Review of the Wye River and Separation Creek Fire Recovery

The Christmas Day 2015 Wye River and Separation Creek bushfires had devastating consequences for the community, on individuals and the environment therefore recovery has been challenging, complex and requiring a significant effort from all involved.

To overcome these challenges and complexities a community-centric recovery approach was adopted which established new recovery structure to better empower and connect to the community and build upon the local networks and leadership. This approach required government, agencies, businesses, NGOs and community members to work as one to achieve the best outcome for the impacted communities for both short and long term issues.

Reflecting upon our experiences is crucial to building our knowledge and understanding of community recovery and resilience. In January 2017, Emergency Management Victoria commissioned an independent review of the Wye River and Separation Creek fire recovery activities, focussing on the experiences of residents, local business owners, community organisations, local and state government and industry.

The Review of the Wye River and Separation Creek Fire Recovery details the challenges faced by both government and community over the 15-month period from the day after the fire in December 2015 to March 2017.

Through the review, community members had the opportunity to reflect on their and the communities recovery and provide valuable insights into how government can best collaborate with communities during future recovery events. 14 community members participated in interviews and 57 community members took up the opportunity through a survey, their feedback formed the basis of the NOUS report.

The three key findings focus on:

  • Communications and community engagement;
  • The community-centred governance model; and
  • The role of government leaders, departments and agencies in the recovery process.

It’s important to reflect and to learn from the recovery activities and processes and acknowledge initiatives such as the WyeSep Connect website and the Community Resilience Committee that were created to better connect the community.

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) is continuing to engage with residents in the management and delivery of recovery projects in relation to the built and natural environments, working with the community to achieve the outcomes documented in the community owned Wye River and Separation Creek Renewal Plan. This significance of this plan cannot be underestimated. It is created by the community, for the community. It is their roadmap for their continued recovery.

Colac Otway Shire Council is ensuring the community continues to receive regular updates through the ongoing provision of the WyeSep webpage, community newsletters and its involvement with the Community Resilience Committee and its Working Groups.

In February 2017, Emergency Management Victoria released the Discussion Paper: Resilient Recovery. Resilient recovery connects community systems and networks to plan for and support wellbeing, liveability, sustainability and viability outcomes. The Discussion Paper provides an overview of current arrangements, a proposed model and enabling operating arrangements for resilient recovery and questions for consideration in the development of a future strategy for relief and recovery in Victoria. The insights gained from the Review of the Wye River and Separation Creek Fire Recovery are fundamental to the development of this work.

The Community Resilience Framework, released in June 2017, is a pivotal piece in the reform of Victoria’s emergency management arrangements and aims to incorporate guiding principles for shared responsibility and self-reliance in prevention, planning, response, relief and recovery activities, and to embed these principles in all tiers of emergency management planning and activity.

While there are a number of projects underway across the emergency management sector, reviews such as this remind us that we can continue to make improvements. This has been a unique opportunity for community and government to reflect upon the significance of the recovery program, the achievements to date, how a community centred approach delivers positive recovery outcomes and to ensure the insights are embedded in our arrangements to benefit the recovery of communities following future emergencies.

 

Craig Lapsley PSM

Emergency Management Commissioner

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