Bushfires, like droughts, have been part of the Australian environment for thousands of years. These days, bushfires constitute a major natural and socio-economic risk, costing Australia, in excess of seventy million US dollars per year, and affecting around 2.5 million hectares of land in southern Australia alone. In some years, such as in 2003 in southeastern Australia, these figures rose to eighty million US dollars and the fire consumed three million hectares of land. With expanding capital and regional cities, and life-Style related choices people are increasingly making, the number of people living on the Urban- rural interface in bushfire prone areas grow considerably each year. (Stephen1998)
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Government agencies such as DSE and CFA in Australia and New Zealand therefore end up spending hundreds of millions of dollars annually on the management of bushfires. Bushfire related losses occur almost every year. A perennial challenge in the management of fire is to strike a balance between the relative costs of bushfire mitigation, and the related losses incurred by the community. In bushfire prone parts of the world the threat posed development of models of varying fire prevention and suppression management for some years. More recently, these models have sought to combine seasonal and geographic data, with the available fire behaviour science and suppression capability information, in a way that assist both operational and strategic decision-making.
Known generically as ‘decision support tools’ these models can greatly assist bushfire management agencies in a range of tasks including: helping to better understand how an individual bushfire will behave; better prediction, several months in advance, of the likely level of agency resources that will be needed in the forthcoming fire season; and also aimed at achieving a more strategic balance over a longer term, between resources allocated to the suppression of bush fires and the resources allocated to preparing the bush, fire fighting and support agencies and the wider community for bush fire season. (Stephen1998)
This is the kind of model that need to be established in Australian government to help combat bush fire in the country. Currently the fire fighting process in the country is mainly undertaken by three government agencies, which are Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE), the Department of Primary Industry (DPI) and the Country Fire Authority. The agencies have been working together to stop bush fire in the country.
The DSE is mainly responsible for fire fighting in the urban areas while CFA is mainly responsible for fire fighting in the rural areas Therefore if these departments that are well equipped with large inventories of specialised gargets for fire fighting can be well managed to work as a team, the bush fires in Australia can be effectively managed. The major challenges that have been facing these agencies include poor managements of fire fighting infrastructure assets.
The agencies are characterised by poor and in adequate fire fighting equipments. The roads that link the urban areas to the rural area are in poor conditions therefore making them inaccessible. Therefore an efficient management of fire fighting infrastructure assets is vital in Australia. These fire fighting assets includes; vehicles, roads and fire fighting equipments. The availability of good accessible roads in Australia will greatly boost this process.
This is because with good roads vehicles will be able to transport the fire fighting equipments and personnel to their targeted areas. Therefore the DSE, DPI and CFA should work very closely with the ministry of roads and publics work to ensure that good roads have been constructed on the areas, which are highly affected by the bushfires to enhance their activities on those places. This includes mostly the northern Australian part, which is a common victim of bushfire. Equipping these departments with the right fire fighting gargets is very necessary.
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Many of these equipments are of significant value for example a large tanker ladder truck can cost as much as one million three hundred US dollars. Therefore good management of these equipments in all these departments is very necessary. The management of these departments should ensure that they have placed special orders of the fire fighting equipments from the manufactures in good time to ensure that the agencies are not in short of these assets. Most of these equipments last for about ten to twelve years and therefore a strategic management that in cooperates long-term planning for replacement and management of fire fighting equipments is, therefore essential. (Joyce 2001)
To reinforce the efforts of the fire fighting departments in Australia the government introduced a policy that guides the managements of public services assets. The policy ensures the following conditions prevail in managements of public services assets. In accordance to the policy the Public assets should;
- Be managed from decisions based on service delivery needs
- Asset planning and management should be integrated into corporate and business planning budgetary and reporting process.
- Decisions about assets should be well informed.
- Ownership, control, accountability and reporting requirements for assets should be clearly defined and communicated.
The fire fighting agencies have also been characterised by poor communication. There have not been effective communications among all the fire fighting departments and branches in Australia. This has facilitated biased allocation of the agencies fire fighting equipments where some areas have more than they need while other lack very vital equipments. Poor communication has also contributed to their poor performances due to lack of the necessary information.
Therefore for effective communication to exist in these departments efficient information system is needed. This will help the fire fighting departments be well informed on any fire break out at any place. They will also have the information on the resources available on all the agencies substations. The system will also show the conditions of the Australian roads in case there are some fires fighting equipments or personnel to be deployed in affected areas.
This information is very necessary for DSE and the CFA to be efficient and effective in their task. This is because rapid and reliable access to information about the condition, location and availability of their fire equipment resources is fundamental. Hence both agencies need to recognise that this information is the basis for co-ordinated resource deployment. As a result they should developing, systems to collect information on the nature, location and capability of their fire equipment. This can only be achieved by developing a Fire Web.
The Fire Web is a system that will be used by the DSE to record fire information, equipment and resources. This information will then be used to allocate and deploy resources for fire suppression. This system is a highly flexible and user-friendly equipment of information system. It includes information about mobile equipment such as radios, pagers and slip-on units and has considerable reporting capability to assist decision-making and equipment management.
Information on vehicles and plant will be updated centrally and DSE regions will be responsible for updating details of their fire equipment and resources. All the regions will be required to enter their equipments onto fire web to ensure that there is clarity on the allocated fire fighting equipments. The information in Fire Web needs to be kept accurate and up-to-date, so that decisions are comprehensive and soundly based. If this is ensured the DSE, DPI and CFA will be very effective in their task of fire fighting and management process.
DSE and CFA Centralized Database of Firefighting Equipments
The DSE, with a primary focus on forest fires and remote areas, should maintains a substantial inventory of heavy vehicles, camping equipment and trailers deployed in all areas to support remote firefighting assignments. When it is not fire season, the DSE should use its equipment for other activities such as road construction. Currently these equipments are idle most of the time a waiting any firebreak out. Therefore such a use of these equipments will be of much economical benefit to these organizations as the agencies will be able to raise the high funds needed to maintain and replace these equipments. The CFA, with primary responsibility for firefighting in rural, urban and interface areas, should also maintain a much larger, decentralized, mobile fleet as shown in the table below (a).
Table A. Key Firefighting Equipment, at CFA and Dse.
|Fire tankers||82||Fire tankers and pumpers||1 520|
|4WD vehicles with slip-on units||360||All terrain vehicles||3|
|Bulldozers||37||Urban aerial appliances||6|
|Trailers, camping equipment etc.||369||Mobile control, rescue, incident units etc.||46|
|Staff transport vehicles||234|
|Communications – radios, pagers etc.||6 125||Communications – radios, pagers etc.||19 500|
|Other – pumps, chainsaws etc.||575||Other – portable equipment etc.||1 848|
|Total number of items||7 548||Total number of items||23 708|
|Estimated replacement value||$39.8m||Estimated replacement value||$700m|
Therefore from the table above you can see that the equipments needed by the DSE and CFA are different. From such information shown above, the management from the head officer will be aware of the money needed for maintenance and replacements of the these equipments. This information should be updated often to enable the head office know the current equipment present in both DSE and CFA in different places to help them make the right decision on where to deploy more equipments depending on the criteria set by the Australian policy on public service assets that the public assets should be managed from decisions based on service delivery needs.
This will help greatly the efforts of these two departments in fire fighting process. The table shown above excludes the details of infrastructure, road networks, information systems and lookouts. Also excludes equipment owned by the private sector and accessed by the DSE and the CFA during the fire season, such as dozers and aircraft. Personal protective clothing is considered a consumable equipment item. Therefore when the management is allocating funds for disbandment to these branches for maintenance purposes they should consider allocating funds for protective clothing and such other items.
The DSE and CFA should organize a mechanism of how they can access equipments such as aircraft and additional dozers from the private sector or other government agencies. It is also very necessary for them to arrange with interstate government services to share firefighting resources, including equipment. All these measures are important to help the organization lower their cost of operation. On the other hand the assurance of these equipments and personnel from these other organization will greatly boost the DSE and CFA effort of fire fighting in Australia.
It was noted that the DSE and CFA did not have a good management of its assets therefore a strategic management approach is needed. A strategic approach to the management of specialist firefighting assets will require a comprehensive, whole-of-life-cycle asset management system that includes planning, acquisition, operation, maintenance and disposal, with clearly defined control, accountability and reporting requirements. Such a system will provide assurance that firefighting assets are in place in the required quantities and in serviceable condition. It should also develop strategies to ensure that core assets are replaced at appropriate times rather than replacement relying on intermittent initiative funding as it is being exercised currently.
The DSE and the CFA should be encourages sharing information on fire equipment development and standards for effective fire management in Australia. This hence calls for establishment of a joint Wildfire Research and Equipment Committee for this purpose and, this will facilitate joint design and purchasing activities by the agencies. Inter-operability of firefighting vehicles and personnel should also be considered and especially in times of catastrophes. (Johnson and Scholes 2003)
DSE asset management strategies
In managing its firefighting assets, the DSE is guided by the following specific departmental policies and procedures:
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- an overarching asset management strategy, which establishes high level processes and accountabilities for overarching asset management strategy, based on guidelines issued by the State Government;
- Fire Management Instruction – Personnel determining the quantities, type and location of fire equipment; and
- the Code of Practice for Fire Management on Public Land that requires equipment to be available, strategically located and maintained in order to support operational readiness and emergency response.
The DSE should also develop an integrated fire equipment manual detailing procedures for the day-to-day management of fire equipment. The existing asset management strategy specifically addresses the DSE’s capital assets such as buildings, land and major structures. Given the particular characteristics and use patterns of firefighting equipment, a discrete strategy for management of fire equipment would assist long-term planning and co-ordination with other fire agencies. (http://www.emergency.com/blog.htm )
DSE inspection and maintenance programs
DSE regional workplaces are required to ensure their fire equipment is maintained in accordance with the Department’s maintenance standards and to conduct regular inspections and spot checks on the readiness of equipment. The DSE should also require annual inspections of fire equipment before the fire season begins. These include:
- a visual inspection of regional workplaces, to ensure the regions are following the appropriate procedures for managing fire equipment and maintaining equipment in working condition;
- an audit of the quantity and condition of all firefighting equipment in each work center.
This process is not currently carried out in the Australians fire agencies. Therefore its application in the two departments will have a significant impact on the performances of these organizations.
The CFA should conduct annual inspections of all equipment managed by brigades, including brigade-owned vehicles and equipment, to ensure that equipment is operationally ready for emergency response. This involves:
- Inspection of the operational efficiency of brigades under section 29 of the Country Fire Authority Act 1958; specifically the readiness of vehicles, serviceability of equipment and adequacy of personal protective clothing;
- Inspections of all CFA emergency vehicles and inspections when vehicles are permanently transferred to another brigade.
These inspections should be administered well to assure the effectiveness of inspection as a management tool to monitor brigade performance. The CFA’s 2001-02 annual inspections disclosed that 88 per cent of brigades met requirements in terms of the readiness of firefighting equipment – vehicles, protective equipment and clothing. Therefore this inspection should continue like that to allow such effectiveness.
CFA asset management strategies
The CFA should engaged consultants to develop a formal asset management strategy to enhance its current practices. This review highlighted the following priorities for the Authority’s development of such a strategy:
- Clear corporate direction and commitment to effective management of assets;
- a process for developing, prioritizing and recommending proposed capital projects;
- Decision-making based on demonstrated need and comprehensive financial evaluation;
- Strategies to address significant funding gaps in future programs for replacing aged capital infrastructure, notably firefighting vehicles and fire stations.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The DSE and the CFA should extend the current co-operative agreement to include formal arrangements for providing regular, appropriate information on changes to, and the condition of, the fire access network on public land. It should also enhance the proposed upgrade of existing systems by, clarifying system management responsibilities between business entities and identifying and addressing external stakeholder information needs. The DSE and CFA should introducing systematic inspection processes to verify system accuracy; and implementing regular safety audit processes to highlight areas of concern, and the DSE develop a consolidated fire access infrastructure management strategy, based on service delivery needs and this be agreed to by all relevant parties. (Joyce 2001)
The examination of the operation of DSE and CFA revealed a number of areas for attention. These issues are believed to arise from the lack of a fully comprehensive integrated asset management approach to equipment and infrastructure. Many of these are common to both equipment and access infrastructure, and relate to the need for clear and consistent application of effective asset management principles. The analysis of the management of firefighting assets in the DSE and the CFA found that both organizations face significant challenges in managing the timely replacement of essential high-value assets such as pumpers, tankers and dozers.
It was identified significant and emerging funding challenges within the CFA as high value equipment approaches the end of its useful life. The DSE and the CFA are beginning to address these issues as they develop detailed asset management policies. However, without clear asset management objectives and principles, defined in terms of service delivery need, it is difficult to assess the likely impact of the current situation. Hence there is a concerned at the absence of a clear and comprehensive strategy for managing these specialist assets. (Johnson and Scholes 2003)
The planning and management of the network of fire access roads and bridges also needs to be conducted within a clearly defined strategic policy framework based on program and service delivery needs. This strategic policy framework for the fire access network has not been clearly defined and, until this occurs, maintenance cannot be based on a clear understanding of costs and benefits.
It was also revealed major issues for both the DSE and the CFA in ensuring that central processes in place are properly understood and effectively implemented by field staff throughout their large, decentralized networks. It was found that asset management and information systems were not always used or regularly updated by regional staff, and that processes developed for inspecting and monitoring equipment were not always adhered to by staff.
In the case of inspection and monitoring procedures, this inconsistency sometimes resulted from a failure to define in adequate detail what was required. A critical issue identified during the course of the audit was the need for asset management practices to enhance co-operative operations between the two agencies. It was noted that considerable effort has been made to ensure that firefighting equipment in the CFA and the DSE is compatible, and to progress joint design and purchasing activities. In the case of fire access infrastructure, however, we found that formal processes have not been developed to enhance co-operative operations, which is very important. Therefore with the adoption of these changes in both DSE and CFA a great progress will be realized in these agencies. (Johnson and Scholes 2003)
Johnson G and Scholes J. (2003) Exploring Public Sector Services: Chicago University: Chicago.
Joyce P. (2001) Strategic Management For Public Services: Oxford University: London.
Paul D. (2002) Strategic Management: Prentice Hall: New York.
Stephen K.(1998). Bush Fire in Australia: Prentice Hall New York. Web.