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Disaster geographies

Dr Christine Eriksen
School of Geography and Sustainable Communities

Understanding the factors that connect people and the environment

The prospect of bushfires is part and parcel of life in rural areas and on the fringe of cities in the warmer and drier months in many regions of the world and geographer Dr Christine Eriksen has spent the past decade studying the trade-offs people make when they choose to live in bushfire prone areas.

A “simple but fundamental lesson” learned early on as an undergraduate student is what attracted the senior lecturer to this field of research.

“You cannot understand people without understanding the environment they live in, and you cannot understand the environment without understanding the people who live in it,” Dr Eriksen says.

Photo shows an out of control spot fire in the United States. Credit: Marcus Kauffman.

“Untangling the environmental history, natural hazards, social vulnerability, asymmetric power relations, social injustices, local knowledge and emotions that connect people and the environment intrigues me and keeps me busy in my endeavour to better understand social dimensions of disasters.”

Dr Eriksen has delved deep into the social dimensions of disaster vulnerability and resilience by engaging with relevant groups – residents in at-risk areas, bushfire survivors, Indigenous fire stewards, firefighters and emergency management organisations in Australia and North America.  

Through this process, Dr Eriksen has exposed differences in how men and women prepare for and respond to bushfires emergencies and has ultimately accelerated the recognition of gender as a key issue affecting all aspects of emergency management and bushfire safety processes.

“My research has informed organisational approaches to community engagement, workplace culture, and wildfire management policy and practice, nationally and internationally.

“It has championed the benefits of gender awareness, equity and equality through a sustained, long-term research commitment that built trust and awareness,” Dr Eriksen explains.

Dr Eriksen has helped develop a preparedness kit to assist women before and during emergencies. She has provided expert advice on sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the wildfire profession in the US; she has raised awareness about gendered fatality trends; and she has helped educate the general public through regular engagement with mainstream media.

From 2019, Dr Eriksen will be injecting her expertise into a new subject at UOW: Disaster Geographies. Through this, Dr Eriksen is seeking to inspire and equip the next generation with the awareness and knowledge to address the social dimensions that underpin disaster vulnerability and resilience.