During National Fire Protection Month, we are celebrating the different roles that people play in helping our local communities.
At the forefront of our minds as we head into Spring and Summer is bush fire season but with an evolving climate, we can also throw in a smattering of natural disasters to contend with too.
This year Australia has already experienced severe flooding causing chaos and distress to many residents and wildlife throughout different regions. The weather predictions are for more of the same this coming season - what we are about to experience is a ‘La Nina’ episode.
Who looks after the communities in this situation? Who do we look to for help when we need it?
Fire Services nationally help rescue people who find themselves in difficulty, but they also have a team of trained volunteers in the shape of The State Emergency Service (SES) ready to assist the community where needed.
However, were you aware that your local government has a Disaster Management Department that also coordinates and helps their community in the event of a natural disaster?
Working in conjunction with the emergency services, they have contingency plans in place to help prepare communities prior to, during and the aftermath of an event.
We are taking peek behind the curtain to understand how these different organisations connect, communicate and coordinate with each other for the safety of all communities.
Persons Name: Margaretta B
Location: Queensland, Australia
Role: Disaster Management – local government
Q: What do you love about what you do; why do you do this job?
A: Helping the community in a time of need gives me so much satisfaction. In our business we can’t stop the flood or fire, but we can be there to try and keep people safe and support them when the waters recede, or the fires have gone out. Being in this industry teaches you how to cope working under pressure and allows you to learn so much about yourself.
Q: What influences your decision making, especially when you are under duress and minutes count?
A: My decision making under pressure is usually based on what is going to be best for the community at the end of the initial disaster. It definitely requires you to have clear and concise communication!
Q: What is the biggest catastrophe (natural or not) that you have faced when dealing with a disaster?
A: While probably not the biggest catastrophe experienced during a disaster such as hearing about loss of life, I vividly remember being well and truly entrenched in the response for the 2010-2011 flooding in the coordination centre and noticing that Tropical Cyclone Yasi was forming off the coast on one of the TV’s in the room. It was monstrous and headed down the coastline.
Q: How did it feel to be in that moment- can you remember your thoughts?
A: “No….surely not. Is this image real? They must have it wrong!!” Saying to my boss at the time – “People can’t take much more”.
Q: What were the impacts of that event – on you and the community?
A: Very widespread flooding throughout Queensland, multiple loss of life, major environmental impacts, food and transport supplies impacted, loss of homes and infrastructure and the list goes on. Communities were fractured and, in some cases, still have not fully recovered.
Q: What is the best thing about what you do within the disaster management sector?
A: Work with excellent people who hold similar roles and work a team of volunteers who always show up and stand up. These people are amazing and I have so much gratitude for them. There is always a DM friend you can call in a time of need.
Q: How has the sector changed since you started?
A: The sector was very male dominated in the early years and this is now changing. The sector was also very response driven with little to no regard to the impacts that disasters were having on community. Fortunately, the lights are well and truly now on recovery and there are many support mechanisms in place.
Q: As a council department how do you coordinate with other volunteer groups during an emergency?
A: We spend a lot of time with our stakeholders (Queensand Police Services, State Emergency Services, Queensland Fire and EmergencyServices, Queensland Ambulance Services, Red Cross etc) during sunny day events to ensure that we have strong relationships and plans in place to help us in a time of need. With our volunteers we invest in a lot of training and exercising to ensure that they remain safe in our disaster coordination centre. We operate under the AIIMS (Australasian Inter-service Incident Management) model and bring liaison officers in to assist us.
Q: Where do you see the future of disaster management heading, especially as we face the challenges of a changing climate?
A: Management of disasters will continue to be a challenge for everybody - organisations and community. I feel that we are moving into a space of disaster fatigue and that complacency will have detrimental effects on the well being of people. Numerous resources are stretched in various industries and it concerns me that people will fall through the cracks if we as a sector are unable to support them as we have in the past.
Q: If you could go back in time and visit your younger self, what would you tell her about the path she is about to take?
A: Don’t do it!! No – seriously, if I had the opportunity to go back in time I would probably tell her that she is about to head into one of the most rewarding careers that offers challenges and rewards that you couldn’t imagine. It provides you with opportunity to help the community, create solid relationships, teaches you the value of comradeship and provides you with skills that you use in your everyday life.
We thought we would take this opportunity to get to know Margaretta not just in her capacity within the Disaster Management Department, but as the person behind the community support…
What’s it like being you right now?
A little bit stressed actually; we are getting ready for a 3rd La Nina!
What’s something you never leave home without?
My personal mobile oh and my work mobile
If you had a clone, what would you have your clone do?
My housework and ironing!