Victoria was subject to a pretty major windstorm overnight. No serious rain came with it, but very strong winds, just as the Bureau forecast. Lots of SES jobs.
We had calls to 6 jobs where we are – some we passed to the council, one we couldn’t find, but we did a few ourselves too. Busy for a few hours.
One advantage we have in the rural area is a much lower population and housing density, so windstorm doesn’t affect us as much as urban areas. Trees falling in the bush aren’t a problem unless they block a road, but in heavily built up areas every falling tree has some impact on someone. City units are always busier than we are in windstorm.
When we have a major SES response, such as big storm events, our unit becomes a local ICC (incident control centre). Staff in the unit coordinate the teams that are out on the road, take care of paperwork, etc.
One of things we do, thanks to a government grant a year or two back, is use our ceiling mounted projector and screen to turn a large part of one wall into an information display for those in the unit and teams coming and going.
We typically have a single PC operator controlling what’s on display, and they generally flip between the online incident tracking system (OIMS), Google maps and the met bureau’s weather information radars.
One technique I’ve developed the last couple of times I’ve been involved is to plot incident locations using a custom Google map. Partly to remind myself, but also to help others, I’ll post the technique here with a bunch of screenshots.
First off, go to the Goggle maps website (http://maps.google.com.au). You’ll see an overview of Australia. On the left, you’ll also see two links: one for “Get directions”, and one for “My Maps”. That’s the link you want.
Click on “My Maps” and you’ll be given the opportunity to create a new custom map. Here’s an example:
Once you’ve created your new map, you’ll see an “Edit” button that lets you change the map content. Click that “Edit” button, then you can drop place markers onto the map.
To do that, click the blue teardrop shape pin button, then click the place on the map where you want to put the pin. Here’s an example of where I’ve zoomed into a location and dropped a pin:
When you click “OK” to save the details for that pin, you’ll see it’s listed in your map:
You can repeat this as many times as you like. I’ve created a few more in this example:
You can then use this in a variety of ways. You can click on a particular pin (either in the list on the left, or on the map) and the edit window for that pin will pop up. Here, I clicked on the middle pin:
You can edit the details associated with the pin and click “OK” if they’ve changed.
If you want to get really fancy, you can click the blue teardrop pin in the edit window and change the icon. Here’s an example:
That’s pretty much it. The way you use it from here is up to you. I personally remove the pins once a job is clear so all I see on the map is the current workload. It’s nice having that because you get a very simple view of what you have ahead of you. When a team comes in from the field they can easily see what tasks are available and where they are. Being able to zoom into the map and see the address of the task is great for when you’re working with teams that have come into support.
Lastly, don’t forget you can also see all this in satellite view, not just map view:
Google maps is a terrific tool for those of us coordinating rescue teams out in the field. If your unit has decent web access and a large screen projector I really do recommend practicing using this technique to get a really clear idea of what’s going on in the field. It’s certainly helped me and the incident management team when we’ve dealt with large workloads.
Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding a fatal collision on the Pyrenees Highway. The accident occurred around 11.15am near the Chadwick Track intersection. Investigators have been told that a 76-year-old Maryborough man was riding [sic] his 98 Ford ute west along the highway. For a reason yet to be determined he lost control of the ute and collided with a tree. The man died at the scene and a report will be prepared for the Coroner.
We got the call around 11:18 and were on scene at 11:27. The driver was already deceased.
It’s worth mentioning that I visited Birchip over the weekend. I was there for a two day SES road rescue course. Saturday was all theory and Sunday was spent playing with cars in the local wrecking yard.
A few of us (there were 12 on the course) were booked into local accommodation for the Friday and Saturday nights because of how far it was from home. The Friday night I stayed at the Commercial Hotel. It would almost certainly be the worst place I have ever stayed. The room was tiny. The ceiling was mouldy. There was no air conditioning. There was newspaper covering the cracks in the window. I don’t exactly need to stay somewhere luxurious (a basic motel room works just fine) but this dive was unbearable. Those of us who stayed there Friday refused to go back Saturday; we ended up doing a 180km round trip to accommodation in Swan Hill instead.
Here’s the outside of Mildew Manor:
Special points of note:
- The broken cement sheeting above the front door. Maybe it’s asbestos. Not sure.
- The tyre marks all over the road out the front.
- The swan made out of an old tyre on top of the drive through entrance. That’s a classy touch.
Birchip is a pretty dead town. We met a few of the local SES people there and they were great; they looked after us pretty well and fed us really well. There’s really not much going on there though.
The local station seems to have changed hands a few times and is currently available for lease:
The course itself was the first of three weekends we’ll spend there. This past weekend was a mix of theory and practical. Saturday was spent in the air conditioned comfort of the local CFA station’s meeting room going through the road rescue coursework from front to back. Sunday was an early start in the local wrecking yard working through practical exercises in scene approach, vehicle stabilisation and glass management. The next weekend (late January) will be all about casualty handling and extrication, then the final weekend is a wrap-up and final assessment.
Yesterday afternoon I attended a MECC Information Session in the local council chambers.
A MECC is a Municipal Emergency Coordination Centre. This is an element of the emergency management planning that is undertaken at various levels within government and community based organisations. The Emergency Services Commissioner sits at the top of the planning hierarchy, and those of us in the trenches (SES, Police, CFA, DSE, Red Cross, district hospitals, etc) are at the bottom.
There’s a lot of planning undertaken behind the scenes so that everyone in the emergency services ecosystem knows what to do when we’re hit with events like last February’s bushfires. This planning has certainly become more intense as a result of the ongoing Royal Commission into the handling of those bushfires, but it’s certainly not new.
What is a MECC, and who is in it?
The MECC is a local council based centre. It’s headed by a group of three key people known as the MERC (the municipal emergency response coordinator), the MERO (the municipal emergency resource officer) and the MRM (the municipal recovery manager). Each has a different role.
- The MERC is typically the person who has overall responsibility for managing the emergency. In our council area it’s the senior officer at the police station (right now, Acting Inspector Paul Huggett).
- The MERO is the person who is responsible for coordinating the acquisition and deployment of resources used to respond to the emergency – whether they’re things that are needed to handle the emergency itself or things that are needed to assist in the recovery operations. In a flood, for example, the MERO will be the person who needs to coordinate sand, sandbags, mapping data about which areas needed to be protected, etc, but they’re also going to work on finding relief centres and housing for those who are temporarily displaced. For us this is Ron Potter; his day job is the town planner, so he’s perfectly suited to being our MERO.
- The MRM is the person who is responsible for recovering from emergencies. He’ll work closely with both the MERC and the MERO to do what’s required for recovery. The thinking these days (and rightly so) is that recovery starts the moment the ball is bounced, so even while an emergency is unfolding recovery has started alongside the management of the emergency itself. UPDATE: Our MRM is John Kelly. His email address indicates he works for the local council, but I know nothing about him.
As well as the MERC, the MERO and the MRM, the MECC will be staffed with Liaison Officers (LO’s) from the various emergency services that are involved in the emergency. As one of the emergency service organisations that has a role in emergency management, we’ll typically have an LO in the MECC if we’re involved. To be able to do that you need to know what the MECC is and how it operates.
I had a rough idea of what the MECC did, having been in and out of the Beechworth MECC many times during the time I spent there during the February fire events. What I didn’t see there, however, was the way the various people in the MECC communicated with each other and how those communications formally occurred so that you can track everything that’s being requested, offered, and updated, and how those communications must be vigorously controlled and audited so they provide what is essentially legal documentation of the MECC’s decisions and proceedings. The bushfire Royal Commission, for example, is looking at all sorts of documentation from coordination centres across the affected areas to see what happened.
A MECC is a coordination centre. It’s all about getting the various organisations and people involved in the emergency talking to each other and making sure that tasks that need to occur can actually occur. It doesn’t actually do anything, however – it just arranges for things to be done.
If a MECC has been activated it will typically be liaising with one or more ICCs. An ICC is an Incident Control Centre, and that typically sits between the MECC and the actual emergency itself.
Here’s an example. For weather related events (storm, flood, etc) the SES is the control agency. For major events our unit headquarters will be the ICC, and the MECC will be activated to support the work we’re doing. One of our members will sit in the MECC as the SES Liaison Officer and be our interface to the things the MECC can do – acquire resources we need to manage the flood and assist in deploying those resources.
The Emergency Management Australia website has lots of documentation on how all this stuff works. I have a bit of reading to do.
A few weeks back Lisa came out to the SES training area when we were cutting cars up and took photos. One of them was published in yesterday’s paper:
The accompanying text was a message asking people to take care on the roads during the next few weeks (school holidays here in Australia):
Drivers urged to take care on the road these holidays
The Maryborough State Emergency Service are advising people to take it easy on the roads during the school holidays.
They warn people to observe road rules, speed limits and to especially pay attention to traffic and road conditions when travelling about.
It is never easy when a loved one is taken from their family too soon through tragic accidents on the road, the SES stress. The reality is you can’t replace them.
The SES also warn drivers to not use mobile phones while driving, avoid distractions from passengers, make sure everyone in the car has a seatbelt on and keep kids occupied so they don’t become a distraction.
The Maryborough State Emergency Service volunteers are continually practicing their skills maintenance to ensure that they are able to perform their tasks in a timely and professional manner when called out to a situation.
Last night’s SES training was focused on road rescue. We occasionally have access to old cars that we can cut to pieces and last night was one of those nights. I gave Lisa a call and asked her to come out and take some photos of the training. She did a great job and took a whole lot of fantastic photos. Here’s a few.
Jaws of life
The term “jaws of life” is kind of a bit of a media term. In our SES unit we’ve got what’s considered to be a heavy rescue kit which consists of a series of hydraulic components that each do different and distinct things.
- A set of spreaders that can be used to either open up a gap or crush something. These are probably the most often used component of the kit. They’re incredibly powerful and flexible. You can put them in a 10mm gap and open it up to 830mm, so you can easily pop a door off its hinges, for example. At first glance it might seem counter-intuitive to crush a component when you want to open a car up, but it’s pretty useful. If you crush a front guard, for example, it will pull the trailing edge away from the door so you can then use the spreaders to open up the gap and pop the hinges.
- A set of cutters that can be used to cut through metal. These are used to sever metal pieces – cutting through car pillars, for example.
- A set of rams that can be used to push two pieces of metal away from each other. If the front of the car has moved back into the passenger compartment, for example, the rams can be positioned between the bottom of the B pillar and the top of the dashboard and then used to push the dashboard forward.
- A pump that will run three of the pieces of kit at the same time. Hot pluggable, too. You can uncouple components and change them over on the fly with the pump running full speed delivering 720 bar (that’s 10,442 psi) of hydraulic pressure.
As you can see, there’s more to it than just “jaws”.
The spreaders being used to open up the gap between a door and the pillar it’s attached to. This will effectively pop the door off its hinges.
Another view of the spreaders being used to open a gap. This time it’s the trailing edge of the door, so it will break open the door latch.
This time the cutters are being used. You can see the door has been torn off its hinges so the cutters can then be used to shear the bottom of the A pillar. The pillar and windscreen offer no resistance at all.
Thanks to Lisa for braving the cold to come out and take photos. A very useful training aid for us.
We had a callout this morning for some building damage. We shouldn’t really have provided assistance, because the damage was minimal (to the point of being trivial) and nothing a half competent nephew or friend of the home owner couldn’t have fixed. It was a long way from an emergency.
It got me thinking though – I haven’t actually put forward my idea of what the SES is and does and what we should be doing. We’re not a free home maintenance service, that’s for sure.
What is the SES?
The SES is a statutory body that answers to the Victorian Police and Emergency Services Minister, the Honourable Bob Cameron. Within the Victorian Government, emergency services fall under the umbrella of the Department of Justice.
To assist with emergency management in Victoria there’s a document that’s been built up by all interested parties (government – both state and local, police, CFA, MFB, SES, etc) called the Emergency Management Manual of Victoria. It’s commonly known as the EMMV (‘em-vee’).
Within the EMMV there is a list of all the different types of emergency situations that can arise, and for each one, it lists two sets of agencies – the control agency and the support agencies. The control agency is the one that’s in charge of a particular emergency, and the support agencies are those that assist the control agency in managing an emergency.
The SES is the control agency for flood, storm and wind damage and earthquakes. For lots of other emergencies we’re a supporting agency.
What does the SES do?
The SES is pretty much a general purpose rescue support agency. When it’s a weather related event we’re in control, but for pretty much any other emergency we assist other agencies in whatever way we can.
Each SES unit does different things depending on the geographic location and the other emergency services that are present in the area. A unit on the Murray River will have strong boating skills to support police in water based search and rescue operations, for example, whereas a unit based in the Alpine areas of the state (such as Mansfield) will have skills in alpine based search and rescue.
Some SES units are ‘RAIR’ rescue units – Road, Air, Industrial and Rail – but that tends to be the role of rural SES units. Metropolitan SES units usually support the MFB as they tend to be the primary rescue agency. Where the CFA is present instead of the MFB the SES will generally take over the RAIR rescue role.
The local SES here in Maryborough does a number of things. We’re a RAIR unit, so we’re an accredited road rescue unit. We also undertake the legislated role of flood control, storm and wind damage emergency repairs. Not sure that we’ve had to deal with any local earthquakes.
We provide other assistance as required by other emergency services. This can take many forms. We can provide good lighting support because we’ve got something upward of 6000 watts of light we can deploy within 5 minutes of arriving at an incident. We’ve also got manpower that can be used to assist in casualty handling, search and rescue operations, etc.
In the time I’ve been in the local SES unit (which is coming up on 2 years) I have:
- Been to countless road accidents. Some where we’ve had nothing to do, some where the casualties were already free of the damaged vehicles and we simply assisted the ambulance service with lighting and/or casualty handling, and others where we’ve had to free trapped drivers and passengers prior to the ambulance being able to treat them.
- Been on a two searches. In one we failed to find any trace of the person (and they still haven’t been found) but in the other we found the person within 2 hours.
- Provided lighting assistance to the fire investigators who were looking into an early evening house fire.
- Helped rescue a bushwalker who broke her ankle and had to be airlifted out of the steep terrain she was in.
- Been to countless requests for assistance where wind had damaged buildings and emergency repairs needed to be made.
- Spent a week away in support of the CFA during the February 2009 bushfires.
I’m sure there are a bunch of other things I’ve forgotten about. Being in the SES is such an interesting and rewarding thing because we never know what we’ll be doing next and who and how we’ll be providing assistance next.
Having said that, most of what the local unit does is road crash and storm damage. I’d say that makes up 75% of what we do.
What else should we do?
The one thing we don’t do that I’d like to see is for the SES to take more of a leadership role in educating drivers. It’s not our role right now (the Police, the TAC and VicRoads do that in various ways) but there’s no unified program used to educate young drivers about the dangers inherent in driving. We should do more there given that we get to regularly see the outcome of drivers who get it wrong.
As mentioned a week or two back I spent this weekend on a truck driving course held on behalf of the SES. I was part of a team of 10 people that learnt how to drive a medium rigid truck. That’s a vehicle with two axles and weight of 8 tonnes or more (with a trailer of up to 9 tonnes).
Tomorrow I need to go into VicRoads and swap my current Victorian licence for a national licence with medium rigid endorsement.
From now on I’ll be replacing every utterance of “ok” with “10-4, Big Buddy”.
The weekend after next I’m going on a driver training course to get my medium rigid driver’s licence. The VicRoads website says this will let me:
… drive any two axle rigid vehicle, including bus and truck, greater than 8 tonnes GVM. You may tow a single trailer (other than a semi trailer) up to 9 tonne GVM or to the manufactures specifications (whichever is less).
I’m going on this course with one of the other members in the SES unit because our new rescue truck requires a medium rigid licence.