Australia

How do we plan for an unprecedented future?

Coming out of the summer bushfire crisis and headlong into the pandemic, emergency management expert David Parsons started making plans for the recovery.

As an advisor to government agencies and the private sector on emergency and crisis management as well as a part-time lecturer on emergency planning at Charles Sturt University, he has helped industries prepare for the impact of the coronavirus.

"I'm talking to people about what happens next," he said.

RFS firefighters in NSW fight a bushfire south of Canberra in February.

RFS firefighters in NSW fight a bushfire south of Canberra in February.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Many companies were finding that while they had handled their day-to-day responsibilities well, a crisis was testing some managers beyond their ability to make good decisions during a time of uncertainty.

"Historically, big events like this cause shifts in our societal values — what's important to us in a space of uncertainty," Mr Parsons said.

David Parsons: "It's not all negative, but it will be tough."

David Parsons: "It's not all negative, but it will be tough."

The tourism industry was having to adapt to changes in holiday habits. Long-weekends and local tourism had become more popular as people flock to destinations including the Blue Mountains which are closer to home, within a two- to three-hour drive away.

"People will be seeking safety," he says. Which means they will want to be able to get home the same day if things go wrong.

Mr Parsons said many people were facing a year of economic and emotional hardship as a result of job losses and the inability to pay home loans. People were also facing the heartache of family separations, testing their ability to cope. An increase in domestic violence, suicides and an inability for many to be with dying loved ones and attend their funerals has also flowed from the crisis. Young people were also confronting a future of job uncertainty.

"For the first couple of years, people will be focusing on the simpler things of life," he said.

As the recession and unemployment bites, Mr Parsons says a risk of increased credit card use and a rise in crime rates and mental health problems often accompanied a crisis.

"There's a lot of hard work to be done," he said.

New opportunities would also open up for innovation to help people find new ways to entertain themselves.

People who learned to adapt their routines to the crisis and uncertainty and those with a realistic outlook would cope better than those with an excessive hope that life would soon return to normal.

Ian Manock.

Ian Manock.

"People who expect life to be back to normal by Christmas will struggle because they're not adapting," Mr Parsons said.

People making changes to household budgets by paying off debts, buying cheaper items and having cheaper holidays would adapt. When the health risk passes, dinner parties will boom. Community events would also become more important to help people reconnect.

"A lot more people will say 'what's important to me', and that answer always comes down to friends and family," he said. "It's not all negative, but it will be tough."

Ian Manock, who also teaches emergency management to emergency service workers, said a telling time awaited Australians.

"From an emergency management perspective, I'm sitting here in this very strange world that I never anticipated," he said.

Mr Manock and Mr Parsons provide training for Australian Defence Force staff. Students have helped respond to the summer bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Manock expects an increase in emergency management course enrolments "as the
events of the recent past and present influence students’ future study choices".

“I envisage that post-COVID-19, we will see an increase in research and the analysis of
health-related emergency management innovation and practice as those topics remain the focus of everyone’s attention,” he said.

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