Natural disasters have a devastating impact on communities. The Department of Human Services is actively involved in the disaster recovery process, with many staff pitching in to provide support to customers.
It is one year since bushfires swept through parts of Western Australia, during this difficult time staff worked tirelessly processing claims, providing social work services and listening to stories of those who were affected.
One of these staff members was Rosie Cronin, who works in the department’s media team.
“There were a couple of components to my role,” Rosie said. “One aspect was to keep an eye on local news reports, and listen for what local authorities were saying at events, to make sure the right information about our services was reaching the community.
“Another was finding opportunities to tell the stories of what was happening on the ground at our recovery centres – the important work staff were doing to help customers affected by these fires.
“Being in the recovery centres also meant making myself useful, so when things were busy I would get people started with their claim before handing over to more experienced staff.
“Throughout that period, I was just reminded of the big hearts of our staff, who worked through their evenings and weekends with no questions asked to support their community.
Rosie said she heard many stories of loss, but also stories of community spirit in the wake of the devastation.
“At one of the recovery centres, I met an elderly gentleman, Vic, who had lost his home, which was uninsured. He said to me: ‘All I own are the clothes on my back. Actually, come to think of it, these jeans were lent to me’.
“It was heartbreaking to see what he’d lost, but everyone reached out to give him a hand, and his resilience and the generosity he experienced was incredibly heart-warming.
“We were able to share Vic’s story with the local paper, and even describe how the recovery payment staff had processed for him would help him make a new start.”
Part of Rosie’s role was also documenting the recovery effort by taking photos.
“I was involved in photoshoots to capture the department’s response in an emergency, including candid shots of staff with customers.
“It really presented a challenge for me. On the one hand it was great to highlight the work of staff and make customers aware of the support that’s available but on the other hand, we had to be respectful of residents going through a really difficult time.”
While Rosie’s focus was on the department’s response, she also recognised the joint effort from many contributors.
“At the community meetings and recovery centres, the whole community came together – police, local, state and federal government, charity organisations, and power, water and telecommunications services.
“Affected residents had a lot to deal with, but with their immediate needs met, you’d see them walk out of those centres with a bit more hope.”
Read more about help in an emergency.