This year the premier annual conference for the emergency management sector, AFAC18 powered by INTERSCHUTZ, returned to Perth for the first time in six years. Over 2,800 attendees came together to explore the changes to their industry and the communities they protect, informed by the latest in emergency management research and practice.
The event was held at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre in conjunction with the inaugural AIDR Australian Disaster Resilience Conference (ADRC), bringing the critical topics of emergency services and disaster resilience under the same roof.
The four-day event, from 5-8 September, centred on the theme ‘Changing Lives in a Changing World’ and provided stimulating thought and discussion on how change is fast becoming the new normal for emergency services and how the sector can change itself for the better.
“The conference theme changing lives in a changing world encouraged attendees to think about the future of fire and emergency services and the direction of our industry,” AFAC CEO Stuart Ellis AM said. “The impressive schedule of speakers on stage and an extensive display of technology, equipment at the expo helped us to imagine what is possible for the sector, and the partnership with ADRC allows us to take a more holistic approach to protecting our communities. ”
The conference opened with the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC Research Forum, providing insight into the ways research shapes emergency services and how it can be embedded into practice.
Senior Principal Research Scientist of the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions WA Dr Neil Burrows opened the program by tackling the conflicting evidence between bushfire observations and simulations, urging land managers to question bushfire science that contradicts their experience. Chief Executive of the Australian Academy of Science Anna-Maria Arabia followed, suggesting scientists deepen their relationships with policy leaders and improve their communication skills to better influence national and regional policy development.
In recognition of ADRC’s launch, many speakers took the stage to address the importance of disaster resilience. President Obama’s former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate opened the proceedings by sharing the ‘seven deadly sins’ of emergency management he has identified over the course of 500 Presidentially-declared disasters. Mr Fugate said the public is a resource, not a liability during disasters and when it comes to saving lives “it’s not just uniforms and lights and sirens, it’s neighbours checking on neighbours.”
Singapore’s Civil Defence Force (SCDF) Commissioner Eric Yap offered another international perspective, presenting the innovations in emergency management driven by the complexities faced on the densely populated and urbanised island state. SCDF is working toward a ‘Nation of Lifesavers’ by 2025, engaging the public through mobile app MyResponder to report and respond to hazard and health emergencies in real time.
First Assistant Secretary of the National Resilience Taskforce Mark Crosweller AFSM brought the topic back home, taking a philosophical perspective on the importance of identifying our vulnerabilities to develop our resilience. Individualism, materialism and a separation from nature has eroded social cohesion and community resilience ahead of a challenging fire season.
Safety was the focal point of an entertaining presentation from former NASA Astronaut Mike Mullane that opened the third day of the conference. He drew comparisons between space exploration and the emergency service sector as both high risk, high pressure environments where people must put their lives in their colleague’s hands. He used the 1986 Challenger tragedy as a grave example of the importance of upholding best safety practice.
Strong leadership is a key component of safety and the subject of Dr Dana Born’s research at the Centre for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Although there have been over 1,000 studies of leadership, there is little evidence that any set of traits ensure effectiveness. Dr Born identified this as a good thing, because it destroys the concept of a leadership mould and celebrates individuality and distinctiveness.
The conference program was populated with panel discussions, inviting attendees to share and discuss issues at the current core of the emergency management sector. Prescribed burning, Indigenous partnerships, volunteering and public warnings were all debated, with positive engagement from the audience. Other topics popular with attendees included mental health and wellbeing, climate change and diversity within the sector.
Last year at AFAC17, AFAC CEO Stuart Ellis and President Paul Baxter announced a new partnership with Male Champions of Change that began an active effort to move towards gender equality, inclusion and a broader goal of culture change throughout the fire and emergency services sector. One year on, they returned to the stage to share insights from the ‘listen and learn’ engagement sessions undertaken across the industry.
Achievements in the sector were recognised at the opening ceremony, with Dr Simon Heemstra of the NSW Rural Fire Service taking the Laurie Lavelle Award for his dedication to fire behaviour research and the SA Metropolitan Fire Service received the Stewart and Heaton Award for leading practice in mental health. Zoe Mounsey of Fire and Emergency NZ was awarded the Individual Motorola Solutions Knowledge Innovation Award, and Bushfires NT were celebrated with the agency equivalent. The Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC awarded their Special Recognition Award for research support and advocacy to John Schauble from Emergency Management Victoria, the Outstanding Contribution to Research Award to Dr Melanie Taylor and the Special Recognition Award for Early Career Researcher Dr Briony Towers.
Barry Kennedy from the NSW Rural Fire Service Association won the AFAC and Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC lucky dip prize, taking home a large trauma first aid kit donated by St John Ambulance WA.
Proceedings from the conference are available to view at view on the AFAC website at www.afac.com.au/events/proceedings.
The event will return to Melbourne next year, 27-30 August 2019, with AFAC19 running concurrently with the Institution of Fire Engineers national conference.
Delegates were given time to explore the exhibition at the Welcome Drinks on the opening day and given the opportunity to meet their fellow delegates and exhibitors.
Exhibitors included all of the major truck manufacturers such as Volvo, Scania, Mercedes-Benz, ISUZU, Fuso, HINO, Rosenbauer, Magirus/IVECO and TATRA.
Other exhibitor categories included PPE, fire suppression, aerial solutions, rescue and respiratory equipment, confined space equipment, first aid, communication technologies, detection systems, fire station high-speed doors and dispatch systems and more.
The exhibition featured several product launches. Amongst these were the all-new Scania CrewCab; CITIC / ENGYTECH RXR Mobile Reconnaissance & Firefighting Vehicle; Humanihut innovative field infrastructure system; All Sat Communications satellite communication solutions; Code 3 and BMW’s new emergency response and police vehicles; Spookfish launched new aerial real time condition imagery technology; TPL Systems new critical paging messaging systems. From Germany, Weber Rescue Systems launched a series of Rapid Intervention Tools (RIT).
The live demonstration area proved to be a huge drawcard to attendees and TV crews alike! This year’s demonstrations included:
- CITIC / ENGYTECH RXR Mobile Reconnaissance & Firefighting Vehicle
- Husqvarna DXR140 Demolition Robot
- PVStop – Solar Solution
- Deakin University – FLAIM Trainer
- Fire System Supplies – Deployed Logix ASAP18 Shelter
- ARRO – Road Crash Rescue
- Roadrunner Parts – Foxfury Nomad 360
Another feature of the exhibition was the Expo Stage which had over forty presenters on the program. The Expo Stage was open to all attendees and provided a broad variety of content, sessions included topics on the future of firefighting and technological advances, resilience planning, and PPE advances right through to climate change impacts.
Simulators were also popular destinations on the showfloor. The RAC virtual reality helicopter and the DFES truck simulator being the highlights.
Also on display was the newly commissioned DFES Incident Control Vehicle, which was due to leave for the Kimberley region of Western Australia the day after AFAC18. This contrasted nicely with the range of boutique classic appliances, again supplied by DFES.
AFAC19 powered by INTERSCHUTZ will take place at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre from 27-30 August 2019 and will see a larger exhibition of 12,000 sqm. At the time of writing over 50% of the larger exhibition space had been reserved. Further details available from Rob Keen, the AFAC19 Sales Manager (email@example.com).
For more information, go to www.hannoverfairs.com.au