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Course helps people deal with major emergencies


27 May 2004
Giving people the skills to help communities cope with major emergencies and disasters is the aim of a unique postgraduate program offered by Southern Cross University’s (SCU) School of Social Sciences.

Program co-ordinator and senior lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at the Coffs Harbour campus, Ms Jean Griffiths, said the online program had attracted students from all around the world.

“They are usually already working in the emergency management or humanitarian fields or have done so in the past,” Ms Griffiths said.

The development of a community development focussed Emergency Management program came as a result of a push by the United Nation’s to reduce the effects of disasters.

“After spending a great deal of time in research and consultation nationally and internationally we enrolled our first group of students in the Community Development program in about 1999.”

Ms Griffiths said the program allowed students from around the world to work together and learn from each other’s perspective, culture and experiences. It has attracted students from a variety of fields and backgrounds such as United Nations staff, a Red Cross disaster specialist, former royal bodyguard, land mine consultant and emergency services personnel.

“This is a truly specialised program offered nowhere else in Australia or around the world … and you don’t have to leave home to do it because it is all online.”

Students learn to consider the social justice principles inherent in community development and the financial, legal and ethical consequences of disasters. As well, they critique models of risk assessment and examine the social, psychological, political and cultural consequences of disasters and emergencies. Research skills are included as students undertake projects in their area of interest in emergency management.

One of the recent graduates of the Graduate Diploma of Community Development (Emergency Management) is Janet Philemon. She is a Red Cross volunteer in Papua New Guinea who has seen first-hand the devastation caused by natural disasters. Not long after starting her work she witnessed an earthquake and then a volcano, which erupted and wiped out a whole town leaving 60,000 people homeless.

“To make matters worse a second disaster was occurring around me with the evacuation of around 8,000 people to Lae.”

Ms Philemon said the course was ideal for anyone interested in the human face of emergency management.

“It provides a good selection of subjects for anyone with an interest in the area, but not necessarily qualifications in community development. The first units provide a good introduction to the basics of community development theory with an application to emergency management,” Ms Philemon said.

“Having students from all backgrounds such as nursing, community development and the military, and resident in many parts of the world, makes for interesting discussions. The course appears to attract mature students who bring with them a vast array of experiences which also adds to the richness of the program.”

The Community Development and Emergency Management program includes Graduate Certificate, Diploma and Masters courses. Information is available from the website:, email [email protected] or contact Mark Wittleton on 02 66593210.

Media contact: Brigid Veale, SCU Media Liaison, 66593006 or m. 0439 680 748.