Safeguarding Vulnerable Seniors During Natural Disasters

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Seniors from Natural Disasters Forum was held at the Pavilion Function Centre, Albion on 18 August 2014 as part of Queensland Seniors Week.

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PICTURED: The Hon Minister Tracy Davis open the forum.

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COTA Queensland Chair, Peter Howells, Minister Davis and Chief Executive Mark Tucker-Evans

At present in Queensland there are no clear state-wide strategies in place that provide le seniors with the necessary support required to prepare for a disaster, survive the event and then restore life to some level of normality afterwards. COTA Queensland organised this forum to bring key stakeholders together to discuss whether there is scope for improvement in supporting vulnerable seniors during natural disasters, and if so, to identify what approaches might best achieve this. In doing so, COTA Queensland recognizes that strategies for Vulnerable Seniors may be translated to all vulnerable populations.

Ergon Energy provided sponsorship for the event which enabled the forum registration fee to be kept at a reasonable level and demonstrates Ergon Energy’s commitment to community safety.

  • The forum was facilitated by Brooke Winters, Regional Executive Director – South West Region, Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, Queensland
  • Songwoman Maroochy, a Songwoman and Law-woman of the Turrbal People, performed the ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremony.
  • The Honourable Tracy Davis MP, Minister for Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services opened the forum and launched Seniors Week 2014.
  • The 81 forum participants were drawn from Local Government, Queensland Government agencies with a role in disaster management, NGOs that provide aged care and disaster support services, Residential Aged Care providers and peak organisations.

The day consisted of 7 presentations on a variety of Disaster Management topics relevant to safeguarding seniors, a table workshop session where participants were asked to consider a number of questions.
On this page you will find links to each of the presentations and to the forum report.

The Presentations:

Bridget Tehan, Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS): Disaster and disadvantage Social vulnerability in emergency management

Bridget’s presentation was based on the VCOSS report Disaster and disadvantage: Social vulnerability in emergency management. The presentation underlined the fact that many seniors are severely impacted upon by disasters due to the increased vulnerabilities they may face. These vulnerabilities can include physical health problems, economic disadvantage, mental health issues and housing. Bridget then offered suggestions for how planning for older people in emergencies could be improved.

Jason Cameron, Brisbane City Council: The Brisbane Incident Management System & Disaster Management Capabilities.

Jason provided a detailed presentation on the Brisbane Incident Management System and Disaster Management Capabilities. The five guiding principles of disaster management were outlined, along with the Queensland disaster management structure. Jason then explained in detail the Brisbane Incident Management System.

Catherine Girman, Townsville City Council: Protecting Seniors Against Natural Disasters Case Study Townsville, Queensland.

Catherine outlined the structure and operations of the Townsville Local Disaster Management Group and its interaction with other key organisations in the community. Cyclone Yasi was then used as a case study to demonstrate how the preparation, response and recovery processes worked in Townsville. Catherine then detailed the key lessons to emerge from Cyclone Yasi, which included: improved messaging to the community, year round engagement and increased engagement with community groups and carer/support organisations.

Carmel Flynn, Health and Human Services Emergency Management Victoria:Older People in Emergencies – A statewide, integrated planning approach.

With reference to personal experience of recovery and resilience around the 1974 Brisbane floods, Carmel outlined the processes that led to the establishment of Vulnerable Persons Registers in Victoria. The scope of the Vulnerable People in Emergencies Policy was explained in respect to which at which groups were covered. The operations of the Vulnerable Persons Registers and the responsibilities of the various organisations involved were also covered. Lastly, Carmel explained how the register assisted in locating vulnerable persons during the Hazelwood Coal Mine Fire.

Steve Leighton, Ergon Energy:Safeguarding Vulnerable Seniors During Natural Disasters. 

Steve in his presentation detailed the approach undertaken by Ergon to ensure that customers are fully aware of what to do in the lead up to the storm and cyclone season to be prepared. The communication strategy also advises customers how to respond to a loss of power and what the process is for its restoration. The Life Support Program was detailed, including how individuals with health issues can become members of the program.

Phil Carney, Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services: How Can we Help..

Phil outlined the roles and responsibilities of the Department as the lead agency for human and social recovery under the Disaster Management Act 2003. The Department works closely with service and community organisations in responding to emergencies. Phil addressed work that has already been done to improve the recovery and assistance processes in Queensland and identified several areas where further improvement could be made. 

Collin Sivalingum, Australian Red Cross: Safeguarding Vulnerable Seniors During Natural Disasters.

A comprehensive presentation on the evacuation processes used by Red Cross to assist those displaced during disaster, including vulnerable seniors. Collin spoke about standards for evacuation centres including processes, planning for the unexpected, optimal layout and staffing arrangements. Red Cross also seeks to reunite those separated during disaster. The Red Cross Telecross and Telechat programs were also explained.

Seniors Week 2014 Forum

PICTURED: Steve Leighton (Ergon Energy), Bridget Tehan (Victorian Council of Social Service), Phil Carney (Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services), Carmel Flynn (Health and Human Services Emergency Management Victoria), Collin Sivalingum (Australian Red Cross), Catherine Girman (Townsville City Council

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PICTURED: Bridget Tehan (Victorian Council of Social Service), Brooke Winters (Regional Executive Director – South West Region, Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, Queensland), Michael Dickinson (Local Government Association Queensland), Iain McKenzie (Inspector General, Office of the Inspector General Emergency Management), Julie Argeros (Uniting Care Community), John Stalker (COTA Queensland)


COTA Queensland organised this forum in response to the numerous concerns expressed by stakeholders in both the emergency services, community services and government sectors that not enough is being done to safeguard seniors during natural disasters. These concerns were strongly supported by forum delegates and in response, a range of measures were proposed by forum attendees to improve upon the current arrangements in place to safeguard seniors.

COTA Queensland strongly encourages all relevant agencies to consider the measures suggested in this report. The adoption of many of the ideas expressed at the forum will contribute to the development of a more resilient and responsive disaster management system.  Queenslanders will be better equipped to manage their own safety if they are able; and more effective and coordinated assistance will be available to those in a vulnerable situation.

COTA Queensland will continue to advocate for the rights and needs of older Queenslanders and will use this report to that end. COTA Queensland hopes that this report will generate discussion at a local and state level about the networks and responses that will work best for each community and support organisations that work with and have a duty of care to vulnerable seniors.

Access the Safeguarding Vulnerable Seniors during Natural Disasters Forum Report here.



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