Ethics and governance | Locale Learning

Leading your community in the recovery journey  

by | 4 April, 2022


Leading during a disaster can be tough, particularly when that disaster is unprecedented in scale and impact. At the same time, you may have been personally impacted and dealing with the immediate needs of your family and loved ones. We explain what you can expect during the recovery journey and importantly, how to look after yourself as a leader in the process.

The recovery journey

In our earlier blog, we set out the four phases of emergency management – the PPRR model. After the immediate emergency response has happened, the community begins the recovery process. This is the phase where affected communities start to rebuild physical infrastructure and restore their emotional, social, economic and physical wellbeing. Local council’s take an active and important role during recovery. This can be a long and slow process, with some communities saying that they never really recover from the event.

Likely experience following a disaster

It can be helpful to know that following a disaster that there is a typical cycle that is likely to happen. As explained in the Australian Institute of Disaster Resilience Handbook on recovery, you can expect that after the initial response, there is likely to be a rollercoaster ride for you and your community. Following the honeymoon period there will be a significant emotional dip. This dip is to be expected and can last an extended time.

Disaster recovery journey Working together as a community

Successful recovery is a community effort. Whilst local government has a specific role to play, community-led approaches that draw upon the strengths and knowledge of the community are critical. This requires coordinated effort between agencies with the community. Agencies include local, state and federal governments, community based and non-government organisations, private sector, philanthropy and research bodies. In this sense, disaster recovery is everyone’s responsibility.

Disaster recovery organisationsRecognising complexity

Recovery and long-term community resilience is also a complex journey with many twists and turns. As explained in the community-led recovery diagram by the Social Recovery Reference Group, community resilience is an adaptive and re-iterative process. You should try to avoid:

  • Un-coordinated and duplicated efforts
  • A lack of awareness of pre-existing services and structures
  • Perceived or real inequity
  • Delays in connecting the community
  • Losing the trust of your community
  • More distress and uncertainty

The NSW Mental Health Commission website also has some excellent case studies of local government areas. These highlight lessons to be learnt from recent disasters and the recovery experiences of the communities.

Taking care of yourself

As the saying goes, “you cannot serve from an empty vessel”. Maintaining your personal wellbeing is important as it will affect your capacity to help in your community’s disaster recovery. Everyone, even the people that others look up to for guidance and assistance, is entitled to their feelings and deserves support throughout the recovery process.

Emergencies and the ensuing recovery are highly stressful. Stress can lead to health problems which will impact on not just your physical health but also your capacity to make good decisions, concentrate and communicate effectively. Some signs of burn-out include poor sleep, under/over or poor eating, excessive alcohol intake, irritability and prolonged periods on devices.

Although simple in theory, nutritious meals and a regular bed time are two powerful actions in maintaining good physical and mental health. The Red Cross has some excellent information on personal coping and recovery here. It is important that if you are experiencing burn-out or noticing changes in your mental and physical health that you see a GP.

Summing up

To conclude, we remind you that disaster recovery is a multi-faceted and prolonged journey that involves numerous community groups, organisations and services. We encourage you to maintain a birds-eye-view of the disaster recovery process by re-visiting the diagrams we have referenced here as helpful visual prompts. Importantly, your health is of utmost priority, so that you can continue to lead your community when they need you most.

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