How old-school engagement formed lasting bonds in storm-hit community

05/03/2020 11:43 AM

In the aftermath of tragedy there is a period of time when agencies and volunteers work hand-in-glove with communities to rebuild and repair. Around that time a community’s true grit and resilience often begins to emerge, forging lasting ties with their partners in recovery.

One example of that breed of resilience can be found by looking back to December 2018, when the tight-knit community of Berowra was hit by an unexpected hailstorm less than a week before Christmas.

Giant hailstones larger than 8 centimetres were reported by residents of the upper North Shore enclave. In the storm’s immediate aftermath a NSW SES spokesperson estimated that almost every second home in Berowra required assistance.

Today, NSW SES Hornsby Unit Deputy Commander, Chris Mawn, still looks back at the storm event with a sense of admiration for the way the community responded.

“At the time when the storm hit Berowra it was significant in terms of the sheer damage it did, and it was completely unexpected,” Chris said.

“There was a huge response from other agencies across the State to help the local residents – but it was the amazing community spirit and the way people bonded together that stood out the most.”

In the wake of the storm NSW SES phonelines were overwhelmed with requests for assistance, as other major storms were also occurring across the area. This added to the problem of technical difficulties on the ground – leaving volunteers without access to computer systems that logged and tracked requests for assistance.

The response to these technological obstacles was to simplify and go back to basics – by commandeering an empty local shopfront and turning it into an information stand. The makeshift site allowed residents to register their requests for assistance, which volunteers then wrote down and allocated for a response.

“The stand was located in a central shopping centre that was normally a kind of hub and a focal point for the community, so it was an old-school approach,” Chris said.

“It was also quite reassuring for people, many of whom were elderly residents, because we were physically there and they were logging a job with a real person.

“The community’s response to the arrangement was nothing but positive and they marvelled at what we were capable of and how quickly we were able to respond.”

And, according to Chris, 12 months after the storm’s devastation the bonds that were built between the NSW SES and the community of Berowra remain as strong as ever.

“We didn’t just do our job and leave – we stayed connected – including via Berowra community group pages on social media groups. We really bonded with the locals and that was something we wanted to maintain. All of the NSW SES members who worked with them have continued to be inspired by their resilience and strength.”

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