What to do now? Tensions and dilemmas in responding to natural disasters: a study of three Australian state housing authorities
Jacobs, K and Williams, S, What to do now? Tensions and dilemmas in responding to natural disasters: a study of three Australian state housing authorities, International Journal of Housing Policy, 11, (2) pp. 175-193. ISSN 1949-1247 (2011) [Refereed Article]
The floods that spread across Queensland, Australia in 2011 provided a salutary reminder of the appalling consequences of disasters. In Australia, all tiers of government have put in place protocols to minimise adverse consequences and response strategies for when disasters occur. While there is a considerable body of literature on disaster management, there has not been any single study that examines the role of housing authorities and the way that key actors involved engage and negotiate the complex array of tasks required. In many ways, this omission is surprising since housing authorities play a significant role in many recovery operations that require temporary accommodation for residents, repairs to damaged property and welfare support for householders affected. To address this lacuna, this paper reports on research that explored how Australian state housing authorities respond to disasters. It draws upon interviews with individuals who had practical experience of disasters and public housing tenants who were affected in the Canberra bushfires 2003, Cyclone Larry in far north Queensland in 2006 and the coastal storms and floods affecting NSW in 2007. Among the findings are the tensions that arise when agencies seek to enable locally based decisionmaking arrangements while also attempting to maintain control from the centre. Even when meticulous planning has been put in train, there is often a sense of confusion accentuated by the complexity of the competing tasks required of response teams. Bureaucratic control systems, although well intentioned, can actually impede agencies' ability to manage the aftermath of a disaster. There are implications for researchers as well as practitioners in disaster management.