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Federal and State Disaster Response.


old man emu
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I have tried to no avail, to find out the flooding WEST of the great divide.

Any flooding here will make its way to the darling, the cooper, or the murray.

I reckon this will be good stuff...  Anybody know about this?

Flooding to the east of the great divide of course just goes out to the sea.

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I heartily agree with your comments, OME. It’s time we had a national rapid-response to such disasters, even if it’s just a streamlined co-ordination agency. The last thing we need is another bloated bureaucracy that turns people’s misfortunes into an industry.
The scale of this disaster has exposed limitations among traditional organisations; our local offers to help were declined, perhaps because the organisers are overwhelmed.

To what degree should people rely on governments to bail them out? It’s good to see the impressive community effort to help each other. This and other recent disasters have shown that we need to become more resilient.

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1 hour ago, Old Koreelah said:

To what degree should people rely on governments to bail them out?

I think that most people would be happy to simply be given a helping hand. Most would find it somewhat demeaning to have to go and ask for a handout. 

 

What most people want in the first few days after a disaster is a feed and some shelter. I heard someone say that simple things like a toothbrush and tooth paste are welcome items. Once those needs are met, then they would want a hand to sort out what they can save and how to get rid of what is destroyed. Not a handout that they can't spend.

 

I don't believe that every house that was flooded to the roof line is a total write-off. Simply pull up floor coverings and strip the walls. Let the building dry out for a month or so, then go back in and replace the wall linings. I reckon the frame. plumbing and wiring would be OK after it dried out.

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10 hours ago, Old Koreelah said:

national rapid-response to such disasters, even if it’s just a streamlined co-ordination agency.

Isn't that what SES is?

And SES, although generally starved of funding, works more reliably than any government run system because it is operated by volumteers. As soon as you let government run anything, it becomes a top heavy, wasteful, slow, gravy train, run by useless armchair experts. (Proof? See CASA)

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7 hours ago, Marty_d said:

We don't need another government agency.

A National disaster response funded by government does require permanent staff to manage it, and since my proposal is for it to be established under an Act of the Commonwealth, it follows that it would be managed by a Federal government Department. I've looked at the list of ministries and there are several possible ones to add the job to. ( https://www.aph.gov.au/about_parliament/parliamentary_departments/parliamentary_library/parliamentary_handbook/current_ministry_list )

 

My proposal is for one major complex, located in an area that has a history of a stable environment. That condition would suggest and inland location. Such a location cannot be operated by volunteers. Its function would be to warehouse and maintain materials and equipment to be quickly issued to local disaster response organisation like the SES.

 

New South Wales has a documented State Emergency Management Plan https://www.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/2021-04/state-emergency-management-plan-emplan.pdf and I suspect the same applies in other States. It seems that this plan hovers in the background until an emergency occurs, then its content begins to be put into action. Getting things going to reach where help it is needed takes time if there is not the ability for response to start immediately.

 

The logistics and financial arrangements involved in this plan are described in  Part 10 (page36 of 80). 

 

 

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4 hours ago, nomadpete said:

Isn't that what SES is?

And SES, although generally starved of funding, works more reliably than any government run system because it is operated by volumteers…

Volunteers do the work on the ground, but they are not always well directed and supported by the salaried bureaucracy.

I’m one of several long-term volunteers who were dismissed after challenging local mismanagement.

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Yes....

 

True that the SES, CFS, etc could sometimes do with better coordinating. But equally true that bureaucratic power groups often cause as much, or more confusion and clusterfarques.

 

Just look at the results of post bushfire investigations.

 

For instance, I am a volunteer fire fighter.Three months ago, we got a visit from Head Office. A paid, uniformed, fire service manager awarded me a 5 year service pin. They took my picture to publish in the glossy Fire Brigade magazine. I wasn't impressed. I am still waiting for the centralised ORGANISED office mob to process paperwork to transition me from 'probationary', to 'volunteer' status. It should have happened 5 years ago. 

It is a standing joke that you have to apply 5 times to get anything done, even if it's just a request for new gloves. This weekend we are doing car marshalling at the showground, to raise money.

 

However, their radio network and operators are a great asset for coordinating fire fighting resources, so I do see some benefit, in spite of the obvious wastage that accompanies it.

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 My spies in the NSW RFS tell of ever-expanding budgets, with local brigades encouraged to replace and upgrade near-new and quite functional buildings and equipment. Lots of waste.

 

It occurs to me that the RFS might be an ideal disaster-management agency, given their impressive communication infrastructure, which includes several well-equipped regional control centres and their fleet of go-almost-anywhere trucks. One advantage is that floods and bushfires are not likely to overlap. Moreover, during to no-fires season, brigades might benefit from a good co-ordinated workout. I know from my four decades in the VRA that long periods without a callout are bad for both morale and equipment readiness.

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Remember the National Safety Council led by John Friedrich? By 1989, it employed 430 people, who were known colloquially as "The Thunderbirds", and had an annual operating budget of A$90 million. It amassed an impressive array of equipment including ships, aircraft, helicopters, trained rescue dogs, satellite communications, parachute rescue teams and even a mini submarine.Then it went broke and Freddo shot himself.

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I'm sure the problem is endemic. Bush Fire Brigades started with bunches of volunteers trying to fill in a service that Governments should provide, but never have.

Then some experts look at it and say 'that will work better if we get professional coordinators involved'. So the governments provide a paid bureaucracy to 'control' the unruly volunteers.

 

Now, we locally have volunteer fire brigade members who are professionally qualified arborists. But they are not permitted to touch a brigade chainsaw because they are not an authorised contractor. So if a tree problem stops a fire truck, all work stops while Firecom contact a authorised contractor is found, contacted, and travels to site.

Exact same problem for a dozer operator pushing a fire break. Our qualified operator/owner is not permitted to start his dozer, even if it is close to location.

 

Our last really big fire was almost stopped by 2dozer operators, but they were operating in remote Forestry controlled bushland, and the Forestry staff stopped them at Forestry knock off time. The drivers were flabbergasted, as another couple of hrs would have finished the fire break. Next morning the fire had burnt through the gap and continued east for a month, covered 150km, causing massive damage. All because 2 government mobs couldn't agree on a simple practical action. The workers would have happily done the right thing but the government funded controllers were too officious.

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I don't profess to have the answer.

There is a need for disaster management.

As OME mentioned, it would be sensible to locate the disastermanagement in locations that are safe from the expected disasters, and close to fast transport  to enable rapid deployment of assets.

This requires either mutual agreements between state governments or control by the feds.

As for the disaster management bureaucracy itself, note that every GOC and government essential service already has designated Disaster Managers and documented Disaster Management Plans. They seem to have weak communication between each other, and are primarily focussed on enabling the individual departments to continue functioning and protecting their employees during disasters.

And I have no idea how to get diverse control bureaucracies to connect with the grass roots workers that they are tasked to support.

 

I once told my tight assed manager that my job is to create the results that will make him look good to his boss. I can't do that without his help. His job is to give me the resources I need to make him look good. (That didn't do my career path much good).

 

Most most management (a generalisation of course) think that their job is to control staff rather than enable staff. Until that paradigm is conquered, the situations won't improve, but consultants and Royal Commissions will prosper.

 

We have a national group that is trained for rapid response to hazardous situations. They are already equipped with rugged air, water, and land vehicles. And have logistics experts suitable for disaster response, promptly, if they don't have to wait for some state pollie to GOYA and call them in. Better known as ADF.

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If you want to put an idea of any sort into action, we already use the PDCA cycle. Just think of how you get your car from the garage to the street. That's a simple everyday example.

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What appears to have been wrong with with the disaster response is a failure to move from planning to the next stage, doing. Apart from actually responding to a disaster, the components of the plan must be tested by simulation exercises, which can be as simple as confirming the details on a call-out roster to multi-participant exercising involving a wide variety of disaster combat units.  After doing the testing and recording the findings of the debrief, action must be taken to improve or fix things.

 

I've posted a link to the NSW Disaster Management Plan, and I know that the NSW Police has a documented plan to cover its role under the State plan. But that's as far as disaster management seems to go. No doubt there are meetings between the upper echelons of the Ambulance, Fire, Police, SES, but do they ever get out and audit the level of preparedness of local disaster control? It would seem that in our recent disaster, no one knew who was up whom, and who was paying the rent.

 

 

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I rather think the root problem is that most managers are aware of PDCA circle but can't bear to implement it properly. It is intended to be a continuously repeating CYCLE. It fails because people resist change (change creates uncertainty), and the PDCA cycle is a process of continuous improvement (ie continuous change).

The great thing about PDCA is  it allows the business to adapt to changing situations. It would suit disaster response. Present Disaster Management Plans are too rigid.

 

We got taught this and other management tools but people have strong resistance to putting change into practice, even though they are proven to work.

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4 hours ago, onetrack said:

…it was only the local dozing contractors and employees and volunteers that saved the day...

 

Most of these big organisations are too hamstrung by a plethora of rules and regulations, driven by paralysing fear of lawyers and lawsuits, which prevent them from doing anything that incurs even a modicum of danger in their activities.

 

My brother reports similar insanity; during the 2019 fires our home valley was threatened by fires across the border in Qld.

A couple of his schoolmates used their farm bulldozers to clean up several km of firetrails along the border- something they had often done. They had decades of experience fighting fires and I believe the local brigade was kept up to speed with their work. When weather conditions were ideal for a backburn they applied for a permit.

 

The regional office denied them the chance to use this golden opportunity. The fires went out of control, crossed the border and did enormous damage. Lots of locals brought their utes with pods and pumps to protect properties. Other community members played a blinder in support roles.

 

At the subsequent debrief, outsiders with rank took over and took all the credit.

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10 hours ago, nomadpete said:

I rather think the root problem is that most managers are aware of PDCA circle but can't bear to implement it properly.

I do management system audits and write management system plans. Whether they be plans to meet WH&S requirements or environmental risk management, or anything else, they all have the PDCA cycle at their core. I find that my clients only want these plans to satisfy a requirement from legislation. Once produced, the document sits in a folder somewhere and is forgotten because it is not needed for the activities that are the core business of the client. In accountancy terms, they cost money and don't produce a red cent.

 

I find that the cycle stalls at "D". I can write reams on how the client will carry out checks, but checks are rarely done, and if they are, they are hit and miss affairs. That's where I see the wonderfully complex and all ranging disaster response plans of government fall down. Simulation exercises are carried out in the field, but where are the activities that deal with preparedness? Those of you who are in volunteer fire and rescue units and SES will tell me that at your Station there is an Equipment Officer who makes sure that everything from servicing of vehicles to band-aids in the First Aid kits are checked and kept up to set levels of preparedness. This doesn't seem to happen above District level. 

 

That's why I propose that a central disaster response warehouse and transport should be established with permanent warehouse persons responsible for maintain and dispatching what needs to be sent to disaster areas within a day of the occurrence. Take the recent floods for example. The Weather Bureau warned us of the likelihood of major flooding before it happened. In my scenario, that would have put the warehouse on Yellow Alert to start identifying what would be needed. Then as the situation developed and it was clear that assistance would be required, the needed things could have been prepared for transport, or dispatched to the perimeter of the disaster zone. In that way, what was needed would be nearby for delivery to the disaster zone as soon as practicable. 

 

After the "first aid" had been delivered, then the needs could be more closely assessed and arrangements for government aid set in motion. No doubt government has a plan for dealing with the financial arrangements needed during and after a disaster. 

 

Meanwhile, back at the warehouse,  inventory checks would be made to enable restocking.

 

Now, if some old fart can come up with a method of preparing for disasters, why can't our politicians? Or have they, but their plans sitting in a folder somewhere and is forgotten because they are not needed for the activities that are the core business of politics, which is remaining in power.

 

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I totally agree with the concept of having proactive, evolving preparedness. However, how could anyone prevent a over arching Central Warehouse management mob from degenerating into what you noted has happened to District Management? They were invented with the good intent of providing what you propose, but even at their relatively smaller scale than your proposal, these well intentioned people have lost touch with the 'coal face', and now they seem more focussed on perpetuating their paperwork and self justification rather than being 'proactive enablers'.

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There is a mindset whereby rigid 'quality procedures' must be followed (probably to manage the risk of being disciplined when anything goes wrong), even if they don't fit the circumstances. This culls out any creative thinking.

 

Eg,

' I was simply following orders, sir'. 

 

(Substitute 'quality approved procedures')

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How difficult is it to regularly ask the questions, "how (b) many wigwams for goose's bridles are we supposed to have on hand, and (b) how many are there actually? That's the sort of preparedness I'd expect in a disaster response warehouse. If (a) is less than (b), then the warehouse staff have the authority to order more in.

 

Checking that what is needed is actually on hand should be the Code Green of the system. On receipt of a warning of impending disaster, then the warehouse staff move to Code Yellow and consult that part of the plan that tells them what is going to be needed. All it needs then is for the overall commander to issue a Code Red, and things start getting loaded and dispatched. When the calls for materials have slowed, then its back to checking quantities and restocking. The check on over-ordering and pilfering is simply a reconciling of stocktake figures with set inventory and purchase figures. 

 

It's about time that government bosses realised that although for them jobs that make their systems run might be mundane,  those carrying them out are intelligent enough to see what is not in order and to take the approved steps to get things back in order. In disaster response, the ability to deal with the problem in front of you is more important than slavishly following a set of rules that might hinder problem solving. People use their discretion in dealing with problems. Discretion is the product of experience (and experience includes reading and understanding the instructions). Those who lack that type of discretion are a barnacle on the bum of Progress.  

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It doesn’t matter what systems you have, as soon as some petty little bureaucrat gets his hands on it, it will fail.

I was one of the first in Qld SES and was involved for many years, mainly rescue training and working at heights.

Not long after I left the service we had a cyclone and the local controller asked me if I could help a lady with a fallen tree on her house. He explained that I was no longer qualified to use a chain saw, maybe I could use my own, as flooding meant nobody else could get to her location. This was after many arguments with the experts from Brisbane, who were incompetent, but I will admit they would admit to their mistakes when I pointed them out.

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At the beginning of this thread, I proposed a Royal Commission into disaster response. After reading what you have said about bureaucratic empire building and slavish application of documented procedures, it is clear that one of the Terms Of Reference would need to be "The application of discretion at incident sites". General George Patton is acknowledged as a great leader of his army. Note that I say 'leader", not "commander". He once said, "“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” People hate to be micromanaged. A good leader, as Patton knew, tells his or her subordinates what is expected, or what the overall goal is. They don’t need to give a step-by-step explanation. It’s a waste of a leader’s time and worse, most people resent it.

 

The step-by-step instruction is provided during training, away from the heat and confusion of battle. It's the same with all tasks. Want to be a welder? Go into the classroom and training workshop and learn how to weld whilst having the direction of people who know. When they say that you know how to weld, then go out into the world and weld. You don't have to consult your teacher when you are putting that skill into practice. You use your discretion which is based on your training and experience.

 

How can the knowledge and ability to use a tool expire? If a person is trained in the use of a tool, then one can say that they are "qualified". I learned to fly 50 years ago. Circumstances meant I didn't fly for many years, but when I did go back to it, the skills based on that earlier training and experience came back easily. If you regularly use a tool, how can you become unqualified in its use?

 

Maybe it's time for a Revolt of the Doers against the tyranny of the Rule Makers.

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