Would your community cope if disaster struck?

An innovative 'Resilience Index' that measures the ability of communities to cope with natural disasters, developed by two UNSW Engineering students, has won first-prize in a national competition to address the challenges of climate extremes.


Image: iStock

An innovative ‘Resilience Index’ that measures the ability of communities to cope with natural disasters, developed by two UNSW Chemical Engineering students, has won first-prize in a national competition to address the challenges of climate extremes.

The Index, created by Tracey Lloyd and Tom Perfrement, was one of two winning ideas in the 2015 Australia-Netherlands Water Challenge, a joint government initiative that aims to foster innovative ideas and develop future leaders in the field.

The pair, both UNSW Co-op Program scholars, will travel to Amsterdam in October with fellow winners Ashlee Clarke and Raymond Laine, from the University of Wollongong, for a three-week traineeship to develop their project and to take part in International Water Week.

2015 Australia-Netherlands Water Challenge

Award winners at the 2015 Australia-Netherlands Water Challenge. (L-R) Lloyd Taylor, Raymond Laine, Ashlee Clarke, Tracey Lloyd, Tom Perfrement, Willem Cosijn.

“We are passionate about helping Australia strengthen its resilience in the face of climate change and we are really looking forward to working with experts from Australia and the Netherlands to further develop our ideas,” says Tracey.

Tracey and Tom were the only undergraduate students in the finals, held at the Floodplain Management Association Conference in Brisbane in May.

“To define and pinpoint what resilience is and how it can be measured was a good topic for exploration,” says Tom.  “A number of standards and indicators exist for gauging resilience but there is currently no consensus for a quantitative measurement.”  

The Index takes into account community factors such as the social, economic and natural environment and combines them to create a ‘resilience’ score out of 100. Communities can then use this score to evaluate their risk and target strategies to improve preparedness.

Information from 11 local government areas in Brisbane was used to create the Index, but the pair say the model could be applied to any community around the world.

Tom says his first-hand experience of the Canberra bushfires in 2003 helped him realise the importance of initiatives to improve resilience to natural hazards.

“My family was told to evacuate our home, as were a number of residents close by. That experience left a strong impression regarding the power of natural disasters and the devastating impacts it has on a community,” he said.

Tracey and Tom are both involved in the UNSW Co-op Scholarship Program, which incorporates industry experience, leadership and professional development as well as financial assistance for their degree.

As part of their Co-op Program Scholarship they are currently on placements with water resource companies, which have been very supportive of their involvement in the competition.

Tom says the Index has gathered a significant amount of interest from industry and government and hopes their trip to the Netherlands will further cement support for the project.

The Composite Disaster Resilience Index is a manipulation of individual variables to produce an aggregate measure of resilience. 

Read more on The Resilience Index website.