A multi-agency emergency preparedness summit took place in Tumut on Monday and Tuesday this week, with specialists gathering from across the state to coordinate their actions in readiness for the coming bushfire season.
Operations officer with the Rural Fire Service Kylie Sugar said it is vital for organisations from different states and areas of expertise to be ready for the hazardous hot weather.
“There’s quite a lot of pre-season preparation, from briefings like this one to training exercises. We do these things year-round, but there’s at least two months of dedicated preparation time before bushfire season,” she said.
“Facilitated workshops are used to explain changes in procedure, explore lessons learned from previous years and actively challenge existing behaviours and modus operandi.”
Participating organisations at the meetings – called the Region South Briefing and Facilitated Workshops – included the Rural Fire Service; Fire and Rescue; Police; the Country Fire Authority; the National Parks and Wildlife Service; the Forestry Corporation; and the Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning; from their NSW, Victorian, and ACT departments.
“It becomes a pretty big machine, when we go into coordinated fire fighting,” RFS Regional Operations Manager Nick Turner said. “Days like today are a good refresher for where we’re all at.”
“These members [attending the workshops] can also then take information back to personnel in their districts.”
Attendants at the meetings were briefed on new gear they may have at their disposal, including aerial firefighting air tankers – the size of jumbo jets – used to distribute water and retardants on a massive scale, and the use of motorbikes in regional areas.
“[The motorbike trial] has been really successful,” Ms Sugar said. “They’re easier to dispatch, they’re versatile, they’re faster.”
Tumut falls within an RFS region stretching from Shoalhaven to the South Australian and Victorian borders, incorporating 11 smaller teams and zones. Meetings have previously been held in the North, East, and West of NSW, with the tour wrapping up in the South in Tumut.
Regional Emergency Management Officer with the NSW Police Scott Fullerton led a presentation on evacuation procedures at the summit. He said it is crucial all departments involved in an emergency have clear and consistent communication.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re posting the correct information on social media – it’s a fantastic tool, we’ve just got to harness it,” he said. “It’s got to be the same messaging across the board.”
“In the good old days it was we’re here, we’re government, do what we say. Not anymore. People want to know why they have to do something – as they should.”
He also spoke about unexpected contingences that occur during evacuations that emergency services have to be proactive about handling. For example, over 60 per cent of people will refuse to evacuate if they can’t take their animals with them.
Over his career he has had to administer lice treatment to children before they enter an evacuation centre, make decisions on people being evacuated who have Apprehended Violence Orders out on them and can’t be within a certain distance of other people being evacuated, and oversee the evacuation of aged care facilities and methadone clinics which require the transportation of medical equipment.