The Mirror News

Take a team approach to emergency management

EMERGENCY management needs to develop a team approach across all sectors. That was the overriding theme of ‘Collaboration in Crisis – Preparing South Gippsland’, a presentation by Craig Lapsley, Emergency Management Commissioner of Victoria.

Mr Lapsley’s community information session attracted a full house at South Gippsland Shire Council chambers last Thursday morning.

Attendees included representatives of around 22 local organisations, including the CFA, DELWP (Dept of Environment, ,Land, Water & Planning), Parks Vic, Bass Coast Shire Council, South Gippsland Shire Council, Emergency Management Victoria, Wellington Shire Council, VicRoads, South Gippsland Volunteer Coast Guard, Venus Bay Community Centre, Oakleys Law, WGCMA (West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority), Ausnet Services and Destination Gippsland.

Deputy Mayor Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks, who is also a member of the Deputy Municipal Emergency Management Planning Committee, attended as did South Gippsland Shire Council CEO Tim Tamlin and senior council staff members.

The session was chaired by Council’s Municipal Recovery Manager Penni Ellicott, who introduced Mr Lapsley – Victoria’s first Emergency Management Commissioner (EMC), whose appointment became effective July 1, 2014.

The Emergency Management Commissioner has legislated co-ordination and control responsibilities over major emergencies in the state of Victoria.

As Emergency Management Commissioner, Mr Lapsley has responsibility for co-ordination before, during and after major emergencies, including co-ordinating the management of the consequences of the emergency.

Through the former Fire Services Commissioner, which Mr Lapsley was appointed in 2010, and the establishment of Emergency Management Victoria, there has been a shift within the sector towards an ‘all hazards, all emergencies’ approach to emergency management.

“We need to move from a ‘risk and hazard’ focus to a ‘community’ focus, where for instance, prior understanding of the stress and shock resulting from a crisis can help in formulating plans for recovery,” he said.

He advocates that this approach as a fundamental step in ensuring a systematic and co-ordinated approach before, during and after major emergencies.

“All agencies, businesses, governments, organisations and individuals must work together to create a safer and more resilient community,” Commissioner Lapsley said.

“In the 2009 fires, 2000 homes were lost and 193 people lost their lives. The way emergency recovery and management was set up, it seemed that they would have survived, but that day proved that to be wrong ,” he said, adding that since then it has been clear that a new approach is needed.

Understanding what forms the fabric of a community, its demographic and what is likely to affect its growth over the coming years plays a key role, he said, in determining a plan to follow.

Mr Lapsley pointed out that Victoria’s population is likely to increase from six million to 10 million over the next 40 years.

He said that considerations for education, infrastructure requirements such as food, water and energy – which are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fundamentals for liveability – all need to be addressed when thinking in terms of a planned approach to any type of crisis, whether it be fire, flood, drought, or disease.

Climate change, he said, is happening and it’s not going to go into reverse.

“There will be more frequent and more intense events occurring,” Mr Lapsley warned, and said that it is vital that an integrated approach to management and recovery be formulated.

Mr Lapsley is urging the creation of an organisational culture which supports information sharing and better decision making with the community as a central partner in emergency management.

He called for emergency services to work together more effectively as one – to create a united entity – and added that just because someone isn’t wearing yellow overalls, doesn’t mean they are not valued members of the community working together for the safety of others before, during or after a crisis. There are many people, he said, such as Red Cross volunteers who do so much behind the scenes and who deserve our respect and acknowledgment.

Over the next 12 months, Mr Lapsley hopes to see a more integrated system put in place, with strong leaders leading the charge to create a more resilient community.

“A community is not just about the people themselves, but also the businesses, services, and environment that make them want to live in that community. In addition to emergency services, there need to be trusted networks involved, in all sectors including sport, agriculture and health, which are well respected and well established,” he said.

Inspired by this viewpoint, a community resilience program has been designed and created to work towards economic recovery by getting businesses back on their feet in the aftermath of a disaster – businesses which are fundamental to helping all of those who form a community to also get back on their feet.

Council received funding for the development of the Business Continuity and Resilience Program which has been co-ordinated through Council’s Economic Development Unit.

This extremely successful project has seen five mentors appointed to the Business Emergency Leadership Group (BELG), who were each presented by Mr Lapsley and Council’s Business Support Officer, Renae Littlejohn, with a BELG toolkit, containing tools and templates to assist with effective responses to times of community crisis.

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