A new chapter in Australia’s national natural hazards research began in July last year, with the establishment of Natural Hazards Research Australia. New research is now underway, with plenty of exciting funding opportunities already available.
Natural Hazards Research Australia (the Centre) is now up and running, extending 18 years of collaborative research from the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and its predecessor, the Bushfire CRC. Initially, funded by $85m over 10 years from the Australian Government along with contributions from partners, the Centre’s role is to work with partners and the community to produce usable research that creates safer and more resilient communities.
With the impacts of natural hazards in Australia predicted to become more extreme and frequent in the future, this an important opportunity to produce natural hazard research that underpins Australia’s National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework with the best possible evidence and knowledge we have available. The establishment of the Centre represents a great step forward, as Australia continues to use research to think strategically about how we make communities, as well as our built and natural environments, safe and sustainable to the effects of natural hazards.
Since beginning in July, we have been busy working with the government and our partners (new and prospective) to develop a strategic natural hazards research agenda for Australia. We have also been establishing all the necessary programmes and processes that a national centre needs – governance and staff, nodes in states and territories, initial research programmes, an education programme, funding opportunities, fresh branding, a media presence and much more.
You can learn about everything we’ve been doing on our website: www.naturalhazards.com.au.
Governance and location
The Centre operates as a not-for-profit company, limited by guarantee and registered as a charity through the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission. There is a refresh of the Board underway, which will be completed by mid-2022.
We are establishing new advisory structures to ensure that the voices of our end-user partners are at the forefront of all we do. We are setting up several advisory panels that will inform our Board and guide the direction of the Centre, including an End-User Advisory Panel and an International Research Advisory Panel. There will be refreshed Board committees that will contain external advisors to ensure that the Board is hearing a wider view.
Operating as a national entity, the Centre will not have a ‘headquarters’ as such. To ensure we have the best engagement with our partners, we will have staff established in ‘nodes’ within several major cities. This model will ensure that work remains grounded and relevant to activities in each state and territory, as well as nationally. We currently have nodes in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. We will continue discussions with other states and territories to build on this.
Partners at the core of our research
Our research approach is highly collaborative and based on partner needs – we conduct research with our partners, for use by our partners and the community. We will build on the highly successful processes and practices of the previous CRCs, which have seen the findings of every major research project used by our partners for the benefits of the community – representing a more-than-six-fold return on every dollar invested.
As such, we are having regular discussions with key stakeholders across the natural hazard sector to guide our initial research programme and ongoing priorities. This includes state and territory government agencies, local governments and associations, as well as organisations from the private and not-for-profit sectors, industry partners, research institutions and international research bodies. This multi-party engagement ensures that the research outcomes we produce will be of most use to as many Australians as possible, helping keep our communities, landscapes and infrastructure safe from the impacts of natural hazards.
Australia’s national capability can only be formed through the investment of partners who share our mission of creating a safer and more disaster-resilient society. We are continuing to seek new partners and you can reach us at email@example.com to begin contributing to Australia’s natural hazard resilience.
Towards final research priorities
One of the key features of the Centre is that its research programme will be flexible from the beginning. We will be redefining our research plans every year to ensure that we are addressing the most relevant and current issues for our partners. The portfolio of projects will include short-, medium- and longer-term projects, enabling us to meet the immediate needs of the nation as well as committing to solving the more complex issues.
We began developing initial national research priorities by conducting an extensive series of sector-wide workshops with end-users and widely collecting feedback from research partners and others in August 2020. These workshops helped us examine the key research needs for the nation that we are now using to finalise our research priorities.
The priorities – grouped around eight themes – will shape the ever-evolving research programme for the Centre:
- Communities and workforces of the future
- Sustainable, safe and healthy natural landscapes
- Resilient built environment
- Resilient communities
- Situational awareness
- Operational response and innovation
- Evidence-informed policy, strategy and foresight
- Learning from disasters
Alongside the finalisation of the research priorities, we are working with our funding partners to define the initial biennial research plan.
We look forward to continuing these discussions and meeting with new and existing partners to broaden the scope of natural hazard research in the coming months and years.
First round of research
While the new research priorities are being finalised, there is a targeted first round of research projects that are now underway – agreed to as part of the negotiations with the Australian Government for the new Centre earlier this year. Most projects being funded by the Centre will be announced in the next rounds, from early 2022.
The projects in this initial round extend and support the use of research findings from the Australian Government-funded Black Summer research programme, conducted by the CRC. These projects include further work on the role of Indigenous land management in managing fire risk, as well as advancements in fire predictive services technology that are crucial to the management of bushfire risk. Projects are also looking at how the work on extreme fire behaviour can be translated to keep communities and firefighters safe, including an evaluation of how predictive maps can be used when communicating risk to the community.
This round of research will also examine the creation of a Bushfire Information Database, in partnership with the Australian Research Data Commons, and address a number of recommendations from the 2020 Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements about the role of data to better support decision making. Other approved projects are focusing on post-disaster recovery and on understanding the resilience of lifeline services, such as power, telecommunications, and food and water supply in regional and remote communities.
Details of these and future projects can be found at www.naturalhazards.com.au/research or by emailing the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Launching our education programme
The Centre is committed to supporting and promoting a strong intellectual cohort of researchers who can deliver usable outputs to partners and the wider community. This includes supporting postgraduate research, employment pathways and opportunities for career development of early career researchers.
We recently launched our education programme, including Postgraduate Research Scholarships, Early Career Researcher Development and Industry Fellowships, and an Associate Student programme. You can find all the details at www.naturalhazards.com.au/education.
Quick response funding
We’re also mindful that data after a natural hazard sometimes needs to be gathered quickly, so in time for summer 2021–22, we launched our quick-response funding. This will support researchers travelling to areas recently affected by natural hazards to ensure that the impacts are measured in a timely manner. This fund builds on the important quick-response research from the CRC, which was essential when assessing post-disaster impacts, recovery, data collection and rehabilitation, planning and community response for natural hazards between 2016 and 2021. Learn more at www.naturalhazards.com.au/news/quick-response-funding.
Strengthening reconciliation through research
Also high on our priority list is strengthening our engagement with First Nations peoples, as the Traditional Owners of the land on which we all live and on which the Centre will conduct research.
Through the CRCs, we have a long history of research engagement on land and fire management with First Nations people and now, as a national centre, it is important to us that we continue to learn from the knowledge, contributions and perspectives of First Nations peoples. With a strengthened commitment to reconciliation, we are in the process of developing a Reconciliation Action Plan for the new Centre. This is an important step that will guide the First Nations-led processes, programmes and research activities of the Centre.
There are many more updates to share, all of which you can find on our website at www.naturalhazards.com.au.
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For more information, go to www.naturalhazards.com.au