The Beagle Editor, The letter 'Natural Disaster Resilience. Perhaps a lesson in lost opportunities of what could have been' by Dr Michael Holland, Bega MP dated 6/8/23, clearly outlines the important steps we must take collectively but also at a local council, state and federal level.
From my research and personal experience, families struggled. They were unsure where to go, for how long for, what to bring, and how to stay safe. We must use the lessons from the extreme bushfire season of 2019/20 to ensure we are better prepared next time. As Dr Holland outlined, 'we are dangerously vulnerable medically.' We need to ensure the health and safety of all, especially our most vulnerable, is not put at risk by poor sanitation, lack of access to clean water, and exposure to heat and smoke.
As the Community Engagement Officer for the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s Community Protection for Infants and Young Children in Bushfire Emergencies Project, it is my goal to see we improve planning for future disasters. Our project aims to increase community resilience to disasters by facilitating better planning and preparedness to meet the needs of very young children and their caregivers in emergencies.
Forming the first part of ABA’s Bushfire Project, the Babies and Young Children in Black Summer Bushfires (BiBS) Study surveyed and interviewed 256 parents of children age 0 to 4 years at the time of the Black Summer Bushfires, and 63 emergency responders. The BiBS study has identified the challenges faced by parents of very young children, and what can be done to improve emergency response. The resulting report (available at aba.asn.au/emergency makes 16 recommendations to improve emergency response. ABA will be implementing the findings in Eurobodalla Shire.
The lessons we have learnt from the BiBs Study are clear.
Suitable evacuation centres need to be formally identified and upgraded, to include stored water supplies and access to power, as well as a separate space for parents and caregivers of very young children. These spaces should be resourced with a private space for mothers to sit and breastfeed or express milk, snacks and water for breastfeeding mothers, a clean space for infant formula preparation, washing and sterilising supplies, access to hot water for washing, complementary foods and feeding implements, nappy changing facilities, safe sleep spaces, and an appropriate play space for babies to crawl, sit and play along with suitable clean toys. Families should not have to wait in long queues for help or resources, nor must wash feeding equipment in toilet sinks.
Families also need better information on how to prepare to evacuate and where to go.
We also recommend, based on our findings, that existing emergency policies, planning and guidance should be evaluated with a ‘young child lens’ to identify gaps and allow adjustments to be made to ensure the needs of very young children and their parents and/or caregivers are appropriately met. Individuals with expertise in the needs of babies and toddlers should be involved in evaluations and planning adjustment. These policies and plans must be integrated across relevant government and non-government organisations. It is imperative that relevant organisations work together, not in silos. Like Dr Holland says, we need cooperative and coordinated Local, State and Federal governments on all matters related to disaster resilience, response and recovery. We would welcome the implementation of resilient infrastructure and effective emergency response systems, as well as a coordinated natural disaster public health policy. These policies should include plans and procedures for the management of safe and appropriate infant formula distributions, as an essential medical resource for infants not breastfed.
Thank you for taking this important issue to relevant state and federal ministers, Dr Holland. Now we need to bring focused attention to these issues at a local level. Next month, our project is providing an opportunity for community groups, individuals and/or organisations to participate in one of our 1-day preparedness workshops. These workshops have the goal of supporting organisations and individuals to adjust their planning or resources in light of the findings of the BiBS Study.
These workshops are open to any individual or organisation who supports families with infants and young children in the community. They are suitable for NGO's, health, welfare and emergency response organisations, childcare centres and preschools, government and/or community organisations. We are hoping representatives of a variety of organisations will attend in order to provide an opportunity for networking between groups who are committed to better supporting families with babies and toddlers in future emergencies. Workshop participants are invited to bring along their current organisation's emergency plans, resources and procedures, to work through them with a 'young child lens'.
These FREE workshops will be fully catered and will include plenty of breaks for networking opportunities. We will also supply attendees with various resources developed by our team for supporting families in disasters.
Please complete this link by August 12 to register your interest and preferred date: https://forms.office.com/r/nup1YFZ3N1
Dr Michelle Hamrosi Community Engagement Officer
Community Protection for Infant and Young Children in Bushfire Emergencies Project
Australian Breastfeeding Association (RTO 21659)
Images: Hanging Rock and looking outside of a caravan window