On 13 October 2017 the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre (BNHCRC) held a Safe at Home, School and Work Forum in Sydney to celebrate the United Nations International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR). The IDDR event addressed Target 2 of the Sendai 7 Campaign – reducing the numbers of people affected by disasters through injury, ill-health, loss of the family home or loss of livelihood.

I was a pleasure to be invited by the BNHCRC to participate in this important Forum and Panel discussion. So in my ten minutes I took the audience on a whirlwind journey from Sendai, Japan in 2015 to St Ives North Primary School in 2017 to showcase the opportunities that disaster resilience education directed at children and young people can bring.

There are hundreds of staff and volunteers in emergency services and NGO’s who are dedicated to building capacity in our communities to prepare and respond to disasters. My focus at the IDDR Forum was on schools, children and disaster resilience education.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Reduction is not just for Governments, bureaucrats and Academics. It has been re-framed in a child-friendly version developed by leading child-centred NGO’s such as Plan International and Save the Children.

Sendai for Children works through hazards, risks and disasters before explaining is understandable ways the core elements of the Sendai Framework.


The Comprehensive School Safety Framework is an expression of the need to make schools safe. It provides a comprehensive approach to reducing risks from all hazards to the education sector by addressing the three pillars of School Safety:

  • Safe Learning Facilities such as suitable location, building materials
  • School Disaster Management such as effective emergency plans
  • Risk Reduction and Resilience Education about hazards, risks, and mitigation

Disasters continue to have significant impacts on schools and children. Such horrible events can see our communities seek to follow what could be described as a ‘deficit model’ where the focus is on apportioning blame, finding weaknesses, and trying to fixing what is broken. The experience of the Okawa Elementary School is sobering to say the least.

And then I went to frame the “Kamaishi Miracle” as practice-based evidence of the value of disaster resilience education. Here is the opportunity that Sendai, the Comprehensive School Safety Framework and disaster resilience education gives us in Australia. This is the a strengths based model, the school as central to the community, working with the educational strengths and capabilities of young people, acknowledging and accepting that children can be agents of change.

And for us in emergency services particularly acknowledge and accept that children can be active participants in preparing for and responding to disasters. Children do not need to be passive bystanders, dependant on adults to secure their safety.

So here in Australia, Sendai and CSSF are beginning to get traction. Thanks to the BNHCRC, tremendous Disaster Resilience Education work is being driven by the Child Centred Disaster Risk Reduction Project.

The project is led by Prof Kevin Ronan of CQUniversity and Dr Briony Towers from RMIT University. Agencies like the NSW RFS are working together on delivering research outcomes that can be applied at scale. Practice-based evidence – looking at many of our existing programs and interventions, examining whether they are actually delivering DRE outcomes. And evidence based practice – applying world best practice in the development and conduct of DRE programs and activities.

In NSW, students in Stage 3 Geography (Years 5 & 6) are now exploring the impact of bush fires on people, places and environments. Students are using an Inquiry Learning approach where they will research and investigate issues, identify problems, and propose solutions.

So this year in NSW, I reckon that this Unit will be studied in 2,500 Schools, about 4,000 classrooms, and by about 100,000 students. What an opportunity!

Here is one example, St Ives North Public School and their Firestorm project “We had massive ideas”