Guest Post: Natural Disaster Recovery: the role of the philanthropic sector

This post written by Alex Gartmann, Foundation For Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR). Stay tuned for the second part of this post later this week, where Alex shares some practical lessons and principles for the natural disaster recovery space!

Australia is certainly a land of drought and flooding rains and the summer of 2012/13 is presenting a series of challenges for numerous communities across the country.

Bushfires have devastated communities, and the local economies, across Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania, the Queensland Gulf and central Australia. Cyclones have thrashed communities in the Kimberley and northern Queensland, while ex-tropical cyclone rains have resulted in widespread flooding in Queensland and New South Wales. And summer is only half way through.

FRRR’s involvement in this area began in 2006, following Cyclone Larry in Queensland. Since then, we have provided support for disaster-affected communities all over Australia, including the 2009 Victorian Bushfires (Morris 2012) and communities devastated by floods and storms over the summer of 2010/11. From these experiences, we know that support needs to be provided a long time after the immediate effects of the disaster have been felt. It takes many years for smaller regional communities, for the trauma to be replaced with hope, and for economic stability to return.

But what exactly is ‘recovery’?  It means different things to different people, but by going back to the roots of the words, we can discern that recovery is ‘to re-immerse in the medium of life’.

At an individual and community level, highly respected Australian disaster recovery psychologist Gordon (2011) proposes a recovery model that encompasses the four stages.

  • Stage 1: Survival (1-6 months)
  • Stage 2: Endurance (6 months – 2nd year)
  • Stage 3: Identity crisis (2nd – 4th year)
  • Stage 4: Recovering from the recovery (4th year +)

The Third Stage of recovery is an important period as far as philanthropy is concerned. It is during this medium term period that the event may have moved out of the media spotlight with attentions shifting onto the next issue or community need. There will be significant rebuilding activity; drawing heavily on the resources of community members and requiring sophisticated capacities to manage the recovery effort. Individual and community identities can begin to fragment and any security or solace found in the ‘disaster identity’ can be lost or diminished the closer communities get to completion of rebuilding; repeating the sense of uncertainty and disorientation experienced immediately after the disaster. It is common after the third year for core government relief and assistance to be scaled back and recovery activities to be absorbed back into mainstream services.

A Fourth Stage is concerned with ‘recovering from the recovery’. This Stage recognises the immense toll that recovery takes on individuals and communities and provides the next step after the recovery work itself is complete; finding a new normal and living life in relation to an altered future state. The Fourth Stage acknowledges the need for renewed energy, a focus on stepping away from recovery toward an identity expanded beyond the disaster. 

So where does philanthropy fit in?

With models of climate change predicting more frequent and severe natural disasters, how do we better prepare our grant making to support community preparedness and resilience? There is the emergence of a paradigm shift in the ways in which communities are supported to prepare for and recover from natural disasters. The National Strategy for Disaster Resilience (COAG, 2011) suggests moving from an ‘emergency management’ emphasis on roles, responsibility and procedures to greater consideration and planning for prevention, mitigation, preparedness, and recovery, as well as response. The strategy documents the need to focus more on action-based resilience planning, strengthening local capacity and capability, with a greater emphasis on community engagement and understanding the diversity, needs, strengths and vulnerabilities within communities.

This new perspective contains elements that are closely aligned with FRRR’s mission, and those of many other Trusts and Foundations, and our approaches to supporting communities within grant programs.

Preparedness and recovery should work in parallel; rather than in isolation. Graham (2012) says this bottom-up participative approach is relatively new to the emergency management sector; however it has been the basis of community development practices and principles for many decades. Our challenge in philanthropy is to move with the paradigm shift and better support the development of resilience in community.

While many organisations are making generous donation to the immediate relief effort, at FRRR we are turning our focuses to the medium to long-term recovery of the communities, implementing a response within the Natural Disaster Recovery Framework. The four key approaches are:

  • Grants and funding support
  • Community support and advocacy
  • Project management of donation accounts
  • Strategic recovery projects and strategic partnerships

Partners and contributions are being sought – to the recovery programs and to the thinking about resilience. This collaborative and proven approach will help to sustain momentum in community led recovery efforts when volunteer fatigue sets in, providing ongoing support long after most of us will return to ‘business as usual’.

To be involved in these efforts or perhaps have a grant program FRRR can consider in a ‘clearing house’ role, please contact us on 03-54302399 or email Donations for medium to long term recovery programs can be made online ( or contact us at FRRR and we can assist to direct your donation to particular communities.


COAG, National Emergency Management Committee (2011). National Strategy for Disaster Resilience: Building our nation’s resilience to disaster.

Gordon, R. (2011). Crisis Intervention and Management Australasia Conference, Melbourne, November 2011

Graham, W. (2012). 2011 Winston Churchill Fellowship for disaster assistance program and community resilience. Australian Journal of Emergency Management, 27, (4), pg 5.

Morris, H. (2012). Lessons in Disaster Recovery: Learnings from FRRR’s Response to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires.

Jan. 29, 2013

 Tags: guest post, disasters

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