Emergency services – changing lives in a changing world

The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) Conference 2018, held at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre last month, explored how emergency services change lives and how the sector can improve in an ever-changing, complex environment.

Emergency management is not an easy task and is not getting easier. The climate is changing and the population is growing. Bushfires, floods, cyclones, storms and heatwaves are impacting more on human settlements and creating new challenges. AFAC18 looked at change as the new normal, how collaboration and resilience is driving performance and how organisations are developing their people. Innovations in emergency management and disaster resilience are helping its people to weather change.

Held over four action-packed days, AFAC18 attracted delegates and visitors from emergency and security services agencies, all levels of government, non-government organisations, the private sector, research and education institutions and community groups from Australia and overseas.

The AFAC CEO Stuart Ellis AM stated, “The conference theme changing lives in a changing world encouraged attendees to think about the future of fire and emergency services and the direction of our industry. The impressive schedule of speakers on stage and an extensive display of technology, equipment at the expo helped us to imagine what is possible for the emergency management sector into the future.”

The conference included seven keynote addresses and one hundred and forty-one presentations around fifty subject areas, with speakers and facilitators from Singapore, USA, United Kingdom and New Zealand.

A highlight was the presentation by NASA Astronaut Mike Mullane, an inductee of the International Space Hall of Fame. Mullane’s insights into successful teamwork, leadership and safety flow from a unique career, including his first-hand experience of the 1986 space shuttle Challenger tragedy.  “In hazardous operations, everybody counts. Leaders at all levels need to empower their team members to put their ideas and perspectives on the table. An attitude of, ‘See something; Say something; Do something’ can save lives,” said Mullane.

Photo credit: Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) Conference 2018

Delegates also heard from Craig Fugate, the distinguished former Administrator of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, on the seven deadly sins of emergency management. “Disasters don’t fit into what you think you are capable of doing,” said Fugate. “We have to prepare for the unexpected, not what we are capable of responding to right now.”


  1. We plan for what we are capable of responding to.
  2. We plan for our communities by placing the hard to do in an annex (elderly, disabled, children, pets).
  3. We exercise to success.
  4. We think our emergency response system can scale up from emergency response to disasters.
  5. We build our emergency management team around government, leaving out volunteer organizations, the private sector, and the public.
  6. We treat the public as a liability
  7. We price risk too low to change behaviour, as a result, we continue to grow risk.


Exhibitors displayed emerging public safety technology and equipment, with live demonstrations enabling an insight into their use. Three professional development workshops and three field trips were also conducted.

The opportunity to learn from practical case studies based on previous high-profile disasters and incidents was very informative. All the case studies reinforced the message that safety is a critical issue for all emergency personnel. Having an adaptable and agile emergency services workforce that has safety at the forefront is an essential for an industry coping with so much change.

The information gained from the conference will assist AIS in supporting the Public Safety Industry Reference Committee in developing Training Package qualifications that address the industry’s skill needs.

AFAC, the peak body responsible for representing fire, emergency services and land management agencies in the region, co-produced the conference program with the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. This year, the inaugural Australian Disaster Resilience Conference, ran concurrently with the AFAC18 program. Themed “The rise of resilience: from the individual to the global,” the conference explored national and global strategy and direction, as well as community resilience at the grassroots level. Resilience was presented as a dynamic, multi-faceted national imperative to be fostered through active engagement and partnerships across sectors and at all levels.

AFAC19 will be held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre between 27 and 30 August 2019.