Earlier today an invitation to a media conference at which Jon Stanhope and Peter Dunn would “detail the ACT’s security planning” found its way to my inbox so, having had my afternoon class cancelled, I decided to go and see what it was all about.
Five minutes late and slightly puffing from my sprint from the carpark, I sidled into the back of the room while Mr Stanhope was in the middle of condemning the “spin and outrageous political use” of some recent incident involving a woman (possibly Clea Rose, but I thought he said something about it happened within the past 24 hours).
He then said the plans covered a number of areas, including an ACT community evacuation policiy, a series of warning systems, a handy map, memorandums of understanding with the media, incident action plans and access to community evacuation centres. There were a few more points, but I can’t write fast enough yet (anyone want to teach me shorthand for free?).
Before handing over to Emergency Services Commissioner Peter Dunn, Mr Stanhope said, “These plans are not some phantom of my imagination.”
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While Commissioner Dunn was getting himself organised, I sussed out who else was there. This was: the Canberra Times and ABC’s assembly reporters, another CT reporter with a photographer, one of the ABC cameramen, a WIN cameraman and someone I didn’t recognise but who I presumed to be his journo, someone taking sound recording with an ABC mike and about 10 others that I decided must be political staffers. John Hargreaves was also hanging around up with the other speakers, being the appropriate minister, but he didn’t say anything while I was there.
Commissioner Dunn said planning for emergency evacuation and so on began in December 2003, as a consequence of the bushfires that January, and were developed in conjunction with the police and all other agencies involved.
He said there are plans for both self and directed evacuation, and a little later said the evacuation could be either immediate or evacuation with a warning (for example if they know a severe storm is coming).
The most practical way to get messages out to the public is through the media, and part of the planning has involved developing MOUs with every media outlet in Canberra (although, as seen in the 2003 bushfires, they possibly only needed one with the ABC, but that’s just my opinion). Commissioner Dunn said these MOUs will be circulated nationally for other states to model their own plans on.
Apparently in the past, different types of emergencies had their own categories of warnings but now all the systems are combined and there’s only one type of warning (I think, or maybe one type with different levels).
Then he said something about the Yellow Pages now having a handy map in it so that in the event of an emergency, ES can tell the public through the media where to avoid and where they need to go. I just went and looked in my Yellow Pages and lo and behold, there is a squidgy map showing all of the ACT on one page that is supposed to help us in an emergency. Too bad if your house burns down with your phone book in it.
Lastly Commissioner Dunn said all ES staff were trained in quick planning. He said these planning skills were used last summer when the Cuborree was on at Camp Cottermouth and there was a full fire ban (I didn’t know the kiddies were threatened and one of my friends was a camp leader there). The skills were also put to use during the “white powder scares” earlier this year and with the cooperation of ANU staff, the fire brigade and police when the uni’s campus had to be evacuated due to crazy (al)chemists.
Then we were introduced to the ACT’s deputy police chief, Commander Steve Lancaster. He said evacuation is just one part of a broader security stategy for ACT police and that we really are in a good position at the moment, particularly because there is a strong national network of information sharing (at least, I think this is what he meant — my notes are somewhat indecipherable).
He said our people, meaning the police and ES, are good on the roads and know the roads very well. I wasn’t quite sure why this was terribly important, but he went on to say that police deal with incidents on the roads on a daily basis and that history shows they always do this professionally.
He finished up with the very quotable, “Every second, every minute, every hour of every day ACT police and emergency services are working hard to protect the community.”
The floor was then opened up for questions and that’s when it got interesting.
Commissioner Dunn was asked how come we don’t have a plan specifically for the CBD like Sydney when someone (I forget who) had said that we would. He replied that we had no single plan to get people out of the CBD because here we have lots of open spaces and less population density and so we don’t have the same problems with people movement and so on. He also said that the view was it is better to be able to produce an incident action plan at the time when it’s needed through having large amounts of useful data at hand rather than coming up with hypothetical plans that may not suit the specific incident.
Ben Doherty from the CT then asked if he was concerned about morale problems within the SES after the email saying the plans were yet to be started (or something like that, it was in a CT story today that’s not made it onto the web yet).
Commissioner Dunn started with a flat “no”, then waffled on something about how this was a significant milestone and that in the past 14 months the SES has been significantly reorganised and finished that part of his answer with the declaration that in fact, “morale is very high”.
I think he said the SES was not involved in the planning initially because the first plans were focused on floods and storms, but I may have gotten this backwards because I thought floods and storms were the SES’s area. He said, rather mysteriously, that “the golf set is now complete”, meaning I think that all the necessary agencies are now involved in emergency planning.
He also said he has given the SES the task of helping the fire brigade to go around and help all ACT building managers make sure they have a suitable and up-to-date evacuation plan for their building.
And then the talk moved on to other matters, which you can read of elsewhere.