In the past five years Tasmania has experienced multiple bushfire events, floods, the Queensland fruit fly incursion and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each of these events required a coordinated emergency management approach at both a state and national level to ensure Tasmanian residents were safe.
This story is replicated around the country, with some states and territories faring worse than Tasmania due to differing scales of disaster.
I don't think anyone would disagree when I say such crises can be devastating, but despite the trauma associated with disaster these situations repeatedly show us the strength and resilience of our communities.
Now, in the first week of November, our thoughts again turn to the upcoming bushfire and natural disaster season.
The AFAC, the Australian and New Zealand National Council for fire and emergency services, released its seasonal bushfire outlook for Spring 2021 showing normal bushfire potential in most areas, including Tasmania, but the agency warned against complacency.
South-east Queensland, northern New South Wales and Western Australia have higher bushfire potential due to grass, crop growth and dry soil.
However, below average bushfire potential is noted in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Victoria due to vegetation recovering from the 2019-20 bushfire season.
Fire authorities use tools like AFAC's bushfire outlook to prepare their operational response, chief executive officer Stuart Ellis AM explained, saying it "...provides a national picture of what to expect over the coming months, and the evidence base to make key hazard reduction and strategic operational decisions to reduce bushfire impact on Australian communities".
Tasmania's Department of Police, Fire & Emergency Management - comprising Tasmania Police, Tasmania Fire Service, State Emergency Service and Forensic Science Service Tasmania - keeps our state safe and secure, with paid staff and volunteers swinging into action in emergencies, like bushfires.
Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Management Jacquie Petrusma announced the Tasmanian government's plan for bushfire prevention in August.
This plan includes a boosted fuel reduction program, support for farmers and landholders conducting private burn-offs, funding to support emergency service personnel and volunteer health and well-being, enhanced equipment for volunteer brigades and establishing a permanent multi-hazard intelligence team to monitor hazards and provide advice for incident response.
Tasmanian agencies are working with their interstate and national counterparts as part of Emergency Management Australia's pre-season preparedness program this year.
At a federal level, Emergency Management Australia representatives, under the auspices of the National Recovery and Resilience Agency, will conduct bushfire and disaster preparedness meetings with state and territory agencies, as well as run virtual national preparedness briefings with the Bureau of Meteorology, Australian Defence Force and Services Australia.
Topics covered within these briefings span agency availability and capability; natural disaster support; cooperative response procedures under Australian Emergency Management Arrangements, for example the Commonwealth Disaster Response Plan; seasonal fire weather and cyclone activity outlooks; and bushfire detection and mapping capabilities with GeoScience Australia.
Using knowledge gained through our response to one of this country's worst natural disasters, the Black Summer bushfires, the Australian government has enhanced its approach when working with communities to prevent, prepare, respond and recover from disasters.
This includes rolling out and communicating disaster mitigation initiatives, community awareness and warning measures and disaster relief and recovery support.
The nationally-coordinated disaster response under this year's preparedness program includes securing our own Large Air Tanker to reduce reliance on overseas aircraft; investing in the National Aerial Firefighting Centre's specialised firefighting aircraft fleet so they are readily available to support where needed; strengthening telecommunications resilience in bushfire- and disaster-prone areas; and working with states and territories on operational arrangements, like sending emergency service personnel interstate and implementing COVID-safe practices in evacuation and recovery centres.
We have already seen how such enhanced and coordinated national support can work through the National Coordination Mechanism response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This mechanism has played a critical role in the non-health response to the pandemic since March 2020, developing strong working relationships with stakeholders at all levels of government and in industry and the private sector.
When the North West Regional Hospital experienced a COVID-19 outbreak in April 2020, Australian Defence Force personnel supported the Tasmanian Government with quarantine compliance management and an Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) oversaw emergency health services while the outbreak was contained.
Tasmanian emergency services personnel frequently support their colleagues in other states and territories, illustrating how the National Coordination Mechanism framework supports government, agencies and communities to respond to disasters and protect ourselves and property when needed.
Now is the time for us to prepare/revisit our disaster evacuation plans to ensure we're as prepared as our state and federal agencies are.
And I want to thank our emergency services for their incredible work in advance of the season ahead. We appreciate all you do.
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