Veterans lead the way in disaster resilience

Disaster Relief Australia (DRA) is an organisation comprised predominantly of current and former members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). DRA challenges veterans to draw on their skills and experiences to help communities impacted by natural disasters.

‘The numerous inquiries and commissions that followed the Black Summer bushfires of 2019/20 made one thing clear: people cannot expect to have a fire truck parked out the front of their house during a major emergency,’ DRA CEO, Geoff Evans says. ‘We must shift the emphasis to building individual and community resilience to future disaster events.

‘ADF members are naturally adept at identifying threats and protecting assets. This is what community resilience comes down to.’

DRA will typically deploy a drone to map a community and then overlay that imagery with data and community knowledge to develop a threat assessment and mitigation plan for that community. ‘Once we understand the threats and what needs to be protected, we can work with the community to mitigate those threats,’ Geoff says.

According to Army veteran and DRA’s Director of Field Operations, Thomas Howell, the role of DRA is expanding to include mobilising groups of community volunteers who want to help themselves.

‘Whereas traditionally we have drawn on the planning, operations, leadership and other abilities veterans bring with them to help people recover from disasters, increasingly we are seeing veterans leading teams of community volunteers in resilience-building activities,’ says Thomas.

Take the challenge

DRA requires veterans to draw on their military expertise and apply their experiences to a disaster environment.

‘Service in DRA is not easy, disasters are not easy,’ says Geoff. ‘I have the best-trained volunteer workforce in the world. People trained for war thrive in the mayhem of a disaster environment. They always make it work.’

DRA membership brings with it inherent benefits for veterans. ‘After deploying overseas and leaving the Army, I was at a bit of a loss,’ says DRA member and former Army medic, Davina Pye. ‘I was surprised at how quickly I felt at home within DRA. The feeling of being able to help someone on their worst day and make it just that little bit better for them is amazing. It is what keeps me coming back.’

The expectation that disasters will become both more frequent and more intense represents a significant challenge to the nation. DRA aims to meet this challenge by placing veterans at the forefront of communities in need. Are you up to the challenge?

Further information is on the DRA website.

Man standing on very large map talking to about 20 people

Former Army operations and capability officer, Adam Moss, facilitating a community-led resilience activity in Gympie, Queensland.

Man sitting on ground in burnt forest with drone and related gear

DRA member Dean West, Aerial Damage Assessment Operator, gathering data in Rosedale, Queensland.