Australia is a country prone to natural disasters. Long periods of dry, hot weather and readily combustible vegetation make it vulnerable to bushfires; the country’s geographical position exposes its coastal cities and towns to tropical cyclones; and flooding is a regular seasonal phenomenon. Indeed, the experience of natural disasters has come to be seen as part of the Australian national character.
Evidence suggests that the impact of climate change will make such events more frequent and more intense, and will occur in areas that had not previously been affected. Climate change is the result of a growing accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, trends in global ocean temperature and sea levels, and the loss of Arctic sea ice. Uncertainties surround important aspects of climate science, especially the rates and magnitudes of the major processes that influence our environment. However, the majority of these uncertainties operate in one direction – towards more rapid and severe climate change which will impact on Australia at national, state and community levels.
The security of Australia and its people includes threats to human security in addition to attacks from foreign states and terrorist actions. Such non-traditional threats include attacks on critical infrastructure and information systems, transnational crime including the trafficking of people, drugs and arms. Threats arising from conflict or catastrophic natural events also include unregulated population movements, declining food production, reductions in arable land, violent weather patterns and resulting catastrophic events.
The effective mitigation of such threats involves measures to enhance social cohesion and the resilience of the nation in addition to developing an appropriate security response. Australia has a strong tradition of volunteering to support local communities, especially in times of emergency, demonstrating the nation’s innate resilience and collective responsibility. But this national resilience cannot be taken for granted; indeed there are signs that Australian society today is more brittle than in previous generations.
Furthermore, our society is becoming ever more complex and our organisational systems – the public and private sectors and civil society – are becoming more interdependent, and thus more vulnerable to disruption. If not properly managed, a disruptive event can escalate into an emergency, crisis, or even a disaster. It can taint an organisation’s image, reputation, or brand in addition to resulting in significant physical or environmental damage, injury or loss of life.
The Torrens Resilience Institute has been established to enhance the resilience of Australia and its national and international interests to meet the threat from natural and human-made disruptive challenges. This will be achieved by conducting world-class evidence-based research that will enable informed decisions to be taken on policy, and by providing education and training to increase the knowledge and skills of individual leaders and managers.