Recovering from disaster

Shortly into the new Council's first term tragedy struck Yarra Ranges when bushfires swept through the Dandenong Ranges. Widespread property damage and loss of life resulted. Council was among the first organisations to respond by coordinating relief centres, organising an emergency communications centre, carrying out evacuations and providing information.

Working closely with other agencies, 80 Council staff worked in groups of four. Each group included a counsellor and nurse to help people during the crisis and in its aftermath.

"The first five days were intense," said Terry Wilkinson, Manager Community Services. "We were usually the first on the scene and often the last to leave.

"Organising counsellors and facilitating material aid was our primary focus. Many people who initially declined our offer found they really needed help."

The task was made much easier through the community pitching in via a volunteer network. They cooked and distributed meals and helped coordinate a drive for clothing.

In the aftermath of the fires, Council and volunteers continued the work organising 'green thumb' days. Here residents were assisted to replant devastated gardens, as well as being provided with emotional and material support.

A special newsletter was published offering advice and contacts for further help. Those who lost their homes were helped to rebuild through ready access to Council's building processes.

"Nearly two years down the track many people who experienced the bushfires are still affected." Terry said. "It takes the community a long time to recover from something like this."

Council has introduced a number of initiatives to help people to be prepared for fire in the future. Together with the Department of Human Services, it has developed a variety of resources to help the community overcome the trauma of wildfire.

These include a CD, video, book and wall charts. Council also assists the CFA with its community education program. Council's 1300 telephone number ensures people isolated from radio contact in an emergency can access information through the Shire. The CFA also has a 'hotline'.

For further information contact Terry Wilkinson, telephone 1300 368 333.