Gina Jones- From water child to disaster response specialist


Gina Jones working alongside her colleague in the PIEMA Project office at SPC, Fiji.

Gina Jones works as a Regional Disaster Management Specialist with the Geosciences, Energy & Maritime Division of the Pacific Community (SPC). In this blog she shares her journey from a young surfer to disaster response specialist. This blog is part of a series dedicated to the collaboration between the Pacific Community (SPC) and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

I have always had a real love for the environment, and I guess you could call me a water child. I grew up surfing, paddle boarding and diving. This is quite normal for someone who was born and raised in Wollongong (New South Wales)! But as long as I remember I have also been concerned about the health of the oceans and the ocean communities. I was always sure that there must be a way we can do things better.

From an early age I believed the solutions to environmental protection would be found in science. So, after high school I did a Bachelor of Science in applied physical geography and, after a short break, ended up working for the New South Wales state emergency service’s operations section (New South Wales SES). It is an agency that responds to all kinds of natural hazards in Australia, such as floods, storms and tsunamis.

In 2014, I joined the RedR Roster, which allowed me to apply for deployments through RedR// deployments through the Australian Government’s civilian deployment program, Australia Assists. My first assignment was 2017 in the Solomon Islands working with the country’s national disaster management office on processes and training activities. It was not my first experience in the Pacific, having previously done a similar role in Vanuatu, but the amazing experience with RedR inspired me to stay in the Pacific. In 2018 I had the good fortune of being offered a role with SPC with the Disaster and Community Resilience Programme, and I have never looked back!

The interesting thing about this job is that SPC is not a humanitarian organisation, but because it is active almost everywhere in the region and has great technical specialists, they're often the first port of call for when a disaster strikes - The countries often come to SPC first. So, my job here is to improve the response processes, making them more standardized and consistent.

One of the key projects I am working on is called Pacific Islands Emergency Management Alliance (PIEMA). PIEMA is about getting the emergency services or disaster response agencies of Pacific Island countries (within countries and at the regional level) to work more closely together, not only to respond as a group, but also to train and plan collectively, build trust, foster teamwork, and provide leadership of the region’s emergency response sector.

PIEMA works across 14 in different countries. In each of those countries, we're doing something a little bit different. Our priorities are really driven by the country requirements, which makes my role very varied. One day, I might be facilitating a training session with some of the fire agencies in Samoa, and then the next day I might be working on a set of standard operating procedures for the Fiji national emergency operations center. I can say it looks quite different from one day to another!

Of course, 2020 put an abrupt stop to all these field missions, but the COVID-19 pandemic was also an opportunity for us to reinvent the way we work. We spent the past year and a half building a lot of online modules so that we still have that training accessible throughout the region to both PIEMA members, as well as NGOs, government ministries and other organizations whose staff might be called into an Emergency Operation Center (EOC) to work during a disaster.

Being part of RedR but deployed to SPC is an amazing feeling. I have the privilege of working with SPC, an organization with no equal in the Pacific region when it comes to delivering scientific and technical assistance to the countries; and at the same time, I am fully supported by RedR, whenever I need some assistance, like extra training for example.

We talk quite often; I report back on what I do at SPC, and together we explore ideas to push agendas that are at the core of both RedR and SPC’s values: gender and inclusion for example. I am very proud to do this job, especially as an Australian. As Australians, we're neighbors to the Pacific islands. I really believe that we're better together because what happens in the Pacific affects Australia and vice versa, especially environmentally. And as neighbours, we also understand projects aimed at supporting the Pacific must be constantly adapted to an ever-changing environment. We are at the frontlines of climate change after all! That’s why Australia's flexible and predictable funding to projects is paramount in helping us do some good work.

Look at PIEMA for example. After a good start, we've realized over time that the project design didn't get it 100 per cent right, and that we needed to make some tweaks. So, we took the time to have a midterm review to look at things: are they working? Are they not working? If not, what bits need to be removed, added, or be adjusted? If we hadn’t been able to move that funding and adjust the project, then PIEMA wouldn't have been as successful as it possibly could be. Our donors have been extremely supportive with us doing that.

Deep down I am still that same ‘water child’, looking out to the waves and trying to figure out how to make things better. I think that humanity has a lot to learn on how it can stop pollution, explore better ways of producing energy and all those sorts of things that will eventually lead to a cleaner environment. But when I look to the future, I am quite confident that the best solutions are still out there just waiting to discovered.

Blog Category
Blog Post
Geoscience, Energy and Maritime


Gina Jones

Regional Disaster Management Specialist, Geosciences, Energy & Maritime Division, SPC

Gina Jones is a Regional Disaster Management Specialist with the Geosciences, Energy & Maritime Division of the Pacific Community (SPC), a position is supported by RedR (DFAT).