Members would recall this article last week (Lack of Incident Review report into 2019 Yanchep fire disappointing) about the fact that there hasn’t yet been any kind of consultation with volunteers about an incident review into the highest profile fire in WA last summer – Yanchep.

We haven’t yet had a response from the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) about that issue, but based on what Commissioner Darren Klemm told the Royal Commission last Friday, it sounds like DFES has really been under the pump from COVID-19. According to Commissioner Klemm’s testimony, DFES has been under so much pressure from COVID-19, it simply hasn’t had the resources needed to complete the Incident/After Action Reviews from 2019.

And that is one of the very good reasons our submission to the Royal Commission advocated for the Commonwealth Government to set up an agency to undertake (or fund and manage) truly independent reviews of all emergency incidents across the country.

For those who haven’t read our submission, we argue that if the Commonwealth took responsibility for reviewing all major incidents in Australia, it would:

  • enable State Governments to get on with the important work of managing local emergencies without having to divert resources to reviews,
  • remove any perception of the conflict of interest that will always exist when anyone is asked to investigate (and transparently publish) their own mistakes,
  • create a standardised, truly independent methodology that yields results that can be analysed over long periods, and
  • increase the transparency of learnings and allow important lessons to be shared across the country more quickly.

We’re not sure where the Royal Commission will go with this one, but as you can see from the section of the transcript below, the lead Commissioner, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin AC (Retd) seemed to be very interested in the issue when he interrupted the Royal Commission Lawyer (Ms Hogan-Doran) during Commissioner Klemm’s evidence on Friday:

MS HOGAN-DORAN SC: We have some other evidence from the State Emergency Management Committee Response to a Notice to Give from the Royal Commission, that after-action reviews were commissioned in early February this year; I think, in particular, in relation to the Norseman bushfire which we’ve heard some evidence about. What’s the status of that after-action review and when may we anticipate that it will be provided to the Royal Commission?

MR KLEMM: Yes, due to the bushfire season that we’ve had here in Western Australia and – and then the impact of COVID, we haven’t progressed that after-action review for the Norseman fires at this point. It is – it is intended to get it finished in the second half of 2020.

COMMISSIONER BINSKIN: Can I ask a question there, please, Ms Hogan-Doran?

MS HOGAN-DORAN SC: Yes.

COMMISSIONER BINSKIN: Can I just dig a little bit deeper to have an understanding there, please, Commissioner Klemm. So COVID is affecting everyone, and we acknowledge that. Who do you get to do your reviews?

MR KLEMM: There – there’s a mix, Commissioner. Sometimes, depending on the level, we can do them internally, and sometimes we do them externally. Sometimes it’s done through AFAC where there’s a peer review mechanism in place. And we’ve had – I’ve had senior officers involved in the Tasmanian review as an example. So there is a mix. The external options are a little bit limited at the moment because of the travel restrictions and – and also the impact of COVID on DFES. As you quite  rightly point out, that is broad – more broadly for everybody.

COMMISSIONER BINSKIN: Yes.

MR KLEMM: But we are – we are providing resources into the COVID response and have been doing that since early March.

COMMISSIONER BINSKIN: Okay. So —

MR KLEMM: I would – yes.

COMMISSIONER BINSKIN: It’s not necessarily an independent review and there’s not a set structure. It changes each year that you do an after-action review, or is there a set process for your after-action review? You do it internally and then you have it peer reviewed or – I’m just interested in what the process is first.

MR KLEMM: Yes.

COMMISSIONER BINSKIN: It just seems like it’s ad hoc, if that makes sense, rather than as a structured approach, noting that that was what – from September 2017 that you were bringing a structure to this. I’m just interested in what the structure is for after-action reviews or whatever you might call them?

MR KLEMM: Yes. So we have an Incident Review Policy which sets out some stages of after-action review if we want to use that catch-all term, and it starts from a – from a debrief all the way through to a major incident review or MIR. And then there’s – and they’re more of a, you know, they can become external at major incident review, that we may bring someone in to do that because of the quantum of work that’s involved. And then, of course, there will be other times when there’s a government appointed review that may be external, and that’s what occurred with Waroona-Yarloop. The review for the Norseman event is something that, yes, the State Emergency Management Committee have requested and so that’s external to DFES.

COMMISSIONER BINSKIN: Okay, that’s external to DFES, but noting we’re now almost at the end of July so we’re actually back into your fire season, has there been any process to identify the lessons out of the last season that has informed the response from a State perspective for this season, or not?

MR KLEMM: Yes. So – sorry, Commissioner, yes.

COMMISSIONER BINSKIN: No, no, you please.

MR KLEMM: Sorry, had you – sorry. The actual review into – into the Norseman fire has commenced and that’s – it’s really centred on – centred on our messaging and community information, but also some challenges around the road infrastructure. And without getting too technical about it, we – the challenges we have with that particular road is that – is the distances and the inability for large trucks to be able to turn around. And so that’s what the review will focus on.

You know, we had some feedback during the incident of some challenges that the community had with – with information, particularly for those travellers coming from interstate, so travelling east/west. And work has commenced on – on that – the review into the various pieces of community information and communication that we provided. We just haven’t been able to progress it as we would have liked.

COMMISSIONER BINSKIN: Okay. So we’re into the next fire season. There have been no observations or recommendations at this stage at your level, or above?

MR KLEMM: That’s correct, yes. Yes.

COMMISSIONER BINSKIN: Okay. Thank you.

 

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