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Red Cross has been responding to emergencies and providing humanitarian assistance in Australia since 1914. We are committed to strengthening and extending our emergency services work to assist all Australians prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies.

Using AIIMS for a welfare response

During emergency operations, Australian Red Cross, like many emergency management agencies, uses the Australasian Inter-Service Incident Management System (AIIMS). This provides Red Cross within a common incident management framework, and allows Red Cross to better coordinate with other organisations with a role to play in responding to an emergency. Red Cross has also adapted the system so that it can cover some of its broader organisational priorities, such as recovery and maintaining business continuity as a service provider. As a result the Red Cross AIIMS structure has a number of additional roles and responsibilities for various personnel during an emergency.

Background

Australian Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Internationally and in Australia, Red Cross is called upon to respond to emergencies. As is the case for many emergency service organisations, the role of Red Cross in emergencies is determined by state and territory emergency management arrangements. Although there may be some additional roles in some states and territories, Red Cross consistently provides psychosocial support and Register.Find.Reunite in Australia. Red Cross coordinates a volunteer response, providing relief services to ensure that people’s basic needs are met by providing psychosocial support. All volunteers are trained in psychological first aid.

Much of Red Cross day-to-day work in emergency services is focussed on psychosocial preparedness and recovery. Red Cross works to help individuals, organisations and communities become better prepared and more resilient to emergencies and recover after disasters.

Red Cross Structure

Red Cross plays a broader role in communities in addition to emergency management. With a network of thousands of members and volunteers, Red also provides services to people who are isolated or vulnerable. Some of Red Cross’ programs include support for newly arrived refugees, daily phone calls to check on the wellbeing of isolated or elderly people and food education programs. As a not-for-profit organisation Red Cross raises funds to support the range of services it provides to the community, and relies heavily on its volunteer workforce. During an emergency, local Red Cross people (whether volunteers, members or people accessing our services) have strong community networks and are a good source of local information. They are also a priority for Red Cross, as the organisation needs to keep delivering other services even during emergencies.

As Red Cross is a national organisation with some consistent roles under emergency management arrangements, it can share training resources, capacity, knowledge and skills across the country. For example, volunteers and resources were moved across the country during the 2015 Pinery Fires in South Australia, the 2016 Waroona fires in Western Australia and the 2015 Daly River floods in the Northern Territory

Red Cross and AIIMS

Red Cross has been using AIIMS since late 2008. Red Cross uses this common incident management framework to ensure effective management of emergency response activities. The AIIMS structure means we can also work with emergency service agencies in a coordinated way and align with the way emergency services work, and enables Red Cross to speak a common language internally and externally during an event.

Red Cross’ use of AIIMS has evolved over the years. Red Cross has a consistent Incident Management Team fundamentals training package for staff and volunteers, as an introduction to AIIMS. In recent years, Red Cross has also trained a group of people from around the country to be Red Cross Commanders and Planning Officers, to allow for consistency and relieve local teams during longer events.

AIIMS is instigated during emergency response or recovery operations by the appointment of a Red Cross Commander by the State Manager Emergency Services or State Director. The Red Cross Commander is responsible for managing the operational aspects of the incident. The role reports to the relevant state/territory Emergency Services Manager.

Shirley and Raymond Robertson have been married for more than 20 years. The Burnett River went through their Bundaberg, Queensland home at more than 70km/hr in January 2013, forcing the couple to move to an evacuation centre. Raymond says the only thing that helped them through this devastating time was the support of Red Cross volunteers.

Shirley and Raymond Robertson have been married for more than 20 years. The Burnett River went through their Bundaberg, Queensland home at more than 70km/hr in January 2013, forcing the couple to move to an evacuation centre. Raymond says the only thing that helped them through this devastating time was the support of Red Cross volunteers.

Adapting AIIMS

Red Cross has adapted AIIMS to fulfil its commitments in state and territory emergency arrangements and to uphold the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. While the AIIMS Key Principles and overall structure remains unchanged, some additional roles are included in a larger Red Cross Incident Management Team (IMT) to meet the needs of the local communities and other structures established to manage business as usual arrangements within the complex organisation. Red Cross needed to adapt AIIMS for three main reasons: Red Cross has other priorities during an emergency; Red Cross is a large and complex organisation and the role Red Cross can play in recovery.

Red Cross has used AIIMS to resource other priorities, like the appointment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Liaison Officer role during the Daly River floods in 2015. Daly River is an Aboriginal community south of Darwin. In December 2015 and January 2016 an entire community was evacuated because of flooding and housed at an evacuation centre in Darwin for a number of weeks. During the Daly River emergency, Red Cross was approached by the Northern Territory Department of Children and Families to manage the evacuation centre and assist with people return to the community. Red Cross installed an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Liaison Officer, dedicated to liaising with the affected community and ensuring that their needs were met and feeding that information back in to the IMT. The addition of this role is in recognition of Red Cross’ everyday work with local communities. This role allowed Red Cross to continue working in the community in a manner that was consistent with its community development and place-based approach.

A number of internal operational reviews found a lack of clarity between operational leadership and operational decision making during activations at Red Cross. This occurred with reports of AIIMS personnel making decisions beyond their decision making authority, operational decisions being made by Red Cross leaders outside of the AIIMS structure and personnel being unclear about where to go for decision making. To manage the complexity of the large organisation, Red Cross established Incident Taskforce, a model for strategic and operational decision making to support emergency activations. The role of the Incident Taskforce is to set, monitor and evaluate the strategic objectives of Red Cross for the incident in accordance with the state-based agreements and the national strategy. The taskforce works to ensure that business continuity arrangements are in place, so that Red Cross fulfils its other obligations during the event. The taskforce also manages potential risks and ensures that Red Cross doesn’t commit beyond its capacity.

The Incident Taskforce automatically comes into effect in a Red Cross response to a level three event or at the discretion of State Manager or National Manager of Emergency Services. Considerations for triggering the Incident Taskforce include the political nature of the event, media interest, risk to the organisation and number of simultaneous events e.g. numerous level one events on one day in a single state.

Finally, Red Cross has adapted AIIMS to direct resources towards recovery. Red Cross has long advocated for the importance of medium to long term recovery. In recognition of the importance of recovery planning, a new position is being considered to help with planning the transition from immediate recovery to medium recovery. Red Cross’ unique ability to move staff, volunteers, resources and expertise across state borders allows it to have the capacity to consider recovery planning immediately while meeting its obligations under state arrangements. Red Cross’ role in response naturally lends itself to the recovery and preparedness space, and establishing a resourced IMT to manage a response allows for greater knowledge, access and understanding of some of the key issues in the community which is beneficial in early recovery planning.

Conclusion

To ensure a consistent approach and a well coordinated response, Red Cross has adapted the Australasian Inter-service Incident Management System. This allows Red Cross to fulfil its diverse requirements under emergency management arrangements in each state and territory as well as meeting delivery of community services. This involves training volunteers and having groups of people trained centrally so they can move wherever there is need.

Red Cross will continue to identify gaps in the system and make sure that it is aligning with its organisational priorities, whether that’s how the organisation works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities, or long-term recovery planning.

Ultimately Red Cross has been able to adapt the AIIMS structure to ensure it meets the needs of the organisation as a community service provider, as well as an organisation with a role to play in emergency management.

For more information, go to www.redcross.org.au/emergency-services

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Melissa Morgan is the Emergency Services Team Manager Planning (NSW) for Australian Red Cross where she is responsible for coordinating preparedness, response and recovery projects and programs. Melissa holds a double degree in Communications and International Studies.