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Natural disasters: planning, strategies, and volunteer management

2 min read

In December 2010 and early January 2011, parts of Queensland experienced severe flooding, with three quarters of the state declared a natural disaster zone.

As recovery efforts were just beginning, the northeastern part of the state was hit by Tropical Cyclone Yasi on 2 February 2011. When it hit land near Mission Beach the cyclone was rated as category 5, but was later downgraded to a tropical low at around 10 pm on 3 February near Mount Isa.

Not-for-profit (NFP) organisations are the most likely to be involved in co-ordinating volunteers in these times of crisis.

Volunteering Qld has had a key role in co-ordinating recovery efforts, collecting volunteer registrations, providing training, sharing ideas and resources, and connecting organisations, among other activities. Over 80,000 registrations have been received by people wishing to volunteer to help with flood and cyclone recovery efforts.


Given its history of 30 years in disaster management, Volunteering Qld is well-placed to advise on what abilities and strategies are needed in leading a broad range of natural disaster recovery efforts:

1. Have a long-term strategy that focuses on the challenges that natural disasters pose.
2. Develop a detailed plan for actions during response and recovery.
3. Look at building your capacity through engaging with a diverse range of stakeholders, such as other NFPs, all levels of government, corporate organisations and academia.
4. Take a lead role in natural disaster recovery efforts through a unified, co-ordinated approach, with the ability to adapt to the situation.

Planning for the worst

In August 2010, Volunteering Qld launched Step Up, a program designed to build community resilience in the face of natural disasters. Although only in its nascent stages when the flooding and cyclone hit, the program has certainly proven its worth.

The online Emergency Volunteering Portal, which housed registration for the Community Response to Extreme Weather (CREW) service, assists disaster management agencies, councils and community groups to access suitable volunteers to provide the support they require.

The portal also includes information on the roles agencies play during disasters, training dates and times, event forum details and resources about community resilience.

This content helps communities with their preparedness, says the organisation, which is paramount to minimising the severity of future natural disasters and speeding up the recovery process. Being prepared enables communities to be better able to help themselves during a crisis and ‘bounce back’ afterwards.

Communicating with communities

Volunteering Qld believes that one of the most effective methods for communicating during times of crisis results from building community resilience. In resilient communities people know their neighbours and they look out for one another, which means they can pass on important information that may be lengthy or complex.

Social media usage has excelled during this recent extreme weather at spreading short, important messages quickly, and providing a channel for communication when official websites were inundated with traffic.

The support of traditional media channels – radio, print and television – has also been invaluable at reaching the population at large levels. However, for truly effective communication a combination of resilient communities, social media and traditional media is best.

The 2011 Queensland Week will be held this year from 4 – 13 June. In 2011 it will be a week dedicated to recognising the community heroes of the 2010–11 Queensland floods and Tropical Cyclone Yasi. To nominate a hero, go to the Queensland Premier’s website at

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