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Fatigue management during extreme weather conditions vital for Australia’s volunteers

August 21, 2017 Conferences No Comments Email Email

Fatigue management of volunteers is impacting on emergency management agencies in the face of extreme weather events brought about by climate change, according to leading climate and emergency management experts speaking at the AFAC17 powered by INTERSHUTZ conference and exhibition in Sydney, 4-7 September.

Over the last 12 months, Australia has seen an increase in harsh weather including unprecedented heatwave and rainfall events. South Australia experienced 11 ‘extreme’ weather events between May and December 2016, an average of one per fortnight. During this period, South Australian State Emergency Service (SASES) experienced a staggering 50 per cent increase in requests for assistance compared to the previous 12 months.

Dr Blair Trewin, Senior Research Scientist at the Bureau of Meteorology, and a specialist in long-term observed climate change focusing on extreme events, commented on the collaborative roles scientists and the Bureau of Meteorology play in the development of effective emergency management plans.

“There is certainly a clear and unambiguous increase in extreme heat, and in sea levels, leading to a higher risk of coastal flooding. Increased occurrences of adverse weather combined with high-risk fire conditions is placing unprecedented pressure on our emergency response personnel.

Ms Stefanie Zakrzewski, SASES volunteer

“Our incalculable climate outlooks are playing an increasing role in planning, both our general seasonal climate outlook, and specialised outlooks, such as the seasonal tropical cyclone outlook, and our involvement in seasonal bushfire risk outlooks. Information on longer-term changes, both observed and projected, is also of high value in emergency response planning,” concluded Dr Trewin.

The large number of severe and extreme weather events during 2016, saw the SASES State Control Centre activated 11 times to coordinate agencies, provide media and community updates and implement strategies, actions and response plans.

Stefanie Zakrzewski, an experienced SASES volunteer and flood response planning officer, commented on how increases in harsh and unpredictable weather has made South Australia re-evaluate resource management during back-to-back emergency events.

“The SASES volunteers are members of our community that repeatedly provide their time to support those impacted by severe weather events. These volunteers have a multitude of other commitments that they put on hold when the need arises.

Dr Blair Trewin, Senior Research Scientist at the Bureau of Meteorology

“There are a number of elements central to effectively managing volunteer fatigue, including lessening the time volunteers spend on the ground, improving agency communication and public alert warning systems, to ensure those facing immediate risk are provided with timely information and assistance. Increased training and response opportunities for both staff and volunteers will ensure a cohesive and coordinated approach,” said Ms Zakrzewski.

Dr Trewin will examine the science of climate prediction on timescales and how it impacts emergency response during his keynote ‘Climate Change and the Hazard Profiles in Australia,’ while Ms Zakrzewski’s will question how far volunteers and staff can be pushed, and how better planning of resources between multi-agencies can alter the way emergency responders are managed in her session, ‘Groundhog Day: When weather systems arrive as frequently as your payslip – the importance of collaboration, intelligence and fatigue management.’

AFAC17 powered by INTERSHUTZ – emergency management conference will take place at the International Convention Centre, Sydney, Darling Harbour, 4-7 September 2017.

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