It seems every summer now we are confronted with the effects of devastating bushfire. Bushfire management strategy which are sometime devastating bushfires has never been more critical. Furthermore, working together in harmony to overcome the challenges has become a priority.
In this article I will discuss some of the challenges and whether the challenges are being confronted effectively. However, my intention is to create a discussion in the emergency management community. Rather than just create a negative or positive feedback loop.
The nature of bushfire management strategy.
Besides dealing with bushfire, emergency management professionals (paid and not paid) are also increasingly confronted with other major emergencies. Some requiring the activation of federal agencies including the military.
The Australian defence forces have provided support to large scale tsunamis in Indonesia. In addition, they have responded to local events during recent flood emergencies.
Consequently, whenever there is human suffering within our region. Australians can be proud of the support provided by our government and local emergency management organisations. Therefore it could be said that every Australian resident is helping those in need.
Establishing command and control infrastructure.
As a consequence of escalating emergencies. There is a need for emergency managers to set in place command and control infrastructure. However, this can be dynamic and include the bringing together of many organisations. Often this is where the effectiveness of operations becomes limited and challenged – certainly in the initial stages of an emergency.
The legislation is often in place to facilitate the establishment of command and control arrangement. Furthermore, it is likely that span of control, topography, safety and security will all become increasingly important factors.
Nevertheless, without effective communication, every other part of the process and/or systems of escalation will fail. This may seem a little harsh, but from experience and researching the challenges it has become evident that communication is the key to effective incident escalations.
It would be possible to write a book on potential communication challenges faced in the emergency management field. However, this is only a relatively short article providing a summary.
For this reason, communication methods of emergency management must be given priority in planning for, responding to and recovery of all emergencies.
Organisations with primary combatting responsibilities can’t rely on others to integrate management arrangement. Every emergency management team has a responsibility to work with lawmakers and other external agencies to ensure interoperability isn’t just a nice word for a report.
Communication systems and procedures
Although there are many methods of communicating. Pre-planning and testing will generally create effective outcomes. I.e. establishing how paid employees integrate with casual or unpaid members. Challenges here may include integrating time management arrangements which, in short, sees human resources leaving the leaving the fire ground together. Or at least in a similar time frame.
Where emergency management staff fail to integrate human resource management. The psychological effect on morale may be impacted. I’m reminded here of the business philosophy, “if you fail to plan you are planning to fail”. Emergency management leaders can probably take advice from colleagues in business and the military here.
This is just one example of how interoperability can be facilitated by senior emergency management staff. But is by no means the answer to all communication problems. There are so many other factors but please aim to keep it simple.
Identifying control systems in emergency management
To move on from communications systems, which by the way, is an important factor in control systems. The Bushfire management strategy workflow needs to account for fiscal arrangements and aspects around human resources, including cultural norms.
Systems that integrate information flow around all aspects of emergency management. Will generally impact positively or negatively physical and political control systems.
Keeping the incident action plan in mind
Although one of the most significant features of emergency management is the final result. Most often referred to as the incident objective. There is a tendency to make overall goals to specific with the cause and effect of a blinkered focus.
Where an incident objective lacks, what I call, “Scope of Focus”, potentially every strategy and subsequent tactic may fail the effectiveness test. I’ve provided a Scope of Focus outline below:
- Pre-planning – Incident Scope = 0% to 100% (covers all possibilities)
- Response Phase – Incident Scope = 20% to 40% (Potential impact & escalation)
- Operational Phase – Incident Scope = 30% to 70% (Incident)
- Recovery Phase – Incident Scope = 60% to 100% (post incident)
I hope this isn’t too confusing. Its an effective way of analysing the systems approach to emergency management. Furthermore, it can be a great start to a post review of an incident, including formal analyses. Thus providing barriers to keep the “scope of focus” within transitional parameters.
Incident action plan and Integration of transitional parameters
There are so many aspects to the incident action plan that aren’t mentioned here. Therefore, only the key functions will be included. Everything from traffic management to medical and topography plans have parameters, or barriers, which must be integrated into all plan parts to be effective.
It’s probably easiest to show it as an image here – please see below – the example relates to the “Medical Plan” (Bushfire):
As you may see with any process and/or systems approach post incident, or pre-planning, must be inclusive of every other part of the incident. Bushfire management strategy teams may assume they have consider all the important features of incident features but the question to ask “are they really integrated”?
As a guide give a simple plan to a secondary student and if they can understand how it links to other part then it’s probably to complex. Thus integration into emergency management structures and systems is less likely to be realistic and understood.
Other ways to test systems is generally during accredited and non-accredited training. Using activities and assessment to gather data and providing it to specialists to be analysed.
Emergency Management and the community.
There are a number of stakeholders within the emergency management and none more so than the community. Human response to bushfire can be many and varied. So pre-planning and marketing experts can formulate cost-effective programs. Again gather data and producing results that work.
Whether advice on evacuation, situation or emergency warnings. Communication methods must be analysed for effectiveness and altered where appropriate.
In this article, the word data has been used a lot. Its an important factor and can come in many forms. Sometimes just general comments on a form to safety report and invoice numbers. Business run on data analysis and emergency management development needs to do the same. Further comments on effective systems are outside the scope of this article. However, I’m happy to answer any questions.
In conclusion, emergency management during a bushfire is complex. So the simplicity of communication and associated systems and processes will determine how well we establish objectives will affect the tactics on the fire-ground.
The public, victims, government and emergency management agencies. All have a responsibility to use integrated thinking to ensure communication links that actually work in Bushfire management strategy.