Appendix 3

Appendix 3

Inquiries into recent natural disasters in Australia

Inquests and inquiry into the Canberra firestorm

Between 8 and 18 January 2003, Canberra experienced a firestorm that resulted in the loss of four lives, injury to 435 people, the destruction of 487 homes across several suburbs, total property losses valued between $600 million and $1 billion, and almost 70 per cent of the ACT (157 170 hectares) being burnt.[1]

In January 2003, a Coronial inquest into the Canberra bushfires was established.[2]

Recommendations

On 19 December 2006, the ACT Coroner Maria Doogan handed down her report on the Canberra firestorm. With respect to emergency communications and warning systems, Ms Doogan made the following recommendations that:

ACT government response

In February 2007, the ACT Government released its response to the Coroner's report.[4] With respect to the recommendations made about emergency communications and early warning systems (above), the government agreed or agreed in principle with all of these recommendations and advised that many had already been implemented.[5]

2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission

On 7 February 2009, Victoria experienced a devastating bushfire disaster that resulted in the deaths of 173 people.[6] This day has been called "Black Saturday".[7]

On 16 February 2009, the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission was established.[8] The Royal Commission examined 15 of the most damaging fires, including the five fires at Kilmore East, Murrindindi, Churchill, Beechworth-Mudgegonga and Bendigo where people lost their lives.[9]

In its final report of July 2010, the Royal Commission found:

...that the state-level emergency management arrangements still faltered because of confusion about responsibilities and accountabilities and some important deficiencies of leadership. True integration was not achieved: the [Country Fire Authority] and [Department of Sustainability and Environment] followed operating procedures that were not fully consistent, used separate technology systems, and in many cases performed duplicate functions.[10]

The report also made the following observations:

Those [Incident Management Teams] that were poorly prepared or did not have access to fully qualified staff also often had the greatest difficulty managing information flows, which are crucial to the issuing of public warnings and informing firefighters of changing conditions and potential danger...skilled officers need to be supported by robust, consistent and coordinated information and systems for tracking fire vehicles and mapping fires. When the State's approach to fighting ferocious fires is so highly dependent on cross-agency coordination it is unacceptable that effective coordination of information systems has not been achieved.[11]

And:

Communications systems on 7 February were also hindered by poor coverage, lack of interoperability between emergency services agencies, and insufficient investment in new technology. For example, the transmission speed of the paging system had been reduced in order to expand reception coverage, and this caused serious delays in other than the most urgent messaging. There were also communication difficulties between metropolitan and regional police because of incompatible radio systems. Further, radio 'black spots' meant that reception was poor or non-existent in some areas, and there was channel congestion and insufficient channel availability. These problems were exacerbated when fire damaged or destroyed radio and telecommunications infrastructure.[12]

Recommendations

Ultimately, the Royal Commission made several recommendations with respect to emergency communications and early warnings:

Victorian government response

The Victorian Government has responded to the recommendations made in the Royal Commission's interim report of August 2009.[14] The government has not yet responded to the recommendations in the final report.

In the response to the interim report, the Victorian Government was supportive of recommendations that suggested improvements to bushfire communications and warnings, including the following recommendations that:

Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry

During December 2010 and January 2011, Queensland experienced an unprecedented flooding disaster which impacted 70 per cent of the state.[16]

On 17 January 2011, the Premier of Queensland, the Hon Anna Bligh MP established the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry.[17]  The terms of reference for the inquiry included:

...to make full and careful inquiry in an open and independent manner with respect to the following matters:-

(a) the preparation and planning by federal, state and local governments; emergency services and the community for the 2010/2011 floods in Queensland,

...

(c) all aspects of the response to the 2010/2011 flood events, particularly measures taken to inform the community and measures to protect life and private and public property, including

(d) the measures to manage the supply of essential services such as power, water and communications during the 2010/2011 flood events,

(e) adequacy of forecasts and early warning systems particularly as they related to the flooding events in Toowoomba, and the Lockyer and Brisbane Valleys...[18]

The Floods Commission released an interim report on 1 August 2011 'on matters associated with flood preparedness to enable early recommendations to be implemented before next summer’s wet season'.[19]

Recommendations

Recommendations in the interim report relevant to the current inquiry included:

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has stated all recommendations relating to the Queensland state government will be implemented[21] and in the formal response to the interim report, the Queensland Government stated:

The Queensland Government has accepted the Interim Report as a blueprint for implementation and advocates a collaborative approach in preparing for the 2011-12 wet season and beyond. The Interim Report made 175 recommendations, and detailed analysis has identified 104 recommendations for which the Queensland Government has implementation responsibility. While many other recommendations are directed towards local governments and the Commonwealth Government, these activities require a joint effort and the Queensland Government will provide support and assistance where necessary.[22]

The final report of the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry will be handed down by 24 February 2012.[23]

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