There has been increasing research and policy focus internationally on the role of child-centred disaster risk reduction and resilience, including disaster risk reduction and resilience education programs for children and youth. This paper summarises national and international, developments following the signing of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (SFDRR).
To summarise pre-SFDRR developments (Ronan 2015a, b), including over the SFDRR predecessor, the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 (HFA), much progress has been made in CC-DRR policy, practice and research. Moving from only one study published pre-2000, research has grown exponentially, including research on the effectiveness and implementation of CC-DRR education programs. Well over half of the 146 countries self-reporting during the HFA documented DRR being included in their national curriculum at one or more levels (primary, secondary, university and professional programs). Comprehensive, evidence-informed guidance on the development of programs was also provided through UNICEF and UNESCO (2013). This has been accompanied by a proliferation of CC-DRR-infused education programs, and other initiatives, in schools and community settings (UNESCO and UNICEF 2012), accompanied by a large number of related resources available through the UNISDR’s Prevention Web website.
A background review completed for UNISDR, commissioned by UNICEF and UNESCO (Ronan 2015b), also confirmed DRR curriculum and training are featuring more prominently in national policy across an increasing number of reporting countries. In the Australian context, school-based disaster resilience education programs have been included within Australia’s guiding disaster policy, the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience (COAG 2011). International progress includes attempts at national roll-out of disaster resilience education in a few countries (e.g. Turkey, Philippines and Indonesia), including in New Zealand ‘What’s the Plan, Stan?’ (see Johnson et al. 2014b).The development of a policy and practice framework, Comprehensive School Safety (CSS) is facilitating comprehensive CC-DRR infusion within schools. The CSS Framework is seeing increased prominence in New Zealand and Australia (a review of progress is covered in Ronan 2015b, see also Amri et al. 2016, Ronan 2015a).
Public policy initiatives tend to organise around a set of principles, intentions, values and beliefs that are held and advocated for by various bodies (e.g. advocacy groups and political entities). When there is sufficient support for a set of values, these can be enacted through various means at different political levels. The enactment of those values is codified through a set of actions, including measures and practices, designed to realise the set of principles (Page 2008). Thus, the SFDRR is first a set of values and principles agreed upon by 189 countries linked to disaster risk reduction and building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters. Based on these values, a set of outcomes and goals have been established that begin to operationalise these values. As articulated in the SFDRR, the major outcome to be realised by 2030 is the following:
From this general outcome, the following specific seven global targets have been established (SFDRR 2015, pp. 7-8):
To achieve these outcomes the SFDRR’s primary goal is to:
Thus, the focus of the SFDRR is squarely on prevention, mitigation and preparedness, while also accounting for the entire disaster cycle. To achieve outcomes and this main goal, a set of actionable behaviours, or Priorities for Action (PFA), were established. These are:
Across the PFA’s, numerous recommendations for participatory public education are made, including by providing formal, informal and civic education strategies that are nationally-based yet tailored to specific localities. As stated in the SFDRR, to contribute to ‘a culture of prevention and education on disaster risk…and advocate for resilient communities’, an ‘inclusive and all-of-society disaster risk management which strengthen the synergies across groups’ is necessary. Groups noted in particular include children and youth. Emphasising their role as ‘agents of change’, they ‘should be given the space and modalities to contribute to disaster risk reduction’ that are aligned with ‘legislation, national practice and educational curricula’ (SFDRR 2015, p. 20).
The NSDR (COAG 2011) revolves around the organising theme of disaster risk reduction being a ‘shared responsibility’ between government and the community; one that promotes a ‘culture of disaster resilience.’ An important exemplar reflecting shared responsibility is the following:
Main NSDR principles that support these themes include:
Two additional principles facilitate these outcomes:
Shared responsibility through partnerships, including those that link emergency management agencies with community networks, can promote the outcomes and facilitators:
A primary community node is one that revolves around a local school system that links children and youth with households that are embedded within other community networks. The NSDR itself stresses both participatory and educational outcomes as key to developing shared responsibility and a culture of disaster resilience:
More recently, the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience has started to implement a strategy to develop and deliver national initiatives to teach disaster resilience in Australian schools.
At both international and national levels there is policy agreement on the role of partnering with those who effect change and the role of education in promoting a culture of prevention, mitigation, preparedness and resilience. Children and youth are most at-risk in disasters for both physical (WHO 2011) and psychological effects (Norris et al. 2002). They are also identified in the SFDRR as ‘agents of change’. These two accord with main rights of children and youth according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; the rights of protection and participation. Thus, there is a set of policy-based, value-driven rationales, supported by research findings that strongly support the important role for young people in community disaster risk reduction and resilience promotion.
Another convergence between the SFDRR and NSDR is the importance of linking policy with research and practice. As a result, the linkages between policy, practice and research are important to keep in mind when trying to solve any societal problem (deLeeuw, McNess & Stagnitti 2008), including those related to DRR (see Figure 1). This includes identifiable frameworks and means to transfer research-produced knowledge into policy and practice (Redman et al. 2015).
With this more generic policy-practice-research model in mind, a guiding model for CC-DRR research that incorporates this nexus has been developed. Figure 2 shows the two major issues of scoping and review. International scoping (Ronan 2015b, Ronan et al. 2015) and national scoping (via a Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC-funded project) have identified the core themes of CC-DRR and disaster resilience education (DRE) research. The two main themes, or problems-to-be-solved, are ensuring the effectiveness of CC-DRR/DRE initiatives and facilitating CC-DRR/DRE policy and practice implementation.
With over 40 studies published, both correlational and experimental findings support CC-DRR initiatives. In particular, disaster resilience education programs that focus on DRR and resilience have been shown to produce beneficial outcomes for children, youth and households (Amri et al. 2016, Johnson et al. 2014a, Ronan et al. 2015). At the same time, many challenges remain. For example, evaluations tend to focus primarily on knowledge-based outcomes versus more skill- or action-based DRR and resilience outcomes. Evaluations are often carried out by academic evaluators and not as an intrinsic part of program monitoring and evaluation (Johnson et al. 2014a, Amri et al. 2016). Another issue is that programs tend to have a ‘key safety messages’ emphasis (IFRC 2013), often focusing on the key prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response-related behaviours that reduce risk. 1 These key messages can have an all-hazards focus (e.g. develop and practice a family emergency plan) or a more specific hazard focus (e.g. for bushfires, house fires, floods, cyclones and storms, drought and earthquakes). There is now no question, based on findings to date, that such a focus can produce beneficial outcomes, including increased knowledge, reduced hazard fears, more realistic risk perceptions, and increased family and household preparedness (Haynes & Tanner 2015, Mitchell et al. 2008, Ronan & Johnston 2003, Johnson et al. 2014a). Additional research has identified some active aspects of DRE programs. Factors that predict increased household preparedness include:
Another factor is supporting children to research problems and talk to community leaders and local officials about root causes and risk reduction measures (Haynes & Tanner 2015). However, at the same time, in the face of these promising outcomes, there is little empirical evidence of how DRR and resilience benefits extend into response and recovery. The handful of experimental and time-series-designed studies done to date have used pre-post approaches, thus limiting findings to immediate benefits (Johnson et al. 2014a, Haynes & Tanner 2015). Research that follows cohorts over time is essential to understand the long-term effectiveness of these programs during and following a hazardous event.
While findings to date support that learning key safety messages can confer benefits, this focus may have unintended consequences. In different studies, it has been shown that education programs can improve knowledge of what to do in the event of a hazardous event (Johnson et al. 2014a). However, while children may know a correct set of responses, two studies (Ronan et al. 2001, Johnson et al. 2014) have shown that these same children can also endorse a range of incorrect DRR responses. In some instances, a majority of children may at the same time endorse incorrect responses (Johnson 2014). Such findings demonstrate that while children may know a correct key safety message, they also believe that other behaviours that raise risk are also correct. Thus, research has demonstrated that children may lack of clarity about which behaviours are the ones that will keep them safe. Additional research shows that children who participate in DRE programs tend to have reduced fears of hazards and increased DRR-related confidence. However, one study has demonstrated that confidence increases do not correspond to knowledge increases (Amri et al. 2016). In that study, 71 per cent of the child participants indicated confidence in what to do to be safe in disasters. However, only 4 per cent of the overall sample had DRR knowledge in the high range category, whereas 96 per cent had knowledge in the low to medium range categories. Another example of unintended consequences are field observations in Nepal during the 2015 earthquakes by Paci-Green and colleagues (2015), who concluded:
Consistent with these field observations, larger group-based research on earthquake key safety messages has been carried out. In the context of school drills-related education programs,2 Johnson and co-authors found that almost 100 per cent of children knew the correct key message for earthquakes (drop, cover, hold) at both pre- and post-testing. At the same time, a majority (three-quarters) of the sample of over 500 children and youth endorsed running to a doorway as another option. With research showing that ‘movement during shaking’ is a key risk factor, perhaps even the strongest, for injury and death (Johnston et al. 2014), this action should no longer be recommended. Another finding in that study was that only about 20 per cent of children were aware that drop, cover and hold prevented falling. Similarly, as demonstrated in Towers (2015) in a bushfire context, children may be able to correctly recite key messages about safe response behaviours, but their understanding of the purpose and function of those behaviours is often misconceived.
One of the implications of this line of research is that education programs, and school drills, that focus only on standard messages, including routine ‘rote’ drilling actions, may not be reducing risks for children and youth to the extent necessary (Ronan et al. 2015).
Based on findings, moving beyond a focus on key messages and routine drilling procedures is warranted. Education research demonstrates that a focus on knowledge and skills development through participatory, interactive, experiential learning formats can confer enhanced benefits, including related to DRR and resilience (Haynes & Tanner 2015, Ronan & Towers 2014). A study carried out in Canberra (Webb & Ronan 2014) used an approach incorporating elements based on theory and research that produced highly significant changes in knowledge, skills, home preparedness and a reduction in fears of hazards. For example, in the brief four-session program, parents of the children and youth involved reported an average increase of just under six additional preparedness and risk mitigation activities undertaken at home between pre- and post-testing. Children were found to demonstrate about 40 per cent pre-post gain in both recognition (multiple choice) and recall knowledge (listing important DRR steps). These are possibly the biggest gains reported to date in the published literature. In addition, related to skill development, children and youth had significant gains in verified ‘planning and practice’ factors (e.g. ‘have you and your family planned and practiced what to do in an emergency?’).
Another example that used a problem-solving approach was that of Haynes and Tanner (2015). This study investigated the use of child-centred participatory video as a tool for engaging and empowering young people in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. The action research involved a multi-stage process of training, film-making and participatory screening workshops with communities and government officials in the Philippines. The film-making process was iterative, enabling children to investigate, learn and discuss issues with members of their family, community and decision-makers. Similarly the screening workshops were designed to gather community input and generate collaboration between young people and adults around measures to reduce risks. The project generated a number of positive outcomes from increased knowledge of the children and their communities to various tangible mitigation measures, including the installation of shelving to ensure that school materials are stored above maximum flood heights, and policy to address and enforce a reduction in illegal mining and deforestation, which was increasing the flood risk. Importantly, this study highlighted that while many education initiatives can increase the awareness and knowledge of children and their communities, it is also important to examine how such programs can target policy and practice to address the root causes and drivers of risk and vulnerability.
These findings also show that major stakeholders in CC-DRR, including children and youth, parents and teachers, endorse the value of these programs (e.g. Amri et al. 2016, Kelly & Ronan 2016, Johnson & Ronan 2014, Johnson et al. 2014). Findings indicate that parents and teachers have a preference for programs based on an interactive problem-solving approach versus a key safety message only or didactic approach (Kelly & Ronan 2016). Thus, programs developed with input from theory and research (Ronan & Towers 2014), and with input from those who participate in and deliver these programs, appear worthwhile.
With this combination of a bottom-up and top-down approach to program development, a large majority of children indicated they are motivated to learn about disasters. Additionally, they and their parents and teachers want them to be involved in DRR efforts at home and school (e.g. Amri et al. 2016, Webb & Ronan 2014, Johnson et al. 2014a). On the top-down side, international policy developments have moved the focus from DRE-based programs to a more comprehensive school safety (CSS) focus. The CSS Framework is a United Nations-driven development of an alliance of school safety advocates and practitioners led by UNICEF and UNESCO and includes UNISDR and some NGOs, including Save the Children. Figure 3 shows the CSS approach of three inter-connected pillars:
The idea is that these inter-connected pillars will lead to the protection of children and staff in school facilities, improve education continuity in times of emergency and crisis, safeguard education-sector investments, and build a long-term culture of participatory risk reduction, resilience and safety.
The potential benefits of this comprehensive approach for children and youth would be increased child participation in whole-of-school and whole-of-risk approaches. These start with understanding and assessing risk through to participating in the development of school emergency plans, linking DRE program knowledge with enactment and skills-based learning (linking schools with household planning, safe reunification procedures, flexible, versus routine-only, drilling skills and procedures3). Research is underway to test such possibilities.
Teacher training also raises some issues. Research indicates that teachers express interest in delivering these programs (Amri et al. 2016, Johnson et al. 2014b). However, they express concerns about not being trained and potentially exacerbating problems for children and youth (Amri et al. 2016, Johnson & Ronan 2014, Johnson et al. 2014b). This appears to be one of the deterrents to uptake and implementation of such programs in classroom and school settings.
Reviews have shown that most CC-DRR initiatives, including disaster resilience education, tend to have a short ‘shelf-life.’ That is, scaled, sustainable implementation is a major problem both internationally and in Australia. Research has begun to identify ways to support scaling up effective programs (Johnson et al. 2014a, Domschrader et al. 2009).
Johnson and colleagues (2014b) summarise previous research linked to a New Zealand DRE initiative, ‘What’s the Plan, Stan?’ (WTPS). This includes findings from national focus group research with teachers (Johnson 2011, Johnson & Ronan 2014) and national survey research with primary school leadership, including principals (Renwick 2012). The overall purpose of review was to test a simple implementation theoretical model as illustrated in Figure 4.4
A WTPS program was sent to all primary schools in New Zealand in 2006 for use in classrooms. To assess attitudes and uptake, survey and focus group research was carried out. A survey was sent to all primary schools in New Zealand, with 1020 being returned (47 per cent return rate). The survey assessed awareness, use of WTPS and implementation deterrents and facilitators (Renwick 2012). For additional research on WTPS, Johnson and colleagues (2011, Johnson & Ronan 2014, Johnston et al. 2014b) employed a mixed methods approach. 5 The survey was carried out across the country in seven of 16 regions to get a representative mix of locales and schools (small, medium, large). This included a mix of rural and urban areas. In the schools (N = 31) that participated, 49 teachers and principals agreed to participate in focus groups. Twelve of these teachers also filled out a survey. Additional research (interviews and focus groups) was carried out with civil defence staff in the regions.
In testing the model, the Renwick study found relatively low to moderate awareness (24 per cent of principals surveyed indicated an awareness of the resource but had not read it, 24 per cent had no awareness). Across survey and focus group findings, teachers appeared receptive to the program (Johnson 2011, Johnson & Ronan 2014). However, they identified significant obstacles to using the program and factors that facilitated use. These are (Johnson et al. 2014b):
Research in Indonesia replicated and extended these findings (Amri et al. 2016), including identifying similar facilitators and deterrents and generating recommendations for the Indonesian context.
Thus, from this set of studies, promoting programs at school through school-wide or Ministry-level support and providing teacher training appear to be critical factors required for scaled implementation and use of a resource. On the other hand, simply creating a resource and disseminating it for voluntary use at local school level, by teachers not aware or confident to deliver it, is likely to lead to low uptake and use (Johnson et al. 2014b, Amri et al. 2016, Ronan 2015b). Implementation efforts that are based on education department and ministry policy infusion that are supported through research findings of the sort reported here would have a better chance of success.
A CSS Framework might have added benefits for children, schools, families and communities, and can be used to help policy-makers and practitioners solve some implementation problems. For example, schools have a duty of care for children’s safety. Given the research on schools drilling, a re-think on drills may be necessary. At the same time, drills are conducted in virtually all schools in Australia and New Zealand. Linking CSS Pillar 2 activities (school disaster management that includes drilling) with Pillar 3 (disaster risk reduction and resilience education) may help solve this duty of care problem. Thus, creating a brief education program and companion brief teacher training that uses drills (and drill simulations) as the leveraging point might enhance effective implementation potential. Linking school drilling with a broader CSS-driven risk reduction and resilience educational school planning agenda would be thought to produce benefits for children, households and schools. If such an implementation effort is coupled with local emergency management agency partnerships, identified in the research as an implementation facilitator, this would enhance the chances of CC-DRR DRE implementation.
A lack of teacher training is a significant implementation deterrent as reported by teachers. There are examples of national teacher training approaches, including those that use internet technology for large scale and relatively low cost dissemination. Perhaps the best example of widespread dissemination and uptake is in Turkey (Petal & Sanduvac 2012). However, implementation of pre- or in-service teacher training approaches requires accompanying evaluations of effectiveness. To date, with Turkey as an exception, no data are available on DRE teacher training effectiveness. Teacher training is a problem that clearly needs more attention.
Part of a co-development process with the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC CC-DRR project end users, is a new research-informed, CC-DRR Practice Framework tool that evaluates the internal workings of DRE programs, including program design, monitoring, evaluation and implementation.
Systematic testing of CC-DRR outcomes and implementation can be carried out through theoretically-driven evaluation models (i.e. to test CC-DRR models systematically and consistently). Based on a comprehensive review of the literature (Johnson et al. 2016), models available for testing program outcomes and implementation and the accompanying questions they answer, respectively, are:
Johnson and co-authors (2016) provide more details on each of the models in a CC-DRR context, alongside examples from recent research. Advantages of these models are that they are reasonably pragmatic; a necessary consideration for implementation in settings that develop and carry out CC-DRR DRE programming (Johnson et al. 2014b).
Within a theory-driven evaluation model, benefit-cost analysis and cost effectiveness research is important. Cost-relevant analyses link first to program theory matrix-driven evaluations and provide data on larger scale implementation and evaluation. Costing analyses are deemed an important consideration of politicians and policy-makers. Regarding space considerations, the discussion here is limited to summary words. In a review of cost-effective measures for disasters, particularly earthquakes, Kenny (2012) makes the following data-based conclusion:
Theoretically, in costing terms, increasing community awareness, knowledge and skills may be cost-effective (Gibbs et al. 2015). According to Kelman (2014), ‘the more structural a measure, the less cost-effective it usually is…’ (p. 2). Positive benefit-cost ratios for a range of social solutions have been reported (Kelman 2014, see also Rose et al. 2007). For example, a major cause of flood-related deaths, both in Australia and overseas, is drowning due to risk-taking, which may well be largely preventable through non-costly means. This would be true whether in relation to driving or in the case of children and youth walking, swimming or playing in flooded waters (Gissing et al. 2016, Haynes et al. 2016). In bushfires, a major cause of deaths and property losses is a lack of household mitigation and preparedness leading to late evacuation and poorly-prepared properties (Whittaker et al. 2013, Haynes et al. 2010). Thus, in both floods and bushfires, compared to the costs of response (rescue and recovery operations), both economic and social investment in prevention and mitigation efforts through community-based education programs would save lives and, in some cases, a considerable amount of money (e.g. in Australian bushfires, Gibbs et al. 2015). However, in terms of community-level education programs, research has not yet been conducted, and is necessary, to evaluate the cost-savings potential in relation to CC-DRR/DRE programs.
One of the ways forward in CC-DRR research is for researchers to partner with end users in emergency management agencies, schools (including children and personnel), policy contexts (state, territory and federal departments and emergency management agencies), and others to create and implement effective and cost-effective CC-DRR initiatives, including disaster resilience education programs. One way is to build research-informed capacities in the sector. Another is to co-develop a set of research-driven tools with end users that include:
As part of this toolbox, evaluating outcome effectiveness and implementation with theory-driven evaluation models would assist. Importantly, these tools have to take account of agency and school resource issues and ensure that they are pragmatic and actually can, and will, be used. Given the progress in theory development and research to date, these developments can translate into a research-informed toolbox that helps CC-DRR programs be effective and be implemented in consistent, scaled ways that take account of factors that in the past have led to their more sporadic use.
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This review paper is part of larger scoping, review and project planning for a three-year Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC project on ‘Building best practice in child-centred disaster risk reduction’. Funding support from the CRC is gratefully acknowledged.
Professor Kevin R Ronan is Professorial Research Fellow in Clinical Psychology, School of Health, Human and Social Sciences at CQUniversity Australia.
Dr Katharine Haynes is a human geographer at Risk Frontiers, Macquarie University, working in the field of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
Dr Briony Towers is a Research Fellow in child-centred disaster reduction at the Centre for Risk and Community Safety, RMIT University, Melbourne.
Dr Eva Alisic leads the Trauma Recovery Lab at Monash University.
Nick Ireland is Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation Manager with Save the Children.
Avianto Amri is a PhD student at Risk Frontiers, Macquarie University currently researching child-centred approach on disaster risk reduction.
Susan Davie is the Manager of Community Connections at Victorian State Emergency Service.
Dr Marla Petal is Senior Advisor for Education and Risk Reduction for Save the Children.
1 These are also referred to as ‘action-oriented key messages for DRR’.
3 Note that all of these link Pillar 2 with Pillar 3.
4 Another implementation framework worth mentioning given it is currently being used in some emergency management research settings to guide implementation efforts is the consolidated implementation framework for research (Damschroder et al. 2009).
5 Mixed methods approaches combine both qualitative data-gathering (focus groups) with quantitative methods (surveys).