It’s about people, stupid.

It is about people

An engineer, economist, and a grazier walk into a PUB after a flood, the debate starts, it’s about repairing roads, it’s about restoring phones, it’s about moving cattle, it’s about spending locally, it’s about……. Then, from the punter at the end of the bar; it’s about people, stupid.

Discussion at bar

Never a truer word can be spoken when we’re talking disaster recovery.

There is no greater test than the PUB test when it comes to public sentiment.

In 1992, the Clinton Presidential campaign revolved around the words of James Carville, a political strategist that saw Clinton emblazon the words “It’s the economy, stupid” on a whiteboard in campaign HQ. The inference was that addressing the economy will deliver satisfaction across the board. The reality? The statement was aimed at driving public opinion, to win an election, not assert that there was a single economic panacea for a nation.

So what? Well in the world of disaster recovery, there is also no simple formula, framework or approach that can deliver a community from a state of despair and disrepair to ‘normality’.


People are the key

Communities are unique, their strengths, their drivers, their vulnerabilities all reflect their own circumstances and have their own dependencies. What do they have in common? They all have people.

People that will be affected by every decision made in the aftermath of an event, people that know their community, people that deserve to be included, people that will determine the success or otherwise of recovery efforts, based on how they judge the outcomes, not the KPI’s based on the outputs listed on a template plan.

Disasters affect people. Disasters cause stress, confusion, tensions, and emotions. As leaders we need to provide confidence, stability, assurance for those affected. We need to make well informed, ethical decisions, provide value for money, and deliver plans for sustainable communities. We need to be brave enough to challenge reinvesting in the same.

We need to be brave enough to start these conversations today, under blue skies, without the stressors.

So what? Well simply it means that people need to be the first, last and the major consideration when deciding what we do in the aftermath of any event that cuts at the fabric of the community.

It’s not just about electricity, water, roads or sewage… it’s about liveability.

Potential at our fingertips

Brisbane Floods

We already plan for liveability in detail but don’t necessarily bring it to the table during recovery. We use things like the Mercer scale of liveability to compare communities worldwide, our planners develop very thorough sustainability plans. We develop future facing plans all the time, some of them are “top drawer”, just waiting for a funding source or trigger.

Often, that trigger, and funding revolve around election commitments. Why? Because more than anyone, our Politicians know that it’s about people, stupid. The politicians know they face the ultimate PUB test, every three or four years.

Simple searches of public documents particularly at Local Government level will show a wealth of well-developed plans such as:

    • Economic development plans
    • Tourism plans
    • Amenity Plans
    • Transport corridor plans
    • Capital works plans
    • Open space plans
    • Arts and cultural strategies, and
    • Utility improvement plans

So what? Well, these are perfect examples of already well thought out and well consulted plans aimed to deliver a new, better, redefined future community.

Are these in fact the keystones to the perfect disaster recovery plans? ……. Already in the top drawer. Plans that just need commitment and funding and the will to act.

In the aftermath of disasters, politicians, whatever colour will ask things like “how come the ABC can find someone still living in a tent and we’re still planning?”

It will look and feel like the question is weaponised for political gain, but really, it’s about the people, stupid. (well, OK, let’s face it, these questions are weaponised, but is that only possible because we haven’t delivered?)

I am critical of our over emphasis on counting when it comes to impact assessments. I’m not suggesting we throw them out but let’s ask the ‘so what’ question more to unearth the consequences, match them with the plans we already have and use the triggers given to us by way of the event to deliver improved liveability. Who knows? The politicians might also come out ahead on the public opinion front?

We know what the media cycle will look like; the honeymoon period, the hero focus, the emerging frustration with immediate relief, followed by the active searching for the disenchanted and the criticism of the speed of recovery.
Imagine having the media strategy ready, imagine already having the future community plan written, consulted, and imagine having bi-partisan support.

So, what do we need to do?

How we make people feelFirst, we need to go back and remember what all the reviews of public sector performance have said over the years, remember the importance of those to be served in evaluating OUR performance and not think that meeting a bunch of KPIs is the goal. Remembering that its not about being able to recite what we have done but how we have made people feel.

As I said in my blog about the myths of PPRR (Prevention, Preparedness, Response and Recovery), we need to question current strategies, to ensure they are based on distinct pillars of recovery and focus on the complex system called society. We need to focus on meeting the needs of those at the centre of this system, the people, people with Human, social and cultural needs, wants and biases.


We need to recognise that there is not a single decision we can take in any of these dimensions that does not impact on people in some way.

Planning under blue skies

We need to go beyond restore, repair, rebuild and replace, and re-think our approach.

Our recovery goals must match the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) direction of “avoiding or reducing future disaster risk.” Adaptation strategies, while commendable, are evolutionary, we need a revolutionary approach to the inevitable and never use ‘unprecedented’ to deflect from the reality of what we know will happen. This is not helped by current pressures to spend on mitigation to demonstrate commitment to disaster risk reduction. This often results in strategies to protect what already exists, rather than addressing the harder question of what should exist into the future.

It is not about hazard and risk assessments, treatment and controls, or exercises or even education, it is about people. We do have good and current systems and structure to manage disruption, impacts and restoring the status quo, but we need to go beyond and use the terrific systems already in place designing our future sustainable communities. These are the key to recovering to a new future.

It is about being able to know, truly know, the consequence of future events, not simply being able to count or even predict the impacts.

To overcome the challenge of consequence thinking and designing futures to address them, we need to plan today, under blue skies.

The key to all of this is a change in thinking around hazard and risk to truly explore and know the community’s, the people’s vulnerabilities, and strengths. By knowing the vulnerabilities across all dimensions of a healthy society we can be prepared for a new future. By having thought about what the future COULD look like, we can begin to have recovery plans that go beyond recreating the past.

Trying to design community consultation strategies in an emotionally charged stressful time is a recipe for conflict and political debate when a bi partisan approach is needed. So let us:

      • plan, debate and agree on recovery strategies with all levels of Government, NOW.
      • ensure bi-partisan support for improved infrastructure, NOW.
      • develop community support for recovery strategies, NOW.
      • have contracts ready to enact, NOW, rather than negotiate them in the aftermath of an event.
      • Be ready to leverage our FUTURE land use, transport, capital works, open space, infrastructure, utility plans……TODAY!

Putting Recovery FirstIf what I have shared rings true to you, and if you need support to embark on this, then we are here. Our unique approach to risk ensures that people are rightly at the centre.

So, what brings us to the Public Safety space? In plain language, we are a group of people who have seen first-hand how the current approach to Public Safety is not working in the interests of the people and communities it is supposed to serve.

We believe there is a better way to work. It starts with the communities and the people in those communities, planning for the future under blue skies.


We are driven by our purpose… to create a safer world one community at a time.

In the words of Christine McVeigh (Fleetwood Mac)… don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.

If you want to think about your community’s tomorrow, then a starting point to consider is joining us for at a PUBS (Planning Under Blue Skies) Introduction webinar on Thursday, 31st of March.

If you are interested in finding out more on leading your community to be future ready, then feel free to reach out. 

If you have found value in what we have shared, feel free to check out other blogs by the Unearth team and subscribe to our Newsletter. And if interested in the book ‘Risk Starts and Ends with People’ recently released then feel free to reach out to learn more or share your thoughts on the blog or any information we have provided, we would welcome hearing from you through

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