Universities can play a key role in natural disaster management

Join the session, Response, Recovery & Resilience – The Role of Impact Driven Universities in Natural Disaster Management, at 2:00 pm Brisbane time on Monday June 14, 2021.

When crises like bushfires, floods, cyclones and pandemics occur who should we turn to for rapid and authoritative advice?

According to experts who will be speaking at the upcoming Sustainability Research and Innovation Congress 2021 (SRI2021), universities are well-placed to bring together individuals skilled in both technical and management areas from multiple disciplines to contribute to response, recovery and resilience. 

“Universities are uniquely positioned to assist in responses to crises like bushfires or floods,” said Dr. Belinda Wade, a lecturer in sustainability at The University of Queensland (UQ). “Research-intensive universities are driven to address these challenges through their core activities of teaching, research and engagement.”

These three areas intersect with disaster management at many different points in the response continuum such as prediction, risk analysis, preparation, disaster, critical management, mitigation, recovery and building resilience.

“These processes require a scientific basis on which to be established,” added Dr. Wade. “With universities seeking to deliver impact, researchers can contribute to a holistic approach to natural disaster management and can help build sustainable resilience by rigorously examining issues, contributing to policy development, understanding impacts and developing evidence-based management plans and solutions.”

UQ has a number of related projects underway including research that is examining factors in Australia’s Black Summer of 2019-2020 to determine why some fires burned over large areas for longer duration and created more damage than ever before. The UQ Wind Research Laboratory is improving cyclone monitoring thus improving prediction, and the university’s Triple Parenting Program has developed a seminar for caregivers to be used in the aftermath of disasters to provide guidance on emotional responses and answering children’s questions.

Photo: Philip Bouchard/Flickr

In addition to contributing knowledge to critical incident management, there is also the role of universities as teachers of future leaders of business and society. Building evidence-based research into teaching materials can magnify knowledge creation and impact practices.

Dr. Wade along with fellow UQ academic Jim Walker will lead a panel discussion at SRI2021 which includes experts from within and outside academia with experience providing proactive leadership in crisis events including Prof Bronwyn Harch of The University of Queensland, Prof Hugh Possingham, Queensland’s Chief Scientist, Jimmy Scott of the Queensland Reconstruction Authority, Cathy Buck from Sunshine Coast City Council and Dr Cathy Robinson from CSIRO.

“These are individuals who can draw on personal experience of managing disasters, promoting recovery, building resilience and managing within large organizations to promote impactful research,” said Dr. Wade. The panel will discuss how to build resilience into community, natural and economic systems in the face of increasing occurrence of natural disasters.



The Sustainability Research & Innovation Congress 2021 (SRI2021) is the world’s first transdisciplinary gathering in sustainability. This annual event unites global sustainability leaders, experts, industry and innovators to inspire action and promote a sustainability transformation. For the first time, the Congress will launch as a live virtual event with a diverse and innovative online program from 12-15 June 2021.