We have not lived long enough: sensemaking and learning from bushfires in Australia
AffiliationManagement and Marketing
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2017 Dr. Graham Dwyer
Why did the bushfires of 7 February 2009 in Victoria take so many lives? Why were those bushfires so extreme, so feral, so catastrophic, so devastating? What can be done to ensure that so many lives are not lost, that so much devastation is not caused, in such bushfires in the future? (Parliament of Victoria, Opening Remarks, Chair of the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, 2009: 1) Victoria, Australia, is arguably the most fire-prone area in the world. Increasingly, with climate change, atmospheric scientists claim that we are experiencing longer drought periods, higher wind speeds and warmer temperatures which are giving rise to a greater bushfire threat in an already extremely bushfire-prone environment. Given such circumstances, it is likely that Victoria’s emergency management organisations will increasingly find themselves responding to bushfires characterised as complex, harmful and rare. Therefore, my study seeks to understand how emergency management organisations make sense of and learn from bushfires in Victoria so that they can be better prepared for bushfires in the future. To do so, I focus on the Royal Commission, which followed the “Black Saturday” bushfires, commonly referred to as Australia’s worst ever natural disaster. My study comprises a qualitative and interpretive methodology to explore how emergency management organisations implement recommendations emanating from public inquiries, and the role that sensemaking plays in this. In addition, given the devastating impact that disasters such as bushfires can have, I also explore how emotions influence the sensemaking process associated with implementing recommendations in such organisations. Through this dual-focused approach I build new theory in relation to the ways in which individuals in organisations make sense of and learn from public inquiry recommendations after disasters, while highlighting the role of both negative and positive emotions in this process.
Keywordsbushfire; natural disaster; risk; public inquiry; Royal Commission; sensemaking; learning
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