Community Resilience and Readiness program building Kangaroo Island preparedness for future bushfires, disasters

RESILIENCE OFFICERS: Kangaroo Island community resilience officers (CROs) Kate Brooksby and Maree Baldwin in the vegetable garden at the KI Community Centre. Photo supplied
RESILIENCE OFFICERS: Kangaroo Island community resilience officers (CROs) Kate Brooksby and Maree Baldwin in the vegetable garden at the KI Community Centre. Photo supplied

The experience of the recent Kangaroo Island bushfires has prompted the formation of a new program for fire affected communities.

The Community Resilience and Readiness program has been designed to increase residents' psychological and practical preparedness for future bushfires and other disasters.

It's funded by Country SA PHN (Primary Health Network), as part of the federal government mental health response to bushfire trauma, the

Community resilience officers (CROs) will the program, assisting fire impacted community's recovery by supporting their mental and emotional preparedness.

Country SA PHN is now funding seven CROs in four recently affected bushfire communities on Kangaroo Island, the Yorke Peninsula, the Adelaide Hills and the South-East.

CEO Kim Hosking said the support would facilitate the next phase of bushfire recovery.

"As the emergency response services were wrapping up, we could see the importance of keeping the great work of many in these communities going and continuing that momentum in a capacity building role," Mr Hosking said

"We're very pleased to fund the CROs in such an important initiative to assist communities to face inevitable future challenges with resilience, preparedness and a sense of empowerment."

Following the bushfires, services delivering mental health supports directly to the island increased by up to 65 per cent.

Much of this funding was scheduled to cease by June 30, 2020, so Mr Hosking said it was vital KI built the capacity, strengths, skills and talents of its community to support a collective move towards a mentally healthy future.

RESILIENCE OFFICERS: Kangaroo Island community resilience officers (CROs) Kate Brooksby and Maree Baldwin in the vegetable garden at the KI Community Centre. Photo supplied

RESILIENCE OFFICERS: Kangaroo Island community resilience officers (CROs) Kate Brooksby and Maree Baldwin in the vegetable garden at the KI Community Centre. Photo supplied

Kangaroo Island CRO Maree Baldwin said the bushfires exacerbated mental health challenges already present on the island.

"With the added trauma of COVID-19, the community was restricted in meeting socially to support each other through the crisis," she said.

"As such, we're aware that many Islanders are still struggling to move beyond the traumatic experience."

Ms Baldwin is also coordinator of the KI Community Centre, managed by leading social enterprise, Junction.

The KI Community Centre has been a haven of support and connection for locals, particularly in the aftermath of the fires and has become one of the key providers of ongoing support and services.

"We need to recognise that recovering from the bushfire crisis will take more than just rebuilding physical structure, we need to repair the social bonds that uphold our community and ensure it is prepared for future such events," she said.

Maree and fellow Kangaroo Island CRO Kate Brooksby will focus on supporting families, strengthening social networks, improving well-being and increasing participation of people in community life to enhance family and community interactions.

The idea for the Community Resilience and Readiness program came from Adelaide Hills CRO Miranda Hampton's experience working with hills fire-affected communities.

She identified gaps in people's practical and psychological preparedness and education.

Miranda could see the potential benefits of building resilient communities that are emotionally and mentally prepared to face future disasters - rather than just react to them.

The Australian Psychological Society has offered advice on bushfire recovery, which she has taken on board.

"You are more likely to stick with a household plan if you have also prepared psychologically for a bushfire.

"Being able to manage your emotions in an emergency (that is being psychologically prepared), can save your life and that of others.

"Traditionally, bushfire preparation has primarily focused on physical preparedness, but that it is psychological preparation that aims to help manage the potential mental and emotional impacts in communities of future events," Ms Hampton said.

"While it is important to respect the individual aspects of each of our small communities, there is strength in bringing the island together to share ideas and connect our values."

Upcoming activities and events planned under the program include:

  • Mental Health First Aid and Youth Mental Health First Aid Training
  • The continuation of the Community Garden program with Sophie Thompson
  • Grant writing and governance training
  • Recruiting, supporting and managing volunteers
  • Community events such as the Humans of KI Film and Literature Festival.

Find out more

To find out more about the Community Resilience Program you can email Maree at mbaldwin@junctionaustralia.org.au or Kate Brooksby at kbrooksby@junctionaustralia.org.au or 0447 760 473.

Maree and Kate can be found at the Community Centre and the Lions Spinners and Weavers Building in Parndana on Thursdays.

You can also keep an eye on the Kangaroo Island Community Centre Facebook page, the Kangaroo Island Council event calendar and of course The Islander newspaper.

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About Country SA PHN

Country SA PHN is responsible for commissioning federal government directed funding for primary health services throughout regional South Australia.

It is the health network set up to service the country regions of South Australia, increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery while improving the coordination of patient care.

Established by the federal government, the PHN exist to bridge the gap in health inequity and access in rural South Australia by building a collaborative and responsive health care system.

Country SA PHN covers 99.8 per cent of the state geographically, incorporating approximately 30 per cent of South Australia's total population.

For more information about Country SA PHN or the Community Resilience Program, go to www.countrysaphn.com.au

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