People with cognitive and physical impairments and people who do not speak English well are not always well considered in emergency and natural disaster planning, an inquiry has heard.
- The Natural Disaster Royal Commission today heard vulnerable communities aren’t always well-considered in emergency planning
- If high-risk communities aren’t identified they can fall through the cracks
- The royal commission also again heard concerns about bushfire warning levels, particularly the middle level, ‘watch and act’
The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements on Tuesday heard about the importance of factoring vulnerable groups into planning.
Inspectors-General for Emergency Management in Victoria and Queensland Tony Pearce and Alistair Dawson told the inquiry they believed they were the only two people in such roles in the country.
Mr Pearce said vulnerable and high-risk communities, which included people with cognitive and physical impairments and people who did speak English well were not always well-considered.
His organisation prepared a report last year to highlight these vulnerabilities to the emergency response sector.
“If you don’t know who the high-risk communities are … it’s very difficult to plan your response to them and with them, taking into account those potential implications,” he said.
“Grenfell is a good example of how that can happen and, of course, our environment in Victoria is no different with the type of apartment blocks and so on that we have here.
Alistair Dawson added:
“There are also other aspects to this, which is for someone who may understand the language but can’t actually read the language.
Warning level concerns raised again
The commission also heard further concerns about the wording of emergency alert levels used during bushfires.
The commissioners had previously heard the watch and act level was particularly confusing for communities.
A review of these warnings is currently being conducted and one of the Commissioners last week raised concerns about the time that review has taken.
“What we found is that in general terms, people got the message, they did understand it, but there were times when there was confusion around — do you want me to stay or do you want me to leave,” Mr Dawson said.
“People say yes, I received a warning, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, or they got it in a sequence that it confused them, so they were scrolling through the messages and saying, well, I wasn’t sure which message came first.”