OPINION | Facing the challenge of an emergency

As we work our way through a challenging summer fire season, it’s timely for Victorians to understand how we use warnings to help communities across the state, and what their responsibilities are. 

In emergency situations, response agencies will use regular situational updates and have a clear picture of the resources in action and what impacts they are having. Those leading the response will constantly be assessing potential impacts and consequences to determine what information to include in warnings to the community. Radio is one of the best ways to get this information.

But it will not be the only source people listen to, and nor should it. It will form part of the decision-making foundation that takes into account things like personal circumstances, familiarity with the perceived situation, and the capability to act.

Personal circumstances will largely determine what people see as their options in an emergency. If your family includes small children, older members or people with a medical condition, you have several different considerations to make. If any of those members have medical conditions or need extra assistance, you will need to be prepared for that too.

This will sound like common sense but most emergencies do not come with a long lead time – which means decisions are often made under significant time pressure, within dynamic circumstances and inevitably some sense of discomfort or fear. 

The reason we as emergency services place so much emphasis on having a plan is to limit some of the confusion and pressure from the decision-making process during emergencies. This is even more important if you have children, pets or vulnerable people as part of your family.

Familiarity with your location is a key part of being prepared. But what does that mean in Victoria during summertime, when hundreds of thousands of people are on holiday away from home, often in high-fire risk areas with limited infrastructure?

We understand that many people take this time each year to rest and recharge. But as a Victorian, you need to know what risks you face when you travel. The emergency sector works closely with local councils, tourism agencies, and accommodation providers to try and get some basic understanding and knowledge to this moving population.

It is a good prompt to check your local conditions daily wherever you may be for the holiday period. Many of us will take the time to get away and may not be at a familiar location; make sure you are aware of the conditions and know what you want to do if things change quickly where you are.

Remember- you can visit www.emergency.vic.gov..au and download the free VicEmergency app to set up watch zones so your phone receives an alert when there is an incident in one of your zones. The Vic Emergency hotline, 1800 226 226, can give you up to date information over the phone.

Ultimately, our priority is the safety of the community. We know that better information leads to better decisions. But the community must share the responsibility and act accordingly – and that means being aware of where you are, who you are with, and what you will do when the time comes.Because living in Victoria means living with bushfires, floods, storms and all manner of other hazards.

But it also means living in one of the best locations in the world. So let’s work together to ensure we can all do it safely.

Craig Lapsley is the Emergency Management Commissioner for Victoria