A highlight of key activities through 2020-2021, ranging from significant reviews and monitoring responsibilities, to the challenges presented with the ongoing pandemic.
In this period a range of emergencies affected Victorian regions and their communities including:
- 2019–2020 ‘Black Summer’ fires in East Gippsland, North East and Alpine regions
- major storms and floods in June 2021
- energy supply disruption
- ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Since March 2020, all Victorians have been affected in some way, by the COVID-19 public health emergency – the most significant pandemic since the ‘Spanish flu’ of 1919.
Recovery for many Victorians affected by the 2019–2020 Black Summer fires continues, compounded by a range of changing health provisions introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In early June 2021, a fatal severe weather event brought strong winds and flooding rains across the state resulting in significant property damage, power and telecommunications outages; and the busiest time in VICSES’ history with more than 9000 requests for assistance.
At the event’s peak more than 220,000 people were without power, and COVID-19 pandemic testing and vaccination centres closed due to power outages in affected locations.
Flooding from this same event led to an evacuation of Gippsland’s Yallourn coal mine and later triggered a declaration of a State Energy Emergency to facilitate urgent repairs to mine walls.
Assurance Framework for Emergency Management guiding sector-wide improvement
Identifying opportunities for better practices in emergency management arrangements.
IGEM develops and maintains the Assurance Framework for Emergency Management which supports continuous improvement and promotes a coordinated, sector-wide approach to assurance.
The four principles in the Framework are guiding the sector through a more coordinated, less burdensome and more valuable approach to assurance activities. These include reviews, evaluations, monitoring and reporting done by and within organisations or conducted independently and cross-sector by IGEM.
Where appropriate, our own assurance activities are informed through our observation role in high-level emergency management forums and committees.
Highlighting the value of assurance
In 2020 the Australian Government established the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements (External link), responding to 2019–20 Black Summer fires which devastated swathes of Australia’s eastern states. These bushfires resulted in the loss of life, extensive damage to property, and the natural and built environments.
Together with his Queensland counterpart (External link), Victoria’s Inspector-General participated in the Royal Commission hearings. The two Inspectors-General presented on their jurisdictional governance, coordination and accountability arrangements. The Commission heard the benefits of providing assurance and ongoing assessment of emergency management activities at a system-wide level and the need for that assurance to be independent of government influence.
The Royal Commission submitted its final report in October 2020 with 80 recommendations including two directed at encouraging a culture of assurance through supporting the promotion of continuous improvement and best practice in natural disaster arrangements.
The Victorian Government supported the intent of the recommendations, noting our state’s unique placement as one of only two jurisdictions to have a dedicated Inspector-General for Emergency Management.
The inherent value of IGEM’s accountability and assurance functions is further recognised through the State’s support emergency management reforms recommended in our Review of 10 years of reform in Victoria’s emergency management sector and the independent Inquiry into 2019–20 Victorian Fire Season.
Insights into assurance
In April 2021 we launched a unique online resource – Assurance in Emergency Management.
The resource provides a contemporary listing of more than 200 assurance reports issued since 2009 which are mapped against 12 risks relevant to Victoria including bushfire, flood, heatwave, and utility supply disruption.
Providing a single point of access to these reports provides users with a valuable insight into assurance in the emergency management sector; and promotes greater understanding of observations, findings and recommendations from previous and current assurance activities.
The resource also serves as a comprehensive record of the sector’s commitment to continuous improvement, and the varying assurance roles provided by sector organisations.
Identifying and addressing emergency management system-level issues
Providing government and community with confidence in the effectiveness of emergency management arrangements.
Conduct of our planned evaluations and reviews of the state’s emergency management arrangements and assessment of sector-wide performance, capacity and capability are based on an Annual Forward Plan of Reviews describing our proactive, system-wide reviews.
In addition, reviews, inquiries and investigations can be formally requested by the minister. As part of our assurance role, we also regularly monitor and report to minister on a range of matters, including progress made with reform programs that address accepted recommendations flowing from various reviews and inquiries.
During this period we:
- completed the significant own-motion 10 Year Review examining governance; capacity and capability; community engagement and preparedness; rebuilding and recovery; safety and resilience reforms introduced since 2009 and their effectiveness in supporting Victorians to become safer and more resilient
- completed the independent Fire Season Inquiry examining Victoria’s preparedness for, response to, and recovery from to fires in large parts of the North East, Gippsland, and Alpine regions
- commenced our planned review of Victoria’s preparedness for major public health emergencies, including pandemics which is considering a range of health emergencies to assess effectiveness, and using the COVID-19 pandemic as the primary case study.
Effecting change in Victoria’s arrangements
We welcomed the government’s positive response to and acceptance of all recommendations flowing from the independent Fire Season Inquiry and the 10 Year Review; and its implementation of four recommendations made in the Report into the West Footscray Industrial Fire.
Following the minster’s request, we are monitoring and reporting annually on the implementation of recommendations from the 10 Year Review and the Fire Season Inquiry, all of which aim to influence better community engagement, closer cooperation within and across government and agencies, well informed decision-making and, ultimately, better outcomes for all Victorians.
A key part of our assurance role continues through regular monitoring and reporting on:
- non-financial performance of the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority’s provision of the Triple Zero (000) call-taking and response, and the investigation into adverse events
- planned burns on public land that breach control lines and the implementation of recommendations from past investigations
- accepted recommendations and actions in response to independent inquiries and the Victorian Emergency Management Strategic Action Plan, including observations on the implementation of the emergency management planning reforms, and:
- IGEM’s inquiries and system-wide reviews
- the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry
- the Inquiry into the CFA Training College at Fiskville
Monitoring a pandemic response
In March 2020, we began monitoring and maintaining a watching brief on the emergency management and health sectors’ response to the communicable disease outbreak of the novel coronavirus strain (COVID-19) emergency in Victoria.
Focusing on system-level governance, policy development, and incident management, we approached this monitoring activity in a way that is low burden and low intensity, involving the collection and analysis of information that was either publicly available or identified through our observations at relevant meetings and committees.
A trusted, independent assurance provider
Assurance founded on transparency and integrity
We conduct our work with transparency and integrity, including through consultation on the development of the Annual Forward Plan of Reviews, the Forward Projection of Reviews, and regular engagement with emergency management stakeholders throughout the planning and conduct of all our assurance activities.
In this period, we updated our integrity policy with a more pointed focus on protecting the independent nature of IGEM’s work and reducing the duplication with departmental and public sector policies.
The updated policy more clearly reflects our relationship with the department, and the efficient and transparent use of resources.
It also recognises the independence of our assurance activities conducted under the Act, and across the emergency management sector which includes agencies and entities administratively supported by department.
Community-focused and accessible, embracing diversity and inclusion
An empathetic understanding of Victoria’s diverse communities is essential to inform contemporary emergency management arrangements
Where possible and appropriate, we provide communities affected by emergencies with opportunities to share their views and experiences through our assurance activities. In doing so, we apply a human rights and ethical lens to ensure the respect this participation merits.
IGEM’s Fire Season Inquiry has been informed more extensively by the community than any of our previous inquiries or reviews.
Throughout both phases of the Fire Season Inquiry – and in compliance with a range of COVID-19 pandemic health restrictions – consultation opportunities were realised through:
- 60 ‘town hall’ style community meetings in fire-affected townships
- 43 one on one interviews with individual community members
- 12 online focus groups on specific issues
- 193 community surveys
- 543 written submissions.
The extent of consultation reflects the desire that people have to recount their experiences and to genuinely influence future pathways in emergency management.
Our communities and our connections to Victoria
An uplift to our visual style acknowledges and shows our respect for Victorian Traditional Owners as the original custodians of Victoria’s land and waters, their unique ability to care for Country and deep spiritual connection to it.
The design represents connections with Victoria’s changing geography of waterways and mountains to grasslands and deserts. Victorians are also bound by common experiences of natural hazards and coming together before, during and after to strengthen our communities.
The interconnecting lines in the design also depict our systemic view of Victoria and all communities, of country and emergencies. It acknowledges we must work together, gather and learn from each other so we can be stronger together for future emergencies.
Finding better ways together
We learn from our shared pathways of experience and working together we can find better ways to respond to the challenges faced by current and our future communities.
Our commitment in supporting better outcomes for all Victorians before, during and after emergencies through 2020–21 has not been diminished by the challenges presented in a pandemic environment.
As we progress our assurance activities into 2021–22, we continue our focus of finding and fostering ways for sector organisations to better include all communities – including Australia’s First Peoples, young people, and people from diverse backgrounds – in contributing to improving and participating in Victoria’s emergency management arrangements.
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