Welcome to UNSW! Tell us a bit about your experiences to date.

I have commenced working as a Research Fellow with the Judith Neilson Chair of Architecture, Professor David Sanderson, this year. I draw on over 20 years of experience with government service and as a practitioner and academic in risk and emergency management.

In my undergraduate I completed a degree in Environmental Health Sciences and then later completed my doctorate examining risk perception and organisational risk management in emergency response organisations - focusing on the [then] Queensland Fire and Rescue Authority (QFRA).  

My collaborative efforts are demonstrated by my engagement as a member of the World Economic Forum Expert Network (Risk and Resilience), member of the UN Global Risk Assessment Framework Working Group as well as membership of the 2020 Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. I was also previously a member of the National Advisory Panel for the 'Profiling Australia's Vulnerability: The interconnected causes and cascading effects of systemic disaster risk' project and Chair of the Community Education Sub-Group of the Australasian Fire Authorities Council. 

What are the aims of your project so far?

We are currently in the early stages of our project, but we have identified two primary aims of our research.

The first is to enhance understanding and utilisation of resilience, both as a concept and a practice, in urban design and disaster risk reduction. Resilience is important as it enables individuals, communities and states to recover from shocks and stresses occurring from disaster. It is particularly important in ensuring long term stability of livelihoods, economies and social protection systems.

The second aim is to promote new and different ways of understanding resilience in urban spaces, critical infrastructure and essential service systems. A focus on vulnerability reduction – that is, the mitigation of vulnerabilities before disasters occur – is central to this aim.

What are you currently working on?

At present, the work is focussed on partnership and collaboration building. We are focussed on how to promote links between UNSW and other universities that are teaching and research aspects of disaster risk reduction and societal resilience in Australia, Asia and across the Indo-Pacific. Our existing research has been well supported and received, but we are keen to develop partnerships that will expand these efforts. This will include the production of publications (both academic and for a wider audience) in a range of journals and thought leadership platforms.

Underpinning these research activities is a focus on the pursuit of new research funding. Where possible, we are very interested in collaborating on shared research funding and grant activities such as ARC Industry and Linkage opportunities, industry grants and government supported initiatives.

Tell us more about your previous experience working with communities.

I have worked extensively in communities in Australia and am keen to do so again. In a previous role as Manager of the State Public Safety Unit of the Queensland Fire & Rescue Authority, I developed the Sustained Community Safety Project (SCSP) which was conceived as a feet-on-the-ground approach to designing fire safety programs for Queensland communities with community involvement. The project was awarded $300,000 in competitive funding from the Queensland Department of Housing (DoH) - Urban & Community Renewal Project Grant (circa 2000). The DoH based their decision in-part on support from surveyed QLD communities who examined which submitted applications they felt would value their involvement.  Community participation was central to the design of the SCSP.  Similar approaches to co-creation and engagement will be central to my input into future Disaster & Urban Resilience work here at UNSW.

What do you think is critical to the success of your previous projects on disaster risk reduction?

Insight is critical to investigations in the disaster/resilience field.  Consideration of how humans adapt to the pressures of climate/weather variability, emergent or re-emergent diseases or the design and implement disaster risk reduction measures are all non-trivial problems. 

They are wicked, real-world problems that may be characterised as often having no clear definition; being consistently multi-causal, multi-scalar & interconnected; straddling organisational & disciplinary boundaries; involving multiple stakeholders often with conflicting agendas; and, requiring a long periods to evaluate possible solutions that are not right or wrong but merely allow a generic consensus as to which provides better value over all. The use of sets of expertise (lenses) match the complexity of problem/s and enhance insight into them and their solutions. 

What are the upcoming priorities and activities for your work at UNSW?

There are several upcoming key priorities for our upcoming work. An initial priority for me is the delivery a seminar on re-evaluating the scope of risk management practice within the URAP2 Conference. This is very timely and builds off the successful URAP conference held at UNSW in 2019.

Leveraging UNSW’s standing in disaster risk reduction and resilience, this conference will engage those from academia and beyond on the theme of ‘Climate change and disaster management: technology and resilience in a troubled world’. Our other priorities are related to expanding the network of this work, both internal and external to UNSW. We are currently mapping the areas of existing research that aligns with disaster risk reduction and resilience building across community, regional, state and national levels at UNSW.

Externally, we are keen to expand our existing links and engage with new groups working on these themes. If you are interested in connecting with us, whether you are from UNSW or beyond, please get in touch.

People, groups or institutions interested in these activities or our broader work on disaster resilience are always welcome to contact me to learn more.