Bushfires and emergencies are a global phenomena and with climate change will bring more frequent and more severe weather events, resulting in more frequent and more intense emergencies. These emergencies will have impacts and consequences that we may not have experienced before and it will be on a grand scale and reach across the globe.
One current example that I have been working on is the impact and consequences of bushfires in Californian with Victoria and the State of California have many similarities in profile and risk when it comes to bushfire, and parts of California have experienced large losses of both life and property over consecutive years.
In particular, the Californian 2018 Woolsey Fire devastated large areas of the County’s of Los Angeles and Ventura and in particular the Cities of Malibu and Calabasas where the community members acknowledge they live in some of the most bushfire prone areas, understand that bushfires will happen again and the outcome will be the same or worse.
Recently I have had the opportunity to lead workshops in some of the affected communities to discuss new policy, guidelines and approaches to bushfire management with policy makers and impacted community members in both Malibu and Calabasas.
These communities are like many Californian communities, with profiles that indicates major bushfires have or potentially will, burn twice within a decade. The Woolsey Fire in November 2018 resulted in 3 people dying and 1600 properties destroyed prompting the discussion to built differently to increase the survival potential and to better prepare communities.
After spending three weeks in California working with and listening to the communities, the agencies and different levels of Government I provide the following reflections of not only California but the post 2009 Victorian Black Saturday Bushfires.
The Victorian 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires Royal Commission described a need for change and provided the opportunity for new approaches that changed and improved fire and then a Victorian Government white paper provided the evidence to move the focus from fire to all hazards. These changes in the emergency management approach in Victoria has been community-centric and has influenced Australia and the world.
It meant as the Emergency Management Commissioner I had overall responsibility for coordination before, during and after major emergencies including management of consequences of natural disasters, human & animal health emergencies, infrastructure emergencies and security emergencies.
This was achieved through a mandate from Government to move from single agencies working as “the emergency services” to progress to an all encompassing emergency management sector with a “we work as one” ethos.
This required moving from a para military command, control and coordination model to an inclusive and broader model that included consequence management, communications and community connection.
We have seen the same outcomes in Victoria and for these Californian communities, it is recognised it’s time to move to a fire resilience model. The focus in the workshops on community connection, resilience and considering new approaches was welcomed and acknowledged as a critical path forward.
This provided for more diverse involvement and discussion with a broad group of key participants that, when overlayed with a “before, during and after” emergencies approach meant an end to end system that was supported by better decision making and better outcomes.
In Victoria, this approach has been fundamental in changing strategic and operational systems providing for an integrated and future looking emergency management system. Importantly, this strategic realignment provided a framework for the inclusion of the public safety and security sectors, the health and environment sectors and the private and public sectors.
We must all acknowledge the emergencies don’t have borders and don’t have territories, so why do emergency management agencies?
The system championed in Victoria focused on an “all communities, all emergencies” approach which has lead to the development of stronger partnerships with communities including geographic or placed based communities to include functional communities such as tourism, business and faith based communities with all levels of government. Victoria had a real impetus for change when the State experienced so much devastation and loss of life in 2009.
However, these same issues and opportunities for change are now being seen across Australia and in the world. It’s important to share the lessons and experiences to ensure communities are not just included but respected, and true partnerships formed.
The future challenges the Public Safety and Emergency Management sectors across the globe will continue to face are many and none will be confronted alone.
The impact of climate change across the world will continue to bring more frequent and more severe weather events and provide the backdrop for more intense emergencies including bushfires, heatwaves, severe wether event, extending to new emergencies in the human and animal health areas.
This, coupled to a growing global population and community expectation, will challenge the current methods and capabilities of the traditional emergency management sector.
So, if the model needs to be different, then what does that mean? A future looking, agile community centric model that integrates emergency management into the mainstream of every day life and business.
Therefore, no longer is emergency management a solution only when a major emergencies occur but the principles of emergency management encompass the before, during and after, be integrated, be community centric and connected to ‘business as usual’ activities and to continuity of services for community and business.
The before, during and after model is all encompassing and if underpinned by a community connected model highlighting wellbeing, liveability, sustainability and viability provides the new model the will assist integrate into other non emergency programs that is critical to achieving ‘we working as one’ the strength is in the ‘WE”.
Leading transformational change programs that reform and make real change has been a key to effective success in Victoria. Using his extensive experience in reform, community connection and resilience building is something that I remain passionate about and committed to and will continue in my new business venture. One of the things that I have learned during my career is that successful change programs need to have many fathers or if not successful will become the orphan. Change requires a true commitment to achieve sustainable outcomes.
Change is challenging for many people and organisations with traditional ways of operating and thinking that have worked for many years – until they don’t any more. Overcoming this means that in the planning and execution of any change program, the culture and the value of the people involved must come in to play and requires special attention to understand what’s in their hearts and minds.
Achieving change in Victoria meant challenging the traditional models and placing the community at the centre of a new model. This included championing unified information systems, sponsoring a culture of information sharing and developing a sharp and deliberate focus on better decision making with the community as a central partner in emergency management has all been pivotal to success. A cornerstone program was firming up the concept of community resilience, with a workable framework underpinning future emergency management models.
To highlight the importance of transformational change programs that have made a real difference in Victoria, with better community outcomes as the reasoning behind their development and implementation. Two exceptional examples are the development of a cloud based common operating platform for emergencies and integration of information delivered to the community through an all emergencies app and website was a first in Australia. With the second being the advance of increased firebombing capability through the development of night time helicopter hover loading and firebombing has also become a reality, a first for Victoria, Australia and the world.
Therefore, the future for the emergency management and public safety sectors across the world, will need to focus the development of people, both career and volunteer personnel and working closely with communities to deliver quality outcomes remain keys to success. This, coupled to partnerships across other sectors and understanding the unique qualities and attributes of the community, are necessary to underpin the ability to work better together. This extends to sponsoring an inclusive and diverse approach for teams, organisations and communities, and remains a key priority.
The world is changing and so must the public safety and emergency management sectors. We have done well but if we don’t plan to change we won’t, and we will let ourselves down as well as the community we serve.
The opportunity remains working together locally, nationally and globally and further developing the role of community members and business in strategically planning for the challenges that will continue to grow.
There’s always more that can be done, and harnessing the opportunity for better community outcomes remains a fundamental necessity for me, and for the emergency management and public safety sectors across the world.
That’s why public safety and emergency management is a shared responsibility and a shared obligation.
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