Minderoo Foundation today welcomed the findings of the Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangements as these highlight the critical work being undertaken by Minderoo Foundation’s Fire and Flood Resilience initiative (FFRI) which aims to ensure natural events like fires and floods never become a disaster.
The findings reinforce the collaborative approach needed to expand disaster resilience in Australia and the key role philanthropic organisations can play in enabling the interventions needed alongside corporate, government, research, community and emergency services sectors – not just leaving government agencies to carry the burden alone.
In January 2020, as Australia was still burning, Andrew and Nicola Forrest started Minderoo Foundation’s Fire and Flood Resilience initiative with a $70 million commitment to response, recovery and building resilience.
Minderoo Foundation collaborated with others to respond to community priorities, which response included delivering 256 temporary accommodation pods so people could return to their land, conducting fence repairs for farming communities, creating tool libraries to support local communities and mental health support services for community members.
In September, Minderoo Foundation along with more than 50 partners launched the Fire and Flood Resilience Blueprint, to pivot Australia as the global leader in fire and flood resilience by 2025. This is the first time the issue of disaster resilience in relation to fires and floods has been prioritised with the goal of achieving generational change.
All three missions of FFRI relate directly to the critical issues highlighted in the recommendations of the Royal Commission which include:
The first of these missions, the Fire Shield Mission, aims to reduce the scale and impact of fires by being able to extinguish them in an hour by 2025. The Resilient Communities Mission sets out to lift the resilience of Australia’s 50 most vulnerable communities by 2025. The Healthy Landscape Mission aims to halve the hazard exposure in 50 of Australia’s most fire and flood prone regions by 2025.
The CEO of Minderoo Foundation’s Fire and Flood Resilience initiative, Adrian Turner, worked through the night with a small group of six to defend his brother’s Kangaroo Valley property, confronting a wall of flames 30 metres high. He said Fire Shield aims to break down the different steps involved in putting fires out faster.
“Aerial firefighting is just one of the four areas that have a big impact on preventing the spread of dangerous fires. We can reduce the scale of fires by improving our ability to detect them quickly, share information in real time, undertake simulations to predict fire behaviour and respond through a range of methods – including new fire retardants and drones. There are a range of promising technologies to trial, scale and integrate,” he said.
Minderoo Foundation is already taking action, collaborating with Optus, ACT Rural Fire Service and ANU to use ground sensors and artificial intelligence to detect fires faster as part of a pilot project which will run over the fire season. The pilot will compare the insights gained through these new techniques to the standard observation conducted by humans in towers.
Another recommendation from the Royal Commission was the need to prioritise nationally consistent data and make it accessible. Minderoo Foundation is leading a Resilience Data Collective, which aims to facilitate building a trusted common system to bring together disparate but related data sets to inform decision making and action. None exists for the purpose of investing in disaster resilience.
Mr Turner added, “We need a common way to describe what kinds of assets in different locations need to be saved – this could tell you on a scale of lowest to highest value what asset to prioritise in terms of loss of life, property, a part of the environment, or an important part of the community.
“Minderoo Foundation’s Resilience Data Collective is already making inroads into this with a fire and flood modelling tool that provides local government area level hazard, exposure, vulnerability and resilience data for analysis.”
Education on disaster resilience for individuals and communities was highlighted as a recommendation. The Blueprint, developed with input from the research, community, government and corporate sectors identified four priority areas to help communities mitigate disaster risk and bounce back stronger. These include enabling local leaders, building resilience knowledge through education and training, streamlining access to resources, and developing new investment models.
“We are working with a range of partners on a toolkit for every property owner to understand their risk of exposure,” Mr Turner said.
The FFRI Healthy Landscapes Mission will address the biggest threats which currently add to fire risk, including via projects which build more comprehensive knowledge of landscape and wildlife to support prioritised management of fire and flood risk in targeted areas. It is also exploring new ways to measure and invest in the regeneration of landscapes.
“We believe that indigenous land management practices have a key role to play in improving land management and we are actively working with groups in this area,” Mr Turner said.
Minderoo Foundation is looking to export the approach in building resilience overseas and is continuing to collaborate with international partners to draw on global expertise and technology.
Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, we are a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with eight key initiatives spanning from ocean research and ending slavery, to collaboration in cancer and community projects.