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Local knowledge vital to success of new flood research centre

The northern New South Wales town of Lismore has emerged from the devastation of Cyclone Debbie with a new National Centre for Flood Research (NCFR).

The cyclone wrought havoc on the city when it tore through 18 months ago, causing the Wilsons River to breach its banks and bringing on the worst flood in 43 years.

Lismore’s history of flooding means it can act as a ‘living laboratory’ of floods and their aftermath. This includes going beyond engineering and hydrological considerations of flood management to look at the impacts on communities and ecosystems.

The NCFR, which is based at Southern Cross University, will take a multidisciplinary approach and draw on expertise from around the country and internationally.

“We believe a whole range of disciplines are important to flood research, with social, economic, legal, ecological and psychological perspectives all being relevant,” Foundation Director Professor Caroline Sullivan said.

“We are seeking guidance from both scientific experts and affected communities about what type of flood research is really needed.”

This includes the founder of the UK Flood Hazard Research Centre Professor Edmund Penning-Rowsell, who did a study of flooding in Lismore in the 1980s. More recently Penning-Rowsell was the lead author of a report on managing the economic aspects of flood risk in the UK.

As well as international experts, Sullivan said the centre will drawn on the knowledge of long-time Lismore residents, who can provide valuable insights into what should be done before, during and after a flood.

“Knowledge about flooding in a region like Lismore goes back many generations, and is documented both in historical records and Indigenous stories,” Sullivan said.

“Combining this kind of local knowledge with scientific expertise can provide novel insights into how we can both reduce the impacts of floods and respond to them better when they happen.”