As Australia experiences natural hazards of increasing frequency and severity, emergency services need information and tools to support them in making critical decisions. The Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC’s postgraduate programme is contributing new knowledge to the sector.
Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC PhD researchers are at the forefront of science in the emergency services. They are valued within emergency service agencies and governments for their skills as leaders who apply critical thinking to the problems we face, and they are sought after within not-for-profits, businesses and consultancies.
The Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC’s postgraduate research programme is contributing to the new knowledge emergency services require to make critical decisions in natural hazards, which are becoming increasingly frequent and more severe.
The programme, with both full scholarship and associate students, provides PhD and masters’ students with the opportunity to engage with industry leaders and gain an understanding of the emergency management sector, its opportunities and challenges.
So far, 65 of the 142 student researchers have completed their studies, with the remaining students expected to finish over the next three years.
Here are short snapshots on five recent PhD graduates.
From PhD to agency – Dr Alex Holmes
The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) is seeing the direct benefit of the CRC’s postgraduate programme, with Dr Alex Holmes joining the NSW RFS upon completing his PhD at Monash University in 2018.
As a Research Officer for the NSW RFS, Dr Holmes is responsible for producing computer programs and code to manipulate and create datasets, as well as analyse their physical properties. Part of his role also includes researching potential improvements in the models used by the Australian Fire Danger Rating System.
Dr Holmes’ research investigated the effects of soil moisture, temperature and precipitation extremes on fire risk and intensity. His findings have been used in establishing the high-resolution soil moisture JULES-based Australian Soil Moisture Information System, which provides greater accuracy than previous models.
‘The research showed that fire intensity increases logarithmically with decreasing moisture. This means that larger and more intense fires are likely to occur closer to population centres located around the coasts of Australia as climate change exacerbates drought conditions,’ Dr Holmes explained.
Dr Holmes’ research has provided fire and land management agencies with a better understanding of the mechanics behind soil moisture deficits and their influence on fire intensity.
Understanding youths’ relationships with fire – Dr Kamarah Pooley
With experience in a fire service, university and now the Australian Institute of Criminology, Dr Kamarah Pooley has been making strides within her field. Dr Pooley graduated in July 2017, with her PhD taking an in-depth look at the complex and covert behaviour of those who misuse fire – a topic that has caused much community concern.
The reduction of youth misuse of fire relies heavily on preventive initiatives that are increasingly becoming the responsibility of fire and rescue services.
Her thesis examined how the youth justice system operated in respect to the memorandum and observed the way in which firefighter participation impacted on the future prevention of youths misusing fire.
The results from her work showed that, while there are some areas in need of improvement within the system, youth justice conferencing with firefighter involvement can provide a reduction in the risk of general repeat offending.
Dr Pooley is now using her skills in a Senior Research Analyst role with the Australian Institute of Criminology. Previously she was a post-doctoral researcher at the Queensland University of Technology, a senior firefighter, and a Community Engagement and Research Directorate Project Officer with Fire and Rescue NSW, where she received the International Association for Public Participation ‘Advocating for Engagement’ Award for 2019.
Keeping a roof over our heads – Dr Korah Parackal
Dr Korah Parackal is on the forefront of analysing and assessing the ways that cyclones and other strong winds impact housing. In his PhD study, completed at James Cook University (JCU) in Townsville, Dr Parackal examined the dangers of losing fasteners on the roof of a home during a cyclone.
‘My PhD research studied the way roofing connections of houses fail in a progressive or cascading manner during severe winds. I was able to determine what parts of the roof are most vulnerable and how damage spreads,’ Dr Parackal explained.
Using a wind tunnel to test the connections of fasteners, Dr Parackal combined the results with surveys of past cyclone damage across Queensland to create a model that demonstrates progressive and cascading failures within a simulation.
The outcomes of Dr Parackal’s PhD have allowed for the design and construction of more resilient structural systems and techniques for strengthening existing structures.
‘This research can allow engineers to develop codes and guidelines for retrofitting older structures. Additionally, it allows us to develop more accurate vulnerability models that are used to assess risk,’ Dr Parackal said.
Completing his PhD in December 2018, Dr Parackal has since joined the research team of the CRC project Improving the resilience of existing housing to severe wind events, led by Professor John Ginger and Dr David Henderson at JCU’s Cyclone Testing Station.
Findings from this research were used to inform the Queensland Department of Housing and Public Work’s Household Resilience Program, which received the 2019 Get Ready Queensland Resilient Australia Government Award.
In May 2018, Dr Parackal was a finalist in the Early Career Researcher competition conducted by the CRC Association, presenting his research and thesis in a short 30-second video that showcased his communication skills.
Lifeline links infrastructure – Dr Emma Singh
Specializing in volcanoes, Dr Emma Singh clocked up plenty of kilometres in the air for her PhD research. Her PhD combined natural-hazard modelling and analysis with graph-theory tools to provide a better understanding of the impacts of lifeline failure during natural hazards, providing a foundation for emergency services to assess potential exposure risk.
Now working as a Catastrophe and Climate Risk Consultant at Willis Towers Watson in London, Dr Singh’s thesis focused on the exposure of road networks to volcanic ash from a future eruption at Mount Fuji in Japan. She worked closely with local governments in Japan to better understand how ash-induced road closures can impact evacuation plans and community recovery post-eruption.
The methods that her research developed can be applied to any natural hazard or lifeline network to identify at-risk critical infrastructure and determine the potential disruption caused by service failure.
It wasn’t just Japan that Dr Singh drew her research experience from: she regularly visited key volcanic sites overseas and spoke at international conferences in New Zealand, Italy and the United States.
Dr Singh’s research was recently showcased in the CRC’s Hazard Note 66: can graph theory help prepare for lifeline failure during a disaster? Read the Hazard Note at bnhcrc.com.au/ hazardnotes/66.
Winning at disaster preparedness – Avianto Amri
Avianto Amri has been involved in his fair share of crisis- and disaster-management situations.
In 2015, Mr Amri was deployed to Nepal with Plan International to assist with earthquake relief operations, working as the Deputy Emergency Response Manager for Field Implementation. Less than a year later, the 14 January 2016 terrorist attacks took place only a few blocks away from his home in Jakarta.
Mr Amri presented at a workshop held by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as part of its Safe School Initiative in July this year, and in December 2018 he spoke at the Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network’s Regional Innovation Forum, allowing him to pitch his research to a broad audience.
Mr Amri’s PhD has developed and applied a set of tools that enables parents to engage with their children in a meaningful discussion on household disaster preparedness planning.
His new innovative education research will empower children to engage with parents and build disaster-resilient households in a meaningful way through the creation of the interactive board game PREDIKT, Mr Amri explained.
‘PREDIKT provides the ammunition for teachers and parents to play and learn about disaster preparedness with children in a fun and interactive way.
‘It’s not just the children learning – we’ve found that parents and teachers are challenged by the children as their curiosity drives them to ask more questions related to disaster preparedness,’ Mr Amri said.
The board game, which is cheap and scalable, is currently being used by agencies and practitioners across Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, and forms part of a broader toolkit that includes worksheets, templates, tips and preparedness items for hazard types.
At the time of printing, Mr Amri had submitted his PhD through Macquarie University and was awaiting confirmation.
These highlights are just an example of the many ways the CRC postgraduate research programme is contributing to the broader body of research that is benefiting the emergency management sector and researchers.
For more information, go to bnhcrc.com.au/education