Over 4,000 practitioners, researchers, critical thinkers, international guests and delegates attended AFAC19 powered by INTERSCHUTZ Conference and Exhibition in Melbourne. This attendance figure was a record for the event.
Australasia’s premier event for the fire and emergency management sector returned to Melbourne for the first time in six years, where ‘a shift to the new norm: riding the wave of change’ was the central theme.
Delegates had the opportunity to explore the concept of change with presentations covering a wide variety of topics including climate change; culture and diversity; land management; prescribed burning; flood mitigation; infrastructure and quantifying risk.
The Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC opened the conference with the annual Research Forum, which investigated the latest scientific research for the sector. The forum connected researchers with practitioners to embed knowledge into practice.
The day concluded with the conference welcome and awards ceremony, where key innovators and leaders were acknowledged for their contributions to the sector.
Keynote Speaker Dr Robert Glasser opened day two of the conference with his discussion on our preparations for an emerging era of disasters. Dr Glasser used his experiences as the Former Head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and his role as the Special Representative to the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction to paint a picture of the impacts of climate change.
Dr Glasser’s presentation set the tone for the conference as delegates began to think about how to manage and respond to change.
Keynote Eliane Miles then explored how Australian communities are adapting to change. Ms Miles prompted the audience to think ahead to 2030 and the steps to undertake in advance to enhance resilience and preparedness.
Ms Miles spoke about the importance of a whole-of-community approach to preparing for natural hazards and emergencies.
Britain’s first full-time female firefighter Josephine Reynolds was a popular program highlight, as she discussed diversity and inclusion in the sector. Ms Reynolds was inspired to attend and present at AFAC19 powered by INTERSCHUTZ after reading statistics on the low number of female firefighters in Australia, prompting her to ask the question ‘where are the role models?’
Jurisdictional practitioners then shared the bushfire potential in their state for the upcoming summer with the launch of the Australian Seasonal Bushfire Outlook. Australian fire chiefs and commissioners shared their concerns about the areas most affected and delivered the key message that now is the time to prepare.
AFAC19 powered by INTERSCHUTZ offered the largest trade exhibition in the history of the event. At 12,000sqm, delegates were able to witness the latest technology and operations equipment up close with a live demonstrations area, further presentations and 194 exhibitors, including 47 international exhibitors from 17 countries.
After a day filled with fruitful discussions and a busy exhibition, delegates convened for the annual AFAC powered by INTERSCHUTZ gala dinner, where they traded their conference attire for lounge suits and colourful gowns in tune with the evening’s theme of ‘endless summer’.
Day three of the conference opened with New Zealand keynote Dr Lance O’Sullivan, who shared his expertise on positive disruptive leadership. As a self-confessed ‘disruptive troublemaker’, Dr O’Sullivan reflected on the health industry and building foresight to enhance resilience.
Bronwyn Weir followed Dr O’Sullivan with a comprehensive look at the building sector and how the industry has been transforming, particularly after events like the Grenfell Towers.
The day featured presentations on the built environment, fostering inclusive environments, emergency volunteerism and how to empower communities to prepare for the future.
The day concluded with a sombre panel discussion that reflected on the lessons learned since Black Saturday, Australia’s most catastrophic disaster.
Dawn Hartog, Forest Fire Management Victoria; Andrew Stark, Country Fire Service South Australia; Anne Leadbeater, Leadbeater Group; John Richardson, Australian Red Cross and Steve Warrington, Country Fire Authority all shared their perspectives on how the sector has changed in the ten years since the bushfire that claimed 173 lives.
The panellists took note of the cultural shifts that have emerged, and how communities are now considered as a vital resource for emergency planning.
The conference was co-located with the Institution of Fire Engineers Conference and the Australian Disaster Resilience Conference, which ran concurrently during the event.
Delegates at the Australian Disaster Resilience Conference – hosted by the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience – asked the question ‘are we future-ready?’ as presentations covered building resilience and strength in the wake of change and ongoing anomalies in the sector.
Preparations are already underway for AFAC20 powered by INTERSHUTZ, which will take place at the Adelaide Convention Centre and will run from 25-28 August 2020.
For more information, go to afacconference.com.au