The role of unity in disaster recovery

Nothing sharpens focus like a crisis. Governments at every level are responding quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are seeing new levels of collaboration to strengthen the relationship between Australia’s leaders and its people – and also to reinforce community connections. What can we learn from this experience to ensure greater resilience in the ‘new normal’?

Speed of response has clearly been crucial to the containment of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The way our federated government system has managed to work together, and taken a partnership approach both within its traditionally siloed agencies and with external stakeholders, has been fundamental to our nation’s disaster response and road to recovery.

“The pandemic has set a new precedent for the way services are communicated and delivered. It has impacted every government agency like never before,” says Renae Hanvin, Founder and Director of corporate2community – who works with industry and government to support collaborative responses to disasters.

Hanvin believes the united approach we are currently seeing will be a positive thing in the future. “It’s forcing all of government to work together for the best outcomes for Australians, rather than its traditional focus on outputs.”

Part of this idea puts the philosophy of ‘shared responsibility’ - which emerged from the devastating impact of the 2002–2003 Australian bushfires, into practice. “Governments cannot do everything on their own, and they shouldn’t,” Hanvin observes.

This may mean thinking differently, and adapting some of the collaborative systems and processes they’ve had to acquire overnight to support the post-crisis recovery period.

Working together to overcome challenges

During a crisis, a whole new set of problems can quickly emerge. It makes sense to seek the support of an expert partner, rather than solve them independently.

“We’ve had to step outside the box to look at how we can assist government agencies during this challenging time,” says Terry McKendry, Australia Post Manager, Logistics & Freight Growth – Government. This may mean partnering with others to secure additional warehousing, or chartering planes to ensure time-critical and potentially life-saving supplies are delivered.

Beyond the crisis response, this partnership approach can also create longer-term cost-efficiencies.

“We’re now developing a 4PL capability, which means we can include procurement on behalf of government agencies as well as inventory control and reporting metrics. This enables us to add more value to customers, drawing on our higher level of logistics and supply chain expertise,” McKendry explains.

Ensuring citizens are not disenfranchised during the push to digital is another example. With the rapid scaling of government benefits available, such as the new JobKeeper scheme, some people still prefer to use paper-based forms.

These forms need to be delivered to their homes, then physically transported to government processing facilities in a reasonable timeframe. They also need to be digitised to ensure government staff working remotely aren’t inundated with boxes of paperwork in their home offices.

It’s interesting to note that around one in five Australians still prefer to transact with government in person – and that hasn’t changed in 10 years.1 According to a survey of more than 2,000 consumers conducted in January 2020, almost 2 in 3 Australians aged 18 to 24 would find it useful to be able to claim youth or study support at the Post Office. And around one in two (in relevant age groups) would find it useful to claim other benefits such as parenting or aged care support.2

This has implications for the way governments digitally connect in the future. Joel Dawson manages the government’s over-the-counter and multichannel programs for Australia Post. He says many customers are looking to move the digitisation of paper forms to ‘phase two’ in the new normal, such as an enhanced service with data extraction. “There’s a commitment to not go back to the ‘old’ way of doing things,” he says.

Connecting communities to build resilience

It’s one thing to reach out to communities in a time of need. It’s another to build resilience from within.

Professor Daniel Aldich, a global leader on social capital, has analysed the impact of disasters on communities around the world. His analysis of 130 coastal cities struck by Japan’s 2011 tsunami found it was social, not physical, infrastructure that kept communities intact.

“This research suggests that connected communities are more resilient than affluent communities,” says Hanvin. “People are the key to recovery.”

So how can governments support and invest in that social capital – especially at a time when people are being urged to be physically distant? “We need to acknowledge social connections are more important than ever and empower communities to take ownership of their own solutions,” says Hanvin.

She believes that in our post-pandemic world, we’ll have a new appreciation for the physical elements of connecting. “We’ll place more value on the places we may have taken for granted – our parks, meeting points and shopping centres. This is an opportunity for government to support local leaders to drive their own recovery in the future, potentially through physical places.”

Hanvin hopes that governments will continue to adapt to the new normal by taking a more co-ordinated and collaborative approach. However she suggests one consideration for post-crisis collaboration is to look outside traditional players to get a more diverse and inclusive perspective.

“During a crisis, a safe pair of hands is great. But you need different skills in the recovery and resilience-building stage: more strategic and forward-thinking people.”

Whether we are in crisis response mode or recovery and resilience building, it’s clear citizens expect leadership from government, and clarity and co-ordination in their communications and service delivery. A more collaborative, partnership-building approach could help Australia put the unity back into our communities.

This article is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for your business needs.

1 Future of Government Services project, Nous February 22 2018

2 Effectiveness of Mail for Government, Bastion Latitude January 24 2020