SES Volunteer's Association of Western Australia Incorporated

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01/08/2010 – WA’s emergency services consider Victorian bushfires findings

Western Australia’s emergency services will consider the 67 recommendations of the final report of the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission to determine if changes are required to further enhance operational effectiveness and community safety.  FESA Chief Executive Officer Ms Jo Harrison-Ward said while a number of the recommendations focus on Victoria, WA’s emergency services would assess what lessons could be learnt for the way fire management and response is handled locally.  Ms Harrison-Ward said following the Victorian bushfire tragedy in February 2009 that FESA had worked closely with other agencies to review and assess the State’s prevention, preparedness and response capabilities.  She said WA’s emergency services had already undertaken significant reforms and adopted national recommendations which had flowed from the Commission’s interim report released in August 2009.

“The large loss of life and property in Victoria was a shocking and tragic situation which has now generated major national reforms for all fire and emergency services organisations in all jurisdictions,” she said.  “In WA we are focussed on continuous improvement for our emergency services and the commission’s final report and the major review into the Toodyay fire, which is expected to be finalised shortly, will undoubtedly provide lessons learnt that can enhance the way we operate.”  Ms Harrison-Ward said the State Government had introduced significant legislative changes prior to the last bushfire season and WA was now better placed to respond to major bushfires.

“There are new laws regarding taking control of major fires which clearly defines a single chain of command, as well as, the introduction of prevention measures including Total Fire Bans and improved community information and warnings systems such as StateAlert,” she said.  “In addition, FESA’s response capabilities have been considerably enhanced in the recent Budget with the State Government’s support to invest more than $128 million in frontline services in WA over the next four years.”

Ms Harrison-Ward said FESA would now review the final report in consultation with Government agencies and stakeholders before submitting its findings and recommendations to the State Government.  “We will continue to work closely with the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) and all the States and Territories to ensure we are moving in a consistent direction to assess national priorities,” she said.

Ms Harrison-Ward said a key component of FESA’s response to the final report would build upon the significant changes that had already been implemented following the commission’s interim report released in August 2009. These include:

Community information

  • Adopted the new national bushfire community awareness campaign Prepare. Act. Survive.
  • Extensively revised publications and programs to assist the community in how to prepare for and what to do in the event of bushfires.
  • Distributed more than 40,000 Prepare. Act. Survive. kits to people in bushfire prone areas.
  • Delivered comprehensive education, awareness and engagement activities in high bushfire risk areas.
  • Revamped and delivered training for Bushfire Ready Groups across the State to ensure that the new nationally adopted positions on bushfire safety were incorporated.
  • Supported the establishment of 26 new Bushfire Ready Groups with engagement, education and training.
  • Conducted the State’s first ever Bushfire Awareness Week in November 2009, that is scheduled again for October this year.
  • Published a bushfire preparedness supplement in a major metropolitan newspaper on the critical need to prepare for the bushfire season.
  • Adopted the new national Fire Danger Rating system with a catastrophic rating. WA is actively participating in the current national review of this system.
  • Issued advices when catastrophic, severe and extreme fire weather was forecast to at risk communities to enable them to activate their bushfire preparedness plans.
  • Refined and developed emergency management plans for catastrophic days across a range of government services including health and education.
  • Implemented Total Fire Bans improving community awareness of bans of activities that may cause fire. They are declared on days where fires are most likely to threaten lives and property.
  • In the 2010 State Budget, more than $20 million has been allocated for additional Community Fire and Emergency Services Officers who will provide local knowledge and skills in high risk areas to ensure
  • local communities have the expertise and assistance to plan and respond to an emergency over the next four years.

Alerts and warnings

  • Implemented StateAlert an automated system that uses web technology to deliver emergency warnings to landline phones or mobiles. People can also register to receive emergency warnings via email, RSS feed and their mobiles for up to three addresses.
  • Used StateAlert on nine occasions to send more than 20,000 emergency warnings.
  • Adopted the new national three tier bushfire advice and alerts system. The public information tools developed by FESA have been provided to all agencies for use during a bushfire to ensure consistent safety messages.
  • Increased capacity and capability on the FESA website to provide information on all bushfires in Western Australia regardless of land tenure to ensure there is one point of information.
  • State Government has amended the Bush Fires Act 1954 to make FESA responsible for the issuing of warnings and community information for major fires.
  • In the 2010 State Budget, the Government invested $6.6 million to upgrade and improve community information and warning mechanisms, including StateAlert, over the next four years.

Emergency and incident management

  • Increased FESA’s aerial fleet to include two Type 1 water bombers, with one located in Busselton to service high risk communities in the South West. In the 2010 State Budget, an amount of $5.7 million has been allocated to continue to fund two Type 1 water bombing helicopters.
  • Held a Bushfire Summit for the first time to bring all fire management agencies in WA together to identify issues and develop strategies before the bushfire season.
  • State Government has increased the penalties for arson, people convicted of wilfully destroying or damaging property by fire now face a maximum sentence of life in jail.
  • State Government has amended the Bush Fires Act 1954 to include crown land in the definition of property which improves the ability to successfully prosecute acts of arson.
  • State Government has amended the Bush Fires Act 1954 for effective fire management in WA by enabling local government and the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) to hand control of a fire over to each other or FESA. In large scale or complex situations FESA is also be able to take control of a fire by appointing the most capable and appropriate person to take charge.
  • State Government has amended the Bush Fires Act 1954 to provide the necessary powers to direct the evacuation or removal of persons during a major bushfire. This will always be a last resort.

In the 2010 State Budget, nearly $27 million will provide for an additional 102 firefighters to increase FESA’s response capability over the next four years.