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Flow of information key to preventing another Black Saturday

by David Shi •
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Following in the wake of the Black Saturday bushfires and recommendations made by the Bushfires Royal Commission, the Victorian Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) have standardised information processes and systems, streamlining the flow of information during future emergencies.  

The report of the Royal Commission, handed down in July 2010 recommended that:

“Country Fire Authority and the Department of Sustainability and Environment standardise their operating systems and information and communications technologies with the aim of achieving greater efficiency and interoperability between agencies.”

A recent blog posted by the CFA has shed some light how this integration is proceeding.

“As part of the Community Warnings and Advice Project, CFA and Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) have joined forces to align processes and systems to send messages to the community during an incident such as a bushfire, warning residents of their fire threat and specific information they need to keep safe,” it says.

One project to emerge from the collaboration is the One-Source-One-Message (OSOM) system, implemented in time for the 2009-10 fire season.

The OSOM System allows CFA and DSE incident information to be sent simultaneously to the websites of both agencies as well as multiple media outlets, the Victorian Bushfire Information Line, Incident Control Centres and the State Control Centre.

Another development has been the restructuring of the Information Section, within the AIIMS governance structure, as its own unit staffed by both DSE and CFA employees, and ready to be deployed for the sake of the effective communication of warnings in times of natural disaster.

The Australasian Inter-service Incident Management System (AIIMS) structure is the inter-jurisdictional governance body which oversees the deployment of disaster communications.

In the blog, the CFA’s Operations Manager, Peter Baker, discusses the ongoing changes that will further improve the flow of communication.

 “The standardisation of processes across agencies is simply a giant leap forward in the dissemination of information,” he said.

“There is active work happening to ensure that intelligence on the fire ground can be quickly verified and turned into useful information for the community.”

With a larger focus on providing more accurate, timely and accessible information to the community during an emergency, it is hoped that deaths, such as those of Black Saturday, can be prevented in future emergencies courtesy of the changes made to the AIIMS structure.  

On February 7 2009, the Black Saturday bushfires ignited, eventually claiming 173 lives and injuring over 5,000 people.

The cooperative effort between the CFA and the DSE is aimed at preventing similar deaths by improving the flow of information and communication.

“The collaborative effort and technology allows identical messages to be sent at identical times and to be seen as one,” said Baker.

Following the events of Black Saturday, the CFA’s and DSE’s Information Officers have trained in accordance with the new multi-agency information dissemination systems and within Incident Management Teams to ensure maximum efficiency in the event of any state emergency.

“We’ve got increased tools, technology, training and people and are more ably able to get messaging out,” Baker said.

Baker also hopes to expand the CFA’s presence on social networking sites (including Facebook, Youtube and Twitter) to help facilitate the dissemination of information during emergencies.

“While we’re still using traditional means of communications, we’re also exploring new tools such as social media - we’ve now got the capability to gather information, validate it and turn it into something usable, accessible and understandable for everyone,” he said.


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