We need to be having those conversations and thinking about how we can have those conversations with different groups, people with disability, and how I think community safety month usually comes up in October every year.  Perhaps that’s a way to brand it and have conversations.  We have a bushfire conversation every year surely we can have conversations leading into that.  That’s about bushfires but there’s house fires and floods and a whole range of emergencies.

I think conversations are really at the heart of how we do that.  We’ve put together some new resources.  Resources are always practical.  They will always be available on the CFA website.  Unfortunately, this is coming a bit early.  But they will be ready soon.  

What we’ve done is we’ve got some resources.  We’re trying to help people help themselves who may have a disability and who are either can access and do a plan on their own accord or who may need support through carers or support workers. 

We’re looking at resources for both and I think I talked about that in my presentation.  What we need I suppose to make that happen is a sector or an organisation, disability service organisations on board and enthused about conversations around bushfire.

I get it I’m marinated in it around bushfire safety but how do I get others excited about bushfires when we’re currently all marinated in COVID but soon we’re going to have to move into that preplanning.  There are my thoughts.  

I’m feeling if people want to learn more from the 11th September they can jump on CFAs website, it will on the front page to link into some of the new resources for workers who work in this space and also for individuals.  

Then internally for CFA.  I think someone mentioned, just prior to me about some disability awareness kind of training.  CFA has purchased the SBS training packages around inclusive, building inclusive organisations.  We have the training package sitting there on CFAs learning management system around engaging with people with a disability.  That’s a win.  But you’re right there’s a bit of work to do there and I think there’s some more solution internally that I can work on as well.

I’ll put my hand up a little bit and put myself up for that internally to drive a bit more change within CFA.  It is happening; it just needs sometimes a bit of a nudge and push.

That is absolutely fantastic Angela; we’ll hold you to account you can report back next year.  I do want to acknowledge of course CFA is a large part a volunteer organisation.  You’ve got people volunteering huge amounts of their time to do amazing work in keeping our community safe.  The fact that a volunteer would even set aside additional time to undergo training and think about these systems is really a credit to the organisation and a huge thanks to the volunteer.

Christina what about your suggestions for us?

Well unsurprisingly I’m going to talk leadership at you.  But I’ve got some clear suggestions.  Rather than being on the advisory groups, I’d like to know where are the 20% of people on local government councils?  We don’t have disabled people in politics in Australia.  We’ve got four people across all of the parliaments to this country, four.  None of them are in Victoria.  

We’ve got a situation where it is so unlikely that the Ministry or Cabinet will actually have a disabled person inside.  It’s just not going to happen, yet.  We need people to think in terms of how do we get disabled people into those decision-making spaces.  Into the parliaments, onto the local councils, onto the boards that make the decisions, into the executive teams where the money is being allocated so the resources are there.

If people with disabilities are in those spaces, we can’t be forgotten so we need to be in those rooms.  The reasons we need to be in those rooms is so we don’t get what happened nationally.  There was no mention of disability in the pandemic plan when it was first written by the Federal Government.  It took six weeks of very serious lobbying from disability representative organisations to actually get a national plan for disability up for the pandemic.

That’s what happens when we’re not in the room.  It’s about being in the room.  It’s about being elected to those places.  It’s also about being in those rooms, the boards and executive teams.  It is about the mayor or the deputy mayor.  It’s about the person running VCOSS; it’s about all those sorts of people.  It’s about 20% of the Victorian cabinet being disabled people so that we’re in the room.

There’s also a really big need for a lot more talking with those represented organisations beforehand.  We’ve already covered the fact we can’t wait till an emergency happens before we notice disabled people exist.  We need those representative organisations and the disability rights treaty talks about representative and advocacy organisations need to be consulted.  They need to be there.  They need to be saying hang on your developing a document with no mention of disability what’s going on.  That needs to happen before the emergency hits otherwise it’s too late.

That segway into my third really serious suggestion.  We need to get better at going into the segregated places.  Emergency response often talk about disabled people having the conversation, let’s be ready.  What Adrian and I know because we’ve worked in advocacy people who work in segregated environments like small institutions, group houses those sort of places, people who are presumed to have someone else looking after them they don’t get involved in those conversations.

Come the emergency they are not asked and they turn up and nobody has thought about them.  They require much more support and they require much more adjustment.  We need to think about how we’re engaging whit those segregated people.  The people we don’t see out in the community, the people who aren’t volunteering without CFA and other services.

We need leadership so we’re not forgotten.  We need to be in the room.  We need to be talking to the representative organisations in a much more robust and ongoing fashion and not just about disability about everything.  And we need to be making sure that the people in segregated environments are not forgotten.  Of course, the answer to that is get rid of the segregated environments but that’s another panel discussion for another time not for today.

What fabulous suggestions they are Christina.  I know you’ve got an article coming out soon that expands on some of those ideas and we’re looking forward to that and I’m sure DARU will provide a link to that article for those who are interested.

For everybody’s information it’s actually published today, it’s on our website and I’ll provide the link so it’s available to everyone this afternoon.

Wonderful, thank you so much Christina.  I think each of those suggestions are mostly eminently achievable and certainly, something we should all be striving toward and looking toward doing.

I’d just like to reflect a little bit on what we’ve heard and I think a lot of what we’ve heard and seen today has been about relationships.  Relationships about people with disability and their peers, between people with disabilities and the organisations that support them, people with a disability and researchers., advocated, emergency service organisations, local governments and others.

We know emergency management is only effective if it truly works with everyone and to date that hasn’t included people with a disability.  I think today has really presented us with an opportunity to start to work collectively to change that.

I think we should build on this relationship between the people in this room today and the people listening and watching online.  I’m really looking forward to the newspaper that’s going to come out today and hopefully continuing to work with all of you to identify real and practical changes to ensure people with disability are included, are represented to play an active role in and that their needs are met in all aspect of emergency management.

I did think we were getting some questions from attendees and something has come up on my screen.  If I can just read it, my eyes aren’t very good.  Practical preparedness plan is essential – I’m sorry I can’t read it.  I need somebody to read it for me.  Adrian is going to do this for me, thank you Adrian.

A personal preparedness plan is essential however doesn’t it put unfair burden for safety back on people with disabilities, shouldn’t the emergency response system take greater responsibly for those most at risk.

What a fantastic question and I know each of you will have a response to that and I’d really like to offer each of you the opportunity to respond to that.  Christina, I will start with you.

A quick response, yes.  It’s what we call ableism to put it back onto the disabled person to fix the world not being okay.  It is actually up to the systems being structured and the decision making forums being structured beforehand to be ready rather than the responsibility of the disabled person particularly if they’re in crisis to be coming up with solutions.

That is not the answer.  It is not okay to be expecting a person who might have just lost their house or found themselves in a difficult situation to be the one who comes up with solutions.  Not okay.

Thanks Christina.  Adrian, did you have a response to that question?

Yeah, outstanding question.  Look I think that’s in essence why today is occurring essentially, it’s occurring because there’s been a lack at different areas of it being – of emergency and disability being connected.  Essentially that’s why days like today are just so pivotal.  

Yeah, I 100% agree with the question.  Unfortunately, that’s what we do as disability advocates is regularly call out situations that should be for all intensive purposes achievable and they’re not.  It’s an afterthought.  Outstanding question.

Fantastic, Michelle did you have a response to that question?

Yeah, look I know the NDIS is only one part of the disability sector.  I think emergency planning personal emergency planning should be a core element to everyone’s package.  That being said there’s a lot of people in our community that aren’t eligible for the NDIS.

I think government should be working in partnership with emergency services to have the toolkits available and also provide resourcing in forums or supports or training to have those conversations with people I suppose outside of the NDIS and how we can leverage that support in our service sector and the partnerships we have across the service sector whether it be training whether it be tool kits and then to encourage those one to one where it’s needed supports to help people think about emergency management plan and what will work for them and what their needs are.  To have a much more robust resource, kit bag in our communities to support that really important work.

It’s not just COVID-19 we’ve got six months till the next bushfire season hits.  What does our ERCs look like in a COVID-19 space and where do people with disability intersect with that?  There’s a lot of work we need to be doing in this space right now to prepare us for what our emergency responses are in a COVID-19 space because it’s a lot different and it’s going to be a lot more challenging to provide relief and supports in COVID-19 than it ever had been before.

Thanks Michelle, Christina you wanted to make a quick point.

Yes, just a small postscript there.  Can I make it really clear to people that NDIS only covers 10% of the disability community.  The other 90% are out there using mainstream services and support or they don’t need regular stuff and they occasionally dip in when things get bad.

The NDIS is not set up to be the disability solution for government and I’ve been extremely disturbed during the pandemic and previously during the bushfire season to hear the Federal Government particularly continually referring to the NDIS for answers when in fact that’s not the purpose of them at all.

As an individual NDIS participant and I am one, it’s almost impossible to speak to them in a hurry and get something happening.  That’s not what they’re there for and it’s not how they operate.  We need to be doing the preparedness; we need to be there before the NDIS is almost the afterthought of the emergency.  Frankly they’re not good at that, they can’t be that’s not what they’re for.  It’s only 10% of us who are NDIS participant who have a call on them anyway.

That’s exactly right Christina and thanks for that reminder.  Angela, did you have an answer to that question?  Thinking about some of the emergency management principles around shared responsibility I guess.

Bridget you read my mind.  I made a big note about shared responsibility.  I feel in this case and we talk about this a lot, emergency management what is shared responsibility.  We will do some of it and take on board some of the responsibility but we need the community organisation to take on board another part of that responsibility because we just can’t do it all.  I think the bushfires royal commission back in2009/10, after the 2009 fires, that’s what they had stated.

And so in this case  I would say the shared responsibility is that a person with a disability is the expert in their lives, in their capabilities, in understanding their needs, and then in the case of CFA, well we’re the expert in fire safety. We need to work together to work out what that means for that individual in their own circumstances. But we can’t go in and assume, I suppose, that everyone’s in the same circumstances, obviously, as Christina pointed out, with different types of functional capabilities and different situations, and whether people have support, or not, in their home.

Thanks Angela, really good points and I think that goes back to a lot of what I was talking about earlier around relationships and the importance of networks and partnerships and individuals and organisations talking to one another and getting on the same page and working together, working collectively, to really embrace that notion of shared responsibility and disability inclusive emergency planning, preparedness, response and recovery.

I believe we are out of time. I have so enjoyed this conversation. It has been absolutely fantastic. I think this could become a yearly forum. Mel, I’m looking at you… because of course you don’t have enough to do on a day to day basis to think about pulling together something like this online!

If I could just thank all of the panelists for your amazing insight, for sharing your experiences with us. Thank you so much.

Over to you Mel.

Well thank you very much everybody. What a fantastic discussion.

So just in summary, we have heard that, while we in Australia, have some good frameworks and policies that guide our emergency response, and compared to what is happening globally, we aren’t doing too badly. However there’s so much more we need to do to ensure that people with disability have the same protections in an emergency as their neighbours, colleagues, and other Australians.

While we have some great systems and ideas in place to be able to commence the emergency planning process for people with disabilities, there is no funding  for disability advocacy, or any other services, to take the time to actively work on making, and implementing, those emergency plans until it’s way too late.

It’s been very clearly demonstrated today, that people with disability are absolutely the expert in their own needs and need the supports and tools around them to assist in making sure that they have the time, space and appropriate support to put plans in place to protect themselves, and their families, in the event of an emergency.

It’s time to take this out of pilot phase. The time for short term trialling and testing things is well past us. The disasters are here. It’s real and it’s not waiting for anyone. It’s time to take action, make those plans real and put support around people with disability without delay – today.

A whole lot of things have come out of today and DARU absolutely commits to not leaving the discussion here. We want to ensure that this rich information is captured and used as a tool for advocacy to ensure that the next pandemic we face, the next bushfire, the next flood, and that any emergency plan that kicks in is inclusive of all people.

My biggest appreciation and thank you goes to those people with disability who contributed their stories. Not just the stories for today, but those who contributed and relived their trauma for studies and research  surveys, the recent Royal Commission hearings, and everything else that has been done in relationship to the disasters of 2020. It’s all hard. It’s all traumatic, but without your stories, we don’t know anything to be able to make a change. So thank you.

Thank you to all the presenters and facilitators and panelists for your contributions today. You are all absolute change makers and I look forward to assisting you to progress your work going forward from here.

Thank you to the interpreters and captioners. Thank you to Show Division for the technology in making this work today. Thank you to my colleagues at DARU for working behind the scenes at all hours to make this work for you today. You’re absolute legends.

Thank you for watching. Have a wonderful afternoon. Stay safe, wash those hands, wear those masks and stay home.

Bye bye.

Thursday 27th August, 2020

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