Youth consultation when planning for emergencies

Australia has experienced a number of large disasters in the past few years. Examples are the extensive floods in Queensland in 2011 and the deadly bushfires in 2009. Susan Davie works in government emergency management and is a big advocate for engaging youth in the planning process. She shares her impressions of a pilot youth consultation.

One of the gaps in emergency management (EM) planning in Australia is the lack of consultation with young people. In essence young people do not have a voice, even though there is no doubt that children and young people are affected by disasters and emergency events. They do have specific needs, from child toilets in evacuation facilities to youth-centered psychosocial interventions.

Health and Human Services Emergency Management in Victoria is currently coordinating a project on planning for children and young people in emergency management.[i] As part of this project, we just undertook a pilot youth consultation in the Macedon Ranges Shire, a beautiful area at about an hour’s drive from Melbourne. The local committee was keen to hear the thoughts and ideas of young people and integrate them in their emergency management plans.

The youth development team helped us find youth who wanted to participate, via Facebook and secondary schools. Fourteen young people aged between 16 and 23 attended the consultation on the first day of their school holidays. Just goes to show that our youth really want to contribute even when it means giving up their precious leisure and exam study time!

The workshop began with an overview of emergency management at a federal, state and local level. This was followed up with a more focused look at what emergency management activities (e.g., assessing risks in the area and educating the public about them) are undertaken by local government. We also outlined the municipal emergency management plan.

Some amazing work has already been undertaken by young people following disasters and emergency events. We highlighted them, including:

  • The “Teenagers in Emergencies” booklet prepared by students from Maffra Secondary College in Gippsland.
  • Input from secondary school students to the Flood Recovery Committee in the Victorian town of  Rochester following the 2011 floods.
  • The activities of the Student Volunteer Army in Christchurch, New Zealand following the devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.

Then it was over to the young people. They focused on areas that could actually be included in the plan. The following is just a sample of what was discussed.

  • Young people = man power. Don’t underestimate the abilities of young people in the community. Need to plan to harness this energy.
  • Personal support training for young people to encourage peer support when emergencies occur.
  • Social networking – possibly a Facebook page with emergency management information both in the planning phase and the response and recovery phase.
  • Establishment of a formal committee, particularly to involve young people in emergency recovery planning.
  • A number of youth specific issues relating to evacuation centre planning, including art supplies and spaces for teenagers to chill out and access technology.

The day was a great success with keen interest and enthusiasm shown by all those in attendance. The next step is to report back to the Municipal Emergency Management Planning Committee in October. Several of the young people who participated will deliver this report.

The workshop was a novel response to specific community engagement targeted at young people within a community that has a high bushfire risk along with other hazards. Engaging with the youth team to enhance the EM plan is new thinking for many. However this partnership can only make the current EM plan more robust and empower young people to have their voices heard.

Related post: Empowering children and parents

[i] The project is funded through National Emergency Management Project funding administered by the federal Attorney General’s Department.

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