Gateway to launch new resource to help communities better prepare for disaster

Five years on from the 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires, and Gateway Family Services has developed an innovative resource to help prepare for future disasters.

New resource: Former Step by Step team member Ruth Myers, Walk With project manager Anne Crestani and Gateway Family Services CEO Kerry Thomas.

New resource: Former Step by Step team member Ruth Myers, Walk With project manager Anne Crestani and Gateway Family Services CEO Kerry Thomas.

Walk With is an online resource targetted at workers and volunteers within community organisations that provide support during disasters, and was developed based on the lessons learned after the fires through Gateway’s Step by Step program.

The program provided personalised support to 500 Blue Mountains households over 10 months.

“We combined Gateway’s expertise in supporting vulnerable people, while drawing on the experience of others working in the frontline of disaster recovery,” said Anne Crestani, the former manager of Step By Step, and Walk With project manager.

“We’re proud to play a part in continuing the community sector’s tradition of sharing knowledge, learning and wisdom. We don’t want other community workers to find themselves with no preparation or understanding of what’s ahead; we really want them to feel confident they can make a positive difference”.

The Walk With resource had pilot trials this year in Lismore, Tamworth, Newcastle and the Wollondilly Shire, as these communities recover from floods, storms and fire.

Researchers from Sydney University have evaluated the program, including the pilot trials, and will present the findings at the launch of the new resource on October 29.

In mid-October, with the help of a Bendigo Bank grant, some Gateway staff will travel to the upper Hunter to introduce the Walk With resource to the community services organisations in the area helping people affected by the drought.

There has also been interest in the program from government departments in other states.

After the Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009 there was a growing awareness of the importance of psychosocial support in addition to physical safety, Mrs Crestani said.

“There’s recognition that the hard hat and soft had need to work more collaboratively,” Mrs Crestani said. “It’s about building these connections now so that when disaster does hit you already have those connections.”

Walk With was developed with funding provided through the NSW Office of Emergency Management’s Community Resilience Innovation Program, and provides a jargon-free template for disaster planning.

“Community organisations are much more powerful if they can say this is our plan of management in place. They will have a stronger voice and that’s the voice of the community,” Mrs Crestani said.

Each anniversary of the Blue Mountains fires, some of the people supported through the Step by Step program will pop in to one of Gateway’s offices.

“They tap in and have a chat," said Step by Step worker Ruth Myers.

“The way we worked [in the Step by Step program] was about giving people choices and possibilities that they felt they all still had the right to choose the way forward.”

Walk With will be launched at The Hub in Springwood at 2pm on October 29. After the launch the resource will be available on Gateway’s website: www.gatewayfamilyservices.org.au.

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