It’s not just about fire anymore – Conference resonates with IRC focus on rapidly evolving roles

Australasia’s largest and most comprehensive emergency management conference was held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre from 27–30 August 2019. AFAC 2019 was run in conjunction with the Institute of Fire Engineers (IFE) Conference and the Australian Disaster Resilience Conference and also included the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC Research Forum and an extensive trade exhibition. Reflecting the current prominence of disaster management across the globe, the conference attracted over 3,000 participants from 44 countries.

The conference theme, ‘A shift to the new norm, riding the wave of change’, resonated with the focus of the Public Safety Industry Reference Committee (IRC), which is addressing the rapid evolution of roles for emergency service responders. The IRC, made up of industry leaders and experts, undertakes Training Package development work to ensure that skills standards and qualifications are contemporary, as well as future focused, to meet the skill needs of the industry.

As Steve Warrington, Chief of the Country Fire Authority, Victoria, observed, ‘It’s not just about fire any more’. Instead, management of emergencies extends to prevention, preparedness, incident response and recovery. This demands new and different skills and capabilities in emergency management.

Dr Robert Glasser, a former head of the United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction and the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction, told the conference:

As our planet continues to warm, we will be entering an unprecedented time. An era of disasters unlike anything we’ve experienced before. It’s human nature to assume the future will unfold in the same way as the recent past. That is a dangerously flawed way of managing disaster risk.

The conference provided many insights to help us plan for this different future.

Stuart Ellis, the CEO of AFAC, stressed the importance of having greater diversity and more inclusion in the emergency response sector:

This year we’re looking at some big issues impacting the community including population growth, climate change and technological advancements. But we’re also challenging the sector to examine themselves in traditional areas of responsibility, agency capability and diversity and inclusion initiatives to better reflect the communities we serve.

Of particular relevance to skills planning, is the new norm in volunteering. Emergency service volunteers now need to be highly skilled and trained to provide a variety of first aid, navigation, administration, communication, incident management, support, leadership and marine rescue assistance. They also play a key role in community engagement and education, incident prevention and risk mitigation, activities that also demand specific skills.

AFAC estimates that approximately 87 per cent of the Australian emergency management sector is made up of volunteers. However, as Dr Faye Bendrups, Vice Chair, National SES Volunteers Association noted, ’the average age of volunteers is going up, as fewer young people are coming through the ranks to replace them’. Dr Bendrups said this is partly due to the perceived lack of flexibility in approaches to volunteering but also a result of the changing nature of the workforce, with many more young people on casual contracts, which means they are not regularly available for training and frontline response work. She reiterated the need for greater gender and cultural diversity in the sector.

Another trend in emergency management is the rise in spontaneous volunteers. A manifestation of this is the establishment in 2017 of Team Rubicon Australia, which unites the skills and experiences of Australian Defence Force veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams around the globe. Anastasia Bougesis from Team Rubicon talked about how social media is changing the nature of volunteering, with time-poor people learning about an emergency through social media and responding on the spot to help out.  One of the IRC’s 2019 projects will consider this new trend. It will review community safety qualifications to ensure they address contemporary requirements for working with the community.

Overall, the AFAC 2019 conference provided many informative snapshots of how the emergency services are adapting and evolving to meet an ever-changing world where they will be called upon to ensure the well being of local communities throughout Australia. The next AFAC conference that will be held at the Adelaide Convention Centre from 25–28 August 2020.

The conference programme included an extensive exhibition that showcased the latest in services, equipment and technology.

New Public Safety Training Package development projects

As a direct result of the Public Safety IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast & Proposed Schedule of Work, the Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC) has approved the following projects:

Community Safety

National Strategy for Disaster Resilience (NSDR) advocates for the community to be active participants in community safety and building their own resilience.

This project will review community safety qualifications (Certificate III to Advanced Diploma) to ensure they address changing public safety skills and knowledge requirements, specifically in relation to working with the community and to meet community expectations during an operation response.

Emergency management

The traditional roles of emergency service responders are evolving rapidly, particularly as their work extends into the fire and emergency prevention, preparedness, incident response and recovery. This demands new and different skills and capabilities in emergency management.

This project involves the updating of qualifications and skills standards associated with emergency management to reflect new work practices such as community engagement activities the emergency management sector utilises to build community resilience.

State Emergency Services – Tree Safety Review

The Australian Council of State and Territory Emergency Services (ACSES) has identified an emerging area of risk to SES volunteer members related to the felling and cutting of trees during storm and emergency situations.

This project will develop three new Units of Competency and one Skill Set aimed at the capability requirements for SES volunteer members to safely remove or secure fallen trees.