Leaders not up to disasters: new study

Leaders not up to disasters: new study

01 November 2012

published by www.canberratimes.com.au

Australia– Senior leaders remain unprepared and untrained for major disasters, a former chief of ACT emergency services has warned.

Peter Dunn, who led the city’s emergency services in the three years after the devastating 2003 bushfires, has co-written a study of major disasters in Australia during the past 10 years.

The paper, titled Senior Leadership in Times of Crisis, was released on Thursday by his Canberra-based consultancy firm Noetic Group, which also sells strategy and knowledge consulting services to government.

It paints a bleak picture of the ability of senior emergency leaders to properly respond to major disasters.

The paper coincides with the United Firefighters Union raising ”deep concerns” about the appointment of SES chief officer Tony Graham as acting head of the ACT’s Emergency Services Agency.

These criticisms, based on the coronial inquest’s criticism of Mr Graham’s role in the 2003 bushfires, were dismissed as ”disgraceful and cowardly” by Emergency Services Minister Simon Corbell.

But the release of the study, which includes an analysis of the 2003 fires, raises further questions about the capabilities of senior leaders in emergency management.

Mr Dunn said the biggest investments made in the ACT’s emergency leadership after the 2003 fires had been lost, and lessons learnt in the disaster had been forgotten.

”We invested very heavily in the senior leadership team because that was the findings in the operational review,” Mr Dunn said.

”We did that, and of course they’ve all gone now.

”People forget, history repeats itself, what we’ve done is with time lapses and budget pressures… things change and we’re right back to where we were.”

The report analysed, among other things, the Canberra bushfires, cyclones Larry and Yasi, the equine influenza outbreak, the Victorian floods in 2011, and major bushfires in South Australia and West Australia.

It consistently found that problems with senior leadership, particularly in the early stages of disasters, were significant.

”The ESA is no different to anywhere else – there are some agencies that do invest in sending people overseas, but there is no program that we can point to that trains people doing strategic decision making in emergency management in leadership,” Mr Dunn said on Wednesday.

The study also recommended the recruitment of senior leaders should take into account personality and personal attributes, and whether they were suited to major disaster response.

An ESA spokesman said the agency had not yet considered the report, and was unable to comment.

Meanwhile, the fallout from the UFU’s criticism of the incoming emergency services commissioner continued on Wednesday.

Speaking at a firefighters graduation ceremony, Mr Corbell said the new emergency services boss had his backing.

”He has my full support, full and unqualified support, and the comments that have been made about Mr Graham I think are disgraceful and cowardly,” Mr Corbell said.

”Tony Graham is a competent and experienced emergency management professional,” he said.

Mr Corbell said the SES chief had more than demonstrated his abilities through recent major weather events.

”The flooding and severe rain events in the last two years have been Tony Graham’s responsibility and the emergency response has been outstanding,” he said.

Mr Graham will act in the position until a permanent replacement is found.



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