Disaster Relief Australia: Leading from the front

Disaster Relief Australia unites the skills and experience of military veterans with emergency services specialists to rapidly deploy disaster relief teams in Australia and around the world 

Disaster Relief Australia (DRA) was launched in 2020, after a tenure, as Team Rubicon Australia, which was founded in August 2016. As a fully independent Australian-registered charity, their mission is to unite the skills and experience of military veterans with emergency services specialists to rapidly deploy disaster relief teams in Australia and around the world in the wake of natural disasters. Through continued service, Disaster Relief Australia seeks to provide these veterans with the three things they lose after leaving the military: a purpose, gained through disaster relief; community, built by serving with others; and identity, from recognising the impact one individual can make. By pairing the skills and experiences of military veterans with emergency responders, medical professionals, and technology solutions, DRA aims to provide the greatest service and make the biggest positive impact possible.

Anastasia Bougesis, Chief Development Officer at DRA explains their service to the community as “psychologically helping people take the next step in their life to rebuild and move forward after disaster has struck”.  She explains their purpose as “empowering communities”, and the help of brands like STIHL as, “STIHL empowers DRA to empower communities, as DRA are there on the ground, making a material difference to people’s lives”.

DRA’s first disaster relief operation in Australia was launched in April 2017 in response to the devastation wrought by Tropical Cyclone Debbie. This operation, dubbed Operation Dunlop, DRA deployed to the hard-hit town of Proserpine in North Queensland. For over three weeks, 62 volunteers worked tirelessly to help the greater Proserpine community recover from the disaster. More importantly, this first operation proved that military veterans were ideally suited to conduct this type of work.

In 2020, they took the step to become a truly unique Australian organisation. With over 2,500 members and six fully operational Disaster Relief Teams in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Townsville, Adelaide and Canberra, DRA now represents a significant capability. In the short three years of operation, they have proven capability on 20 disaster relief operations, both domestically and internationally, helping thousands of disaster survivors.  

Since their conception in 2016, Disaster Relief Australia has built an incredible capability to provide unparalleled relief assistance across the full range of global natural disasters, and the last 12 months have demonstrated just that. In 2019 and 2020 alone, the DRA team have provided relief to areas and communities across the country ravaged by drought, flooding and bushfires, and are now in preparations ahead of what’s typically a critical time ahead of the bushfire season. 

2019 was the start of a year like no other with an unprecedented number of bushfires taking place across the country. Between October 2019 and March 2020, several teams from Disaster Relief Australia were deployed to different sites in Victoria, New South Wales, Queenland and South Australia to provide relief to communities that were ravaged by bushfires. 

In October 2019, DRA dispatched a team to Casino, NSW after it was identified as an area with significant need for assistance, alongside neighbouring town, Rappsville. Damage reports estimated that 64 homes were destroyed and 23 damaged, along with 7 facilities that were destroyed, and a further 9 damaged. To add to this list, 153 outbuildings were also destroyed, and a further 70 damaged. DRA conducted a Type 4 Operation which consisted of 67 volunteers and included the removal of debris, tree felling, chainsaw operations, damage assessments, shifting ops and ‘as required’, clean up efforts, and spontaneous volunteer management to affected communities in coordination with local and state authorities. 

Soon after their stint in northern New South Wales, DRA deployed a team to Willawarren, an area not too far from tourist hot spots, Coffs Harbour and Port Maquarie, which was also hit hard by bushfires. By this stage it was late November 2019, and more than 660 homes had been confirmed destroyed in New South Wales alone. For this particular operation, DRA also hosted counterparts from their global network including volunteers from the UK, US and Norway. These personnel were deployed from their home countries to assist the Australian community in a time of need in an operation that lasted well into the new year. 

From January through to March 2020, the DRA team completed several further operations in response to the disastrous bushfire crisis that grappled the nation. They provided recovery relief to some of the areas that were hit the hardest, including East Gippland in Victoria, Cobargo in New South Wales, and Kangaroo Island in South Australia. In a short three-month period, hundreds of volunteers worked tirelessly to support the communities impacted, and still to this day, there are crews on the ground working to clean up the devastating impacts from last season’s bushfires, ahead of the warmer months. 

STIHL understand the importance of reliable and efficient tools to aid in the recovery process after a natural disaster has occurred, and are proud to support a progressive organisation like Disaster Relief Australia through the supply of much needed tools and personal protective gear to enable them to complete their job safely, and effectively, and bring back hope to the many families who have to rebuild their lives.