Wingham man and Manning Valley services help with disability disaster preparedness research.

PREPARE NSW team at the NSW Resilient Australia Awards. John Green (seated) with Life Without Barriers, Healthe Care/Mayo Home Nursing and Dundaloo representatives and Michelle Villeneuve (standing behind John Green). Photo: supplied
PREPARE NSW team at the NSW Resilient Australia Awards. John Green (seated) with Life Without Barriers, Healthe Care/Mayo Home Nursing and Dundaloo representatives and Michelle Villeneuve (standing behind John Green). Photo: supplied

Have you ever considered the difficulties that disabled people encounter when faced with a natural disaster, such as flood or fire?

How do you evacuate a person in a wheelchair if their house is flooded or they need to leave immediately, and quickly, because of fire? What does a person who relies on medication for their life do, for instance someone with Type 1 diabetes, if they have no access to medication and the chemist is not available? Is there emergency accommodation for people who are in a wheelchair or who need airbeds?

These are only three of many questions looked at by a Sydney University project, PREPARE NSW, focusing on disaster preparedness for people with a disability.

Wingham man John Green, who was left a quadriplegic as the result of a car accident, was part of the project as a community member representing disabled people.

John Green of Wingam talks about disaster preparedness.

“After the Dungog floods in 2017 they found there was a big gap where people couldn’t get insulin, disabled people couldn’t get their tablets and all that kind of stuff. Going through an natural disaster, they’ve found there’s a big gap, they’ve lost the pharmacies, they’ve lost everything. There’s a big gap in our health system and in our community,” John said.

The above video of John is just one in a toolkit that has resulted from the research headed by Michelle Villeneuve of the Sydney University Centre for Disability Research and Policy.

The Person-Centred Emergency Preparedness Toolkit that evolved from the research won the NSW Business Award at the 2018 Resilient Australia Awards at Parliament House in Sydney on October 16. 

John Green attended the awards in Sydney, along with representatives from other Manning Valley organisations that took part in the research – Life Without Barriers in Taree, Dundaloo Support Services, and Healthe Care Mayo Home Nursing/Mayo Private Hospital.

“They used a lot of our procedures. We do risk assessments and things like that on clients when they first come to the service, and each provider would do the same, and they used them as a base to make up what was the final result,” Cheryl Earley, disability support co-ordinator and acting area manager of Life Without Barriers, said.

They were all presented with individual awards from Sydney University for their part in the project.

Mayo Home Nursing client Marj Bonsor

Also involved in the project were local emergency services Fire and Rescue, SES, RFS, and Health Emergency Management.

“The project was about bringing the sectors together to raise awareness about people with disability and disaster risk reduction,” Michelle said.

“The sectors included local government, community services, emergency managers, health, disability, and local businesses.

“That project also won a Resilient Australia award in 2017 for the Local Emergency Management Guidelines for Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction that we produced,” Michelle said.

Michelle and Hayley from Sydney University with staff from Life Without Barriers and Dundaloo Support Services. Photo: supplied

Michelle and Hayley from Sydney University with staff from Life Without Barriers and Dundaloo Support Services. Photo: supplied

The Manning Valley was one of three areas in NSW chosen to research for the project focused on three areas of NSW for the research, because it is prone to flooding and bushfires.

“This project sought input state-wide as we co-designed the toolkit . However, our partners in the Mid North Coast were the ones who field tested the toolkit and featured in videos about its use in practice,” Michelle said.

“The resources [in the toolkit] were shared on the UNISDR Prevention Web – the work of our colleagues in the Manning Valley has gone global and is being used to share how we can include people with disability in preparedness. This is addressing an important gap in Australia and internationally.”

Local services continue to work with Michelle Villeneuve and her team on person-centered disaster preparedness.

“We are continuing our collaborations with ongoing submission for funding opportunities to extend the work. The tools are developed, now we need to use them and gather information on how the tools are helping providers and people with disability, their family and carers to prepare for disasters triggered by natural hazards and other emergencies,” Michelle said.

Healthe Care Australia staff from Mayo Home Nursing with Michelle Villeneuve and Hayley Brooks from the Project Team. Photo: supplied

Healthe Care Australia staff from Mayo Home Nursing with Michelle Villeneuve and Hayley Brooks from the Project Team. Photo: supplied