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Department of Premier and Cabinet

Program One - What was delivered

The task of supporting individuals, families and communities in their recovery has been jointly undertaken by the Australian, Tasmanian and relevant local governments in conjunction with non-government organisations, the private sector and the affected communities themselves. This program has been designed and delivered in a way that acknowledges that individuals, families and communities cope in different ways and therefore need a variety of personal and social services that take their circumstances into account.

Social and personal support

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has the lead role for delivering social and personal support for individuals and families. DHHS has dedicated resources to these activities until 30 June 2014, including several dedicated staff in the Social and Personal Support Team located at the DISH:

  • A State Operations Manager who was co-located in the Unit to coordinate activities and avoid duplication or gaps in services.
  • A Regional Social Recovery Coordinator located at the DISH.
  • Three part-time Community Recovery Workers, located at the DISH, to support and link individuals with other service providers.
  • Two part-time administrative support staff.

Over the year, the Social and Personal Support team provided information or advice to hundreds of community members, as well as ongoing support to 235 clients.This support included advocacy, counselling, outreach visits, practical support (for example, help accessing housing, material goods, filling in forms, accessing Centrelink services, and referrals) and community development. The main issues addressed by the team related to ongoing grief and trauma, dislocation from the community, financial and accommodation issues, and the loss of property and personal belongings.

Most people are likely to recover from a traumatic event without formal intervention, but some may need support. In the immediate days and weeks following the disaster, the Social and Personal Support program provided psychological first aid: informal, simple and practical support that aimed to establish safety and security. Support was also directed at reducing stress-related reactions and normalising/validating reactions and responses. In the following weeks and months the program provided more formal support to prevent longterm trauma effects and behaviours, and the development of trauma and grief management skills. There were a small number of people who received trauma-focused therapy, having been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The program also provided educational sessions on a range of topics such as insomnia, memory and relationships, as well as relaxation and general support groups. This recognised that there are various levels of psychosocial support needed within the communities. Consideration was also given to longer term support for those people who may delay processing their emotional responses until they return to their 'new normal' of routines and home rebuilding.

The Social and Personal Support team also accessed experts from around Australia when necessary. For instance, clinical psychologist Dr Rob Gordon was instrumental in explaining to the community how other communities have experienced the recovery process and what this community may expect, as well as how to deal with it. This explanation of the 'new normal' helped individuals, Unit staff and other organisations develop a better understanding of what the community was going through and develop appropriate responses. Dr Gordon also worked with the team to make a series of short videos about dealing with stress and trauma. The videos are available on YouTube as well as on DVD.

The Social and Personal Support team at the DISH provided a friendly face and a central place for information. As an indication of the volume of visitation to the DISH, in March 2013 more than 500 people popped in for information, assistance, or just some social interaction.

The DISH also functioned as a community space for a number of informal groups to congregate, and as a meeting place for several committees involved in recovery activities. Significantly, the DISH has also acted as a base for a range of related services, including the St Vincent de Paul Op Shop, Salvation Army Outreach Program and the Lions Club Tool Library. All of these activities contributed to the social and personal support of local people.

Where possible and appropriate, services were coordinated with other organisations, such as the Dunalley Tasman Neighbourhood House (DTNH), to ensure that overlaps or gaps were minimised. In many cases, this coordination simply involved cross promoting events and services, where staff from both organisations regularly dropped in to provide updates of flyers and brochures so that community members were aware of what was going on in the area.

A significant part of the informal coordination through the community occurred through the activities of a small group of residents of the affected areas. Simply known as the 'Locals Group', they initiated a multitude of activities with their weekly meetings and coordinated many ongoing tasks, including the Phone Tree and the blackboards. The impact of the efforts of this hard-working group on building community well-being is impossible to overstate, and their tireless dedication is recognised as another key ingredient in community recovery.

Australian Red Cross support

As detailed in the Tasmanian Emergency Management Plan, the Australian Red Cross plays a significant role in disaster recovery efforts, and was particularly active in the first half of 2013. Their contribution following the bushfires involved more than 150 Red Cross staff and volunteers assisting response, relief and recovery agencies through activities that included:

  • Assisting in refuges or evacuation centres at Ouse, New Norfolk, Nubeena, Sorell, Hobart and Swansea, offering personal support and registration services.
  • Registering 1,850 of the evacuees and responding to more than 1,570 inquiries from friends and relatives across Australia and internationally who were seeking news of their loved ones' safety.
  • Working closely with government agencies to support outreach delivery in fire-affected communities. The Red Cross volunteers visited 442 homes to provide personal support and recovery information to those affected in the Tasman Peninsula and Dunalley areas.
  • Providing data to inform recovery service planning by DHHS and developing specific mapping products to enable a coordinated approach to the delivery of outreach activities by DHHS and Red Cross personnel.
  • Providing personal support and recovery information to more than 460 bushfire affected people, at the Information Service Hubs at Sorell, Dunalley and Murdunna through until May 2013.

Client management system

The Major Incident Support System (MISS) was developed very quickly following the January 2013 bushfires. MISS is a comprehensive client management system that can be used for client registration, client record keeping, and information sharing for disaster recovery. The two main aims of MISS are:

  • To manage information about the financial assistance programs provided to disaster-affected individuals and families.
  • To case-manage clients through the recovery process.

The system has the ability to record registration and personal details of individuals affected by disaster. MISS provides the potential for coordinated case management by enabling various stakeholders to access and update clients' details, record information about services provided to clients within and across organisations, and to refer clients to other services.

After the January 2013 bushfires, MISS was populated with registration data received from the Red Cross and information on property losses and damage in the affected area by Property Identification Number. Data about financial assistance provided to affected individuals through the Red Cross funding rounds was also entered into the system. However, there were a number of challenges associated with the roll-out of the system, which resulted in it being set aside for this recovery process.

Monetary and material assistance

Distribution of monetary assistance

The Red Cross Tasmanian Bushfire Appeal raised more than $8.7 million. The distribution of the majority of those funds to individuals and families took place over four rounds and aimed to ensure that assistance was both targeted and timely, while ensuring legislative compliance concerning the distribution of charitable funds. The Tasmanian Government covered all the costs of administration and distribution of the Appeal funds, to ensure that the affected communities saw the maximum benefit.

A portion of the funds were reserved for community projects, which are explained in further detail in the following section.

In the initial distribution rounds for individual assistance funding, a relatively uncomplicated approach was taken to funds distribution. The final rounds (Round 4a and 4b) required rigorous assessment methods to ensure individuals and households met a defined threshold to ensure an appropriate distribution of funds. Executing this complex task required all applicants to be interviewed so that their personal circumstances could be appropriately documented and funding allocations made on the basis of need and capacity to recover. The table below provides a summary of distribution of the Red Cross Appeal funds.

Distribution of the Red Cross Appeal: Monetary assistance to individuals and families

Round Date Approved applications Total Distributed
Stage 1 January 2013 151 $819,000
Stage 2 February 2013 142 $1,249,998
Stage 3 March 2013 99 $434,843
Stage 4 - Part A June 2013 298 $1,594,262
Stage 4 - Part B October 2013 221 $1,494,693

Stage 4 (Temporary accommodation assistance)

June 2013 17 $296,140
Total to individuals and families     $5,861,936

Bushfire Monetary Donations Sub-committee

The Bushfire Monetary Donations Sub-committee (BMDS) was established to ensure a collaborative approach to the provision of financial assistance to affected households using funds outside of those raised by the Red Cross Bushfire Appeal. Membership of the sub-committee included Rotary Tasmania, Lions Tasmania, St Vincent de Paul Society, Uniting Care, the Salvation Army and Red Cross, and meetings were held monthly since May 2013.

Individuals and households were referred to the BMDS, which would allocate an appropriate point of contact from among the committee members. Through this process, approximately 40 individuals and households have been directly assisted by member organisations through the provision of counselling, payment of bills and resolution of bushfire-related problems or damage that were beyond their capacity.

Member organisations have also provided direct funding for a range of community initiatives, and the regular meetings have enabled discussion about particular needs in the community and resolution as to an appropriate course of action or follow up.

Other forms of financial relief

Financial relief was also provided through extensions to land tax, rate remissions, and remission/waiver of planning, building and plumbing fees. The Australian Government also provided Disaster Income Recovery Subsidy (DIRS) assistance.

Donated goods

The Tasmanian bushfires of January 2013 sparked an outpouring of goodwill from the general community that resulted in donations of large quantities of clothing and household items from across Australia and beyond. St Vincent de Paul Society had the lead role in the management of donated goods, which was a significant task, given the huge volume and highly variable quality of unsolicited donated goods.

Owing to the significant management issues in terms of sorting, storing and distributing items, the Taskforce established the Donated Goods Sub-committee to assist with coordination. Donated goods were made available through the St Vincent de Paul Society Assistance Centres (located behind the DISH and at the Showgrounds) and the Salvation Army Op Shop. The St Vincent de Paul Society also organised a register to match donated items with those in need and worked with other organisations such as Rotary Tasmania and the Salvation Army to coordinate the recovery and distribution of donated goods. Other donated goods were distributed by service providers throughout the recovery where and when required.

Collaborative parterships

There were many organisations involved in providing support to individuals, families and communities, including: the Tasman Community and Health Service, the Dunalley Tasman Neighbourhood House, Lions Tasmania, Red Cross, Rotary Tasmania, Anglicare, Copping Community Care Centre, Rural Alive & Well, the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul Society and Uniting Care. Many of these organisations were part of the Active Partners Group.

A full list of these of these organisations and their involvement is provided in Appendix Four.

These collaborative partnerships led to the delivery of many programs to support community recovery. The breadth of these programs is indicated in the list below however it is acknowledged that many local organisations, especially the Dunalley Tasman Neighbourhood House, Tasman Community and Health Service and the Copping Community Care Centre, continued to run their vast array of programs above and beyond this.

  • A Tool Library, funded by the Lions and Rotary Clubs, was coordinated by many volunteers at the DISH. The Tool Library has since been used by other organisations involved in recovery, such as Dad's Army and BlazeAid.
  • Dad's Army, a recent addition to the recovery landscape, has helped with odd jobs around town for those unable to complete the tasks themselves. Both members and recipients have found that completing small jobs around the house can be very rewarding and it sets people up to tackle the big jobs themselves later on.
  • On-ground Assistance program is an informal grouping of several of the 'odd-jobs' programs (eg Dad's Army, Neighbourhood House Garden Restoration and Revegetation Program), who maintain a joint list of jobs and meet weekly to ensure coordination of fencing, odd jobs etc.
  • Community organisations have also supported community events, such as the Murdunna fortnightly barbecue. Supported by the Tasman Rotary Club, the event helps members of the community reconnect with each other.
  • Financial and Legal Aid has been provided at the DISH with organisations like Anglicare and Legal Aid locating there on a weekly basis until mid-2013. These organisations have helped people get through life's usual challenges while also dealing with recovery stresses.
  • The beyondblue Child and Family Disaster Program has operated since early 2013 and is due for completion in mid-2014. By early 2014, the program had screened 222 individuals and provided support to a proportion of these people. The program has also developed resources for teachers and the general public, some of which are available on the YouTube Tasmanian Child and Family Bushfire Response channel. This program was funded through the Tasmanian Bushfire Appeal.

Lions and Rotary Services Clubs

The local branches of Rotary and Lions Clubs have provided support in several key areas. Members of these clubs played crucial roles in coordinating volunteer effort and both Rotary Tasmania and Lions Tasmania provided financial support to a range of initiatives. Their involvement has provided a level of flexibility to the style of assistance that has been delivered, as their organisational structure is less constrained than government and many of the non-government organisation partners.

Assistance with temporary accommodation

Many of the households who lost their homes in the fire chose to live in temporary accommodation until an alternative was available. The Bushfire Recovery Unit made contact with all people displaced by the fires, discussed their circumstances and then provided appropriate follow up where required. Most of the households did not require any particular assistance, however ongoing contact was maintained with those who accepted the offer.

Some people continued to live on their land in caravans or other temporary dwellings. Direct assistance was provided to 17 households whose temporary accommodation did not meet basic sanitary, security or health standards. A coordinator was employed to oversee the work of contractors and was able to provide personalised assistance to households struggling to regain shelter.

Lions Tasmania delivered the purpose-built Community Amenities Unit located in Bay St Dunalley, next to the Fire Station. The $150 000 facility contains showers, toilets, washing machines and clothes dryers for those who lost their homes. Lions Tasmania also established a Tool Library in Dunalley. Used after the 2009 Victorian bushfires, the library provides a variety of tools on loan to local residents. Rotary Tasmania also provided pallets of fresh water and donations of clothing and furniture.