The 2019/20 Victorian fires, which had a devastating impact on areas in the North East, tested the ability of smaller municipalities in the Hume Region to provide emergency relief centres for impacted communities.
By February 2020 in Towong LGA, 205,000 hectares were burnt and 187,000 hectares in the Alpine LGA were burnt, with impacts across communities, agriculture and tourism.
The capacity and capability of relief centre staff in the North East was identified as a key lesson out of the fires. The community need and length of time the relief centres were required challenged the resources of the smaller councils.
Recognising this, Alpine, Indigo and Towong councils developed a collaboration model that established Emergency Relief Centre (ERC) Collaboration Arrangements for the operation of relief centres across the municipalities.
In May 2022, the three councils came together to test and validate the arrangements in Exercise WhiteClaw (Tangambalanga), which was developed and facilitated by DisasterCo through its DisasterSmart program.
Exercise WhiteClaw was designed as a learning opportunity rather than a rigid test, to build confidence and assist with training staff to perform key activities in an Emergency Relief Centre.
Key activities included traffic management, the use of the ERC trailer, ERC setup, registration system, briefing, debriefing, shift handover, ERC operations, and the overall collaboration between Indigo Shire, Alpine Shire, and Towong Shire.
More than 60 participants from the three councils, neighbouring and guest councils as well as representatives from emergency response and relief agencies attended.
The day was broken into three parts:
Agency and council “speed dating” to help explain integral functions in ERC and operations
Presentations from: representatives of the Australian Childhood Foundation on Childhood Trauma in Disasters, and a real-life case study of the Black Summer bushfires from Towong Shire Director Recovery
An exercise which challenged agencies and councils to work through a complex fire scenario, leading to the need to establish multiple ERC’s across the Region
Feedback from the day indicated the value of getting together and being able to talk through the functions required in the response and immediate relief phases of an emergency as well as the issues and challenges through the exercise.
The ResilientCo team would like to thank the Indigo, Alpine and Towong council representatives for the work they did in the lead up to the exercise as well as the continued passion and dedication to their communities.
Thanks also to the emergency services representatives and supporting councils including Wangaratta, Wodonga, Murrindindi and Moira for their participation.