Better management of emergency incidents can reduce any adverse consequences on communities. As such, the aim of this project was to better understand how multi-agency emergency management coordination at regional and state levels could be improved.
The findings from the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission indicated a need to look beyond creating new standard operating procedures or adding to existing role responsibilities. They indicated that, despite the good work that has occurred in the past to build a robust inter-service incident management system, the first point of breakdown in overwhelming events was typically in communication and coordination.
This research showed that the challenges facing emergency managers working at the strategic level, above the incident management team (IMT), are different in both content and context from the challenges facing personnel working at a local IMT level.
The Bushfire CRC Project Leader was Dr Christine Owen, working with Dr Ben Brooks and Dr Roshan Bhandari from the University of Tasmania, along with Dr Chris Bearman, from CQUniversity.
At a strategic level, managers are typically engaged in incidents that are of high potential consequence, are non-routine and have significant political involvement. These managers are also concerned with longer-term issues related to post-incident support, such as community wellbeing and recovery. Assessing the overall response and recovery effort is also important at the strategic level.
Clarification is needed to resolve ambiguity around how concepts such as command, control and coordination are applied at the state level, while the function of the regional level in the structure of incident management continues to be debated.
Findings will enable agencies to continue to refine their performance in all areas of incident management, including information flow, communication, capacity to adjust to emerging scenarios, breakdowns in coordination and training and education.
A number of PhD students were involved with this project. Martijn Van Der Merwe, from RMIT University, modelled the assignment of resources during large bushfires to protect assets.
Alireza Abbasi, at the University of Sydney, analysed the emergence of social networks of personnel involved in managing the 2009 Kilmore bushfire in Victoria. This study helped investigate the emerging structure of inter-personal response dynamics during emerging disasters and its effect on improving coordination output. Also from the University of Sydney, Jafar Hamra used social network analysis to identify if there were network patterns of people’s interactions, and how the network relationships among emergency management groups affected their learning.
The PhD work of James Minas at RMIT University concentrated on the use of operations research for decision support in bushfire management. Operations research is the use of an analytical approach to aid decision making in complex real-world systems. Steve Curnin, University of Tasmania, researched multi-agency, emergency management coordination. His work developed a conceptual framework to identify the core requirements of liaison officers working at state level control centres and analyse the problematic areas and constraints in state-level coordination.