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 Annual Report 2008-09 Output 2.4

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National emergency management


The Department continued to meet the challenges presented by the constantly changing emergency management environment. Output 2.4 was achieved by delivering a range of services and products in five key areas of activity, namely:

  • providing strategic leadership
  • developing strategic partnerships
  • developing community capacity and resilience
  • developing emergency management capability, and
  • managing the consequences of disasters and emergencies.

The Department worked closely with other Australian Government authorities, State and Territory agencies, local government, volunteer organisations and industry bodies, to provide a comprehensive national approach to emergency management.

Major achievements

Emergency warnings to the community

At the February 2009 meeting of the National Forum on Emergency Warnings to the Community, the Attorney-General announced ongoing Australian Government funding of the forum in recognition of its collaborative efforts and contribution made towards best practice approaches to emergency warnings in Australia.

The 2009 meeting addressed technology-based emergency warning systems and access to the Integrated Public Number Database, and ensured national consistency in provision of emergency warning systems. The forum agreed to establish a small working group to develop best practice guidelines to inform emergency managers of communication needs for people with a disability or for any other circumstance where receipt of emergency warning messages may be compromised. The guidelines aim to meet United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities requirements.

The Department continues to champion the cause of adopting the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards’ Common Alerting Protocol as the content standard and digital format for emergency warning messages in Australia. The forum will conduct at least one further meeting in 2010.

Australia’s ability to respond to disasters will be improved as a result of the April 2009 COAG decision to develop a telephone-based national emergency warning system. As an enabler for the system, the Department has tendered to build and operate a secure database of all telephone numbers in Australia that will be available for the warning system to deliver geographically targeted warning messages to fixed-line telephones and mobile telephones, based on their billing address. This capability will serve to augment existing warning mechanisms the States and Territories use to warn vulnerable communities. The Department is also funding research into development of a capability to send warnings to mobile telephones based on location of the handset.

Developing community capacity and resilience

Funding continued to be offered in 2008–09 to eligible organisations through the National Emergency Volunteer Support Fund for projects that aimed to improve recruitment, retention and training of volunteer organisations at the frontline of emergency management.

The Department received 607 applications for funding to a total value of $14.7 million, of which the Attorney-General approved 183, to a total value of $3.25 million.

The funding continues to enable first responder agencies to undertake recruitment campaigns—and improves their ability to attract and retain volunteers—at a time of declining volunteer numbers due to changing demographics in rural Australia and time pressures on people in urban areas. The funding enables purchase of electronic training equipment, resulting in improved quality of training for volunteers. The program provided funding to develop community-based hazard awareness information specifically targeting local hazards.

Applications for funding through the program in 2009–10 were invited on 30 November 2008.

Developing emergency management capability

National arrangements for urban search and rescue operations were further developed in consultation with jurisdictions, industry peak bodies and specialist groups. The National Urban Search and Rescue Working Group and the Australian Emergency Management Committee endorsed the arrangements. The program also provided urban search and rescue technical support in the area of canine search and rescue capability; this commitment is now finalised.

Managing the consequences of disasters and emergencies

During 2008–09, Emergency Management Australia (EMA), a division in the Department, reviewed the Australian Government Disaster Response Plan (COMDISPLAN), which details coordination arrangements for provision of Australian Government physical assistance in the event of a disaster in Australia. The review was completed, endorsed by the Australian Emergency Management Committee, and issued to stakeholders in September 2008.

COMDISPLAN is currently undergoing amendments to reflect the changes within the Attorney-General’s Department due to the organisational restructure. These amendments are scheduled to be finalised by July 2009.

EMA reviewed the Australian Contingency Plan for Space Re-Entry Debris (AUSCONPLAN-SPRED), following the unscheduled re-entry of satellite US193. The review was completed, endorsed by the Australian Emergency Management Committee, and issued to stakeholders in September 2008.

EMA is responsible to the Attorney-General for coordinating Australian Government assistance to the States and Territories when their total resources (government, community and commercial) cannot reasonably cope with the needs of the situation. EMA receives formal requests for Australian Government assistance and actions these requests under the auspices of the relevant plan. Further, EMA administers financial assistance to communities and businesses following a disaster (see Output 3.2).

During 2008–09, the Department’s Incident Management Facility and the Attorney-General’s Department Coordination Centre (AGDCC) were activated for numerous events, including:

  • South East Queensland storms—COMDISPLAN activated
  • Mumbai terrorist attack—COMRECEPLAN activated
  • Papua New Guinea landslide—AUSASSISTPLAN activated
  • North Queensland flooding—COMDISPLAN activated
  • New South Wales bushfires—COMDISPLAN activated
  • Victorian bushfires—COMDISPLAN activated
  • Queensland marine incident—COMDISPLAN activated, and
  • Ashmore Reef incident—COMDISPLAN activated.

Provision of advice

The Department provided policy advice to achieve the outcome of the Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management—Emergency Management, unanimously agreeing that the future direction for Australian emergency management should be based on creating a more disaster resilient Australia.

Evaluations and reviews

After each major activation, the Department conducts post activation workshops engaging all levels of staff involved in the activation to identify areas for improvement. Post activation reports are developed following each workshop and include recommendations relevant to staff training, standard operating procedures, arrangements, plans, and rosters.

This year these workshops were conducted for the South East Queensland storms, Mumbai terrorist attack, Papua New Guinea landslide and Victorian bushfires.


The departmental restructure brought the Department’s operational elements into a single branch. EMA’s Crisis Coordination Branch constantly monitors events across all-hazards, reports on developments, activates relevant national plans, supports crisis committees and coordinates Australian Government physical assistance.

Over the past 12 months the Department’s operational role has significantly increased and elements have been activated numerous times. Events such as the Mumbai terror attacks, the Victorian bushfire, the Ashmore Reef incident and H1N1 influenza have, due to their nature, magnitude and/or complexity, required flexible response arrangements. In concert with the restructure, these events propelled review of operational procedures and arrangements.

The Crisis Coordination Branch is considering lessons learned from post activation reports along with the Department’s current and perceived needs to ensure the Department maintains an effective and responsive workforce that responds effectively and meets expectations.

Resilience is key to disaster risk reduction; the Department will remain committed to working with all stakeholders to ensure Australia is disaster resilient. The new Disaster Resilience Program announced in the 2009–10 Federal Budget will be a significant contribution towards achieving this. It will promote partnerships between all levels of government and with the private and non-government sectors as well as support emergency volunteers.

Implementation of recommendations of the Homeland and Border Security Review and deliberations of the COAG Working Group’s Review of Natural Disaster Arrangements will influence the Department’s work plan during 2009–10.

The Department will also continue working to complete the project to develop a secure database of Australian telephone numbers to enable delivery of emergency warning messages to fixed-line telephone and mobile telephones (based on billing addresses).

Performance indicators

Table 17: Performance indicators, Output 2.4—National emergency management

Key performance indicators 2008–09 target Result

Coordinate all requests for Australian Government assistance in line with Australian Government emergency management plans

Two Australian Government plans are reviewed to maintain currency by June 2009


Review of COMDISPLAN and AUSCONPLAN-SPRED completed September 2008.

Requests are responded to in a timely manner and to the satisfaction of requesting jurisdictions


Multiple requests for assistance and activations during 2008–09. Post activation workshops and reports developed for four major activations.

Review and report on national emergency management public education programs

The ‘National Review of Community Education Programs for natural hazards’ project is conducted within agreed timeframes


Report presented to the Australian Emergency Management Committee.

Conduct Ministerial Council, Australian Emergency Management Committee and subcommittee functions

One Ministerial Council and two Australian Emergency Management Committee meetings are conducted


One Ministerial Council and three Australian Emergency Management Committee meetings were conducted in 2008–09.

Deliver a program of professional education to build a whole-of-nation capability in emergency management policy and practice

A new professional education program focused towards post-graduate qualifications is implemented

Not achieved

Deferred pending resolution of the National Security College.

Strategic workshops and education modules are provided to 2,000 participants


Complete the national capability enhancement programs in line with Cabinet Implementation Plans

The Australian Tsunami Warning System Implementation Project and the Urban Search and Rescue Capability Development Project are completed by June 2009

Achieved tsunami component.

Partially achieved urban search and rescue component.

Australian Tsunami Warning System project completed on time and on budget, including end-of-program National Tsunami Exercise conducted in June 2009.

The Australian Emergency Management Committee endorsed the national urban search and rescue arrangements. The end date of the funding agreements with four jurisdictions covering purchase of urban search and rescue equipment has been extended to 21 August 2009 due to delays in delivering major equipment items. Some of the planned executive training has been deferred due to funding pressures.


Administered items Results

Local Grants Scheme


Funding for the Local Grants Scheme lapsed on 30 June 2008. Work continued through 2008–09 to complete outstanding projects and acquit funding.

Budget price: $2.526 million

Actual price: $1.589 million

National Emergency Volunteers Support Fund


183 projects were funded in 2008–09, which fully committed available funding.

Budget price: $3.272 million

Actual price: $3.551 million

Urban search and rescue—capability

Substantially achieved

Funding restrictions prevented full achievement of Urban Search and Rescue Capability Development Project objectives, in particular cancellation of the national urban search and rescue exercise.

Budget price: Nil

Actual price: Nil

Our people

A community in danger and a group of students, the perfect recipe for interactive disaster management

John Haydock, National Security Training, Education and Development Branch, National Security  
Capability Development Division

John Haydock, National Security Training,
Education and Development Branch, National
Security Capability Development Division

The Department’s first foray into the world of online gaming

‘Dingo Creek’ is the Department’s first foray into the world of online gaming. It is a multimedia learning tool that sends the player back in time to save the community from a disaster that has struck the town. Aimed at school students from Years 5 to 9 the game introduces the concepts of disaster risk management and minimisation.

‘Dingo Creek’ provides interactive and engaging content for students and teachers. The game is based on real life problems that affect a community during a disaster. While other disaster education activities are already online, this is the first to explore the all-hazards approach and to explain broad emergency management concepts to students. By raising awareness of the risk of disasters and of preparedness measures we hope to build the skills of individuals, families and communities to cope in such situations.

‘A large part of the success of the project is due to the professionalism and creativity of the educational software developers—dk2 and Millipede—who responded to the project challenges and continually delivered beyond our expectations,’ said John Haydock, of the Public Information and Awareness team.

Positive feedback from teachers and students is supported by a 300 per cent rise in traffic to the Emergency Management Australia Schools website and a corresponding increase in use of materials. Dingo Creek is a shining example of how the Department is using online technologies to reach schools and the community.

‘The knowledge of staff within the Department, and my colleagues Melanie Ashby and Katrina Beard, was invaluable in developing and validating the design and most characters were voiced by staff from the Department,’ John said. ‘It’s highly rewarding to watch kids respond to and enjoy interacting with Dingo Creek while they are learning something so important.’

Based on the project’s success and the production knowledge acquired, a sequel, ‘Dingo Creek—The Recovery’ is being developed. In this game students will look at the aftermath of a disaster, what is involved in rebuilding a community, considering not only the physical reconstruction, but also the social, economic and environmental issues.

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