Australia — Poor co-ordination between Victoria’s two main firefighting authorities hampered the battle against the devastating Black Saturday bushfires, a damning report from the agencies has found.
The joint debriefing report by the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) lists 18 recommendations, including improving information flow during a bushfire to command centres, the Victorian Bushfire Information Line and the community.
The fire authorities and particularly CFA chief officer Russell Rees recently came under intense scrutiny at the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission for being out of touch with what was happening on the fire ground on February 7.
The report is compiled every year but has greater significance this year because of the Black Saturday fires which killed 173 people and destroyed thousands of homes.
The report found a need to improve the integrated function of the Integrated Emergency Control Centre (IECC) and the CFA and DSE statewide co-ordination centres and strategic planning.
The CFA and DSE were based at the IECC together for the first time last fire season.
The CFA is the lead agency for fires burning on private land, while the DSE manages fires that occur on crown land, including national parks and state forests.
The report called for improved liaison and co-ordination of incident management teams at local incident control centres (ICCs) “including division of control in a fast moving fire across administrative boundaries”, which it found “proved difficult and needs review”.
The bushfires royal commission heard critical warnings for the Kinglake region were delayed from the Kangaroo Ground ICC because the fire had not yet left the control of the Kilmore ICC.
While it noted that emergency services generally worked well together, the report said “there were negative comments from CFA generally at group level in relation to DSE when DSE was the control agency for a level three (large or complex) incident”.
Among the recommendations is a pledge to develop systems for better joint CFA/DSE level three incident control centres.
The report also called for better co-operation between CFA and DSE personnel and more integrated and parallel systems and procedures.
Local ICC facilities “often did not fully cater for IT, phone, privacy and close access for the entire incident management team,” the report said.
IT and phone systems “struggled to cope” in high-stress situations, and noise and a lack of privacy caused problems, it said.
Under the actions, the authorities will implement systems to get information from the fire ground, including from aircraft, to control centres.
Teams to manage extreme fire outbreaks should also be pre-formed in readiness for such events, the report recommended.
The report has been submitted to the royal commission which will use it as a guiding document for its interim report, due next week.
The report was prepared following 176 debriefs across Victoria, covering all roles and activities involved in the summer’s fires.
In a statement, the fire agencies said some of the actions would take a long time to implement.
“DSE and CFA acknowledge that there are opportunities to improve and are committed to providing the best service to the communities of Victoria,” the statement said.