Response to Emergency Management
A Coordinated Response to Emergency Management in Victoria
Lessons Learnt from Black Saturday
Victoria’s Black Saturday – 7th February 2009
On 7 February 2009, a series of bushfires
were burning across Victoria, to date this was
Australia’s worst ever natural disaster with
extreme weather conditions experienced. The
fires claimed 173 lives, injured 400, killed
thousands of wildlife and damaged AUD$3.5
billion in property.
A week before the fire there was an extreme
heatwave, with temperatures of 43°C and
peaks of 45°C. These temperatures were a
result of a slow-moving high-pressure system
and an intense tropical low and monsoon
• The Victorian Premier warned the
community that extreme weather
conditions were expected on the
7th February and called for ‘real
common sense’ from everyone,
that is would be the ‘worst day for
• On that day, 3,582 fire fighters
were deployed. By mid-morning,
winds were 100 km/h and the
temperature was 46.4°C.
• At 12.30pm powerlines fell in
Kilmore East. A bushfire was
sparked which become
Kinglake Area and National Park
The Kinglake region is a small elevated hamlet on top of the Great Dividing Range, 65 km north-east
Whittlesea-Kinglake Road is the entrance to Kinglake National Park. This is an Isolated, close-knit
community of retirees, working families and young children. Some properties are on tank water
The level of fire preparation within the community varied among residents. Few residents at the
time had detailed fire response or preparation plans, and most plans were basic. Few residents
intended to stay and defend properties because of the lack of fuel management in the National Park,
the lack of a fire access trail through the national part, and the fact that the community was
surrounded by dense vegetation. Many community members therefore decided to leave.
Community support fuelled decision making
Within the community there was awareness that the 7th February was going to be a high-risk day.
However, the decision of whether to defend properties or evacuate was unclear, as there was a lack
of warnings. Residents monitored radio and TV for news about fires. Neighbours looked out for each
other. Many residents only chose to leave the area when they saw neighbours leaving. Those with
children left early. Several left and returned before the fatal fire. The Country Fire Authority (CFA)
advised some residents to return to their properties as it was unsafe to leave.
Reflection on the events of Black Saturday
The events of Black Saturday were a dramatic reminder that Victorians live in a fire-prone
environment. The fires caused unprecedented trauma, loss of life and livelihoods, and destruction of
property, water catchments and other values. Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires prompted a drastic
shift in Australia’s approach to firefighting and collaborative emergency management.
Much can be learnt from Black Saturday, such as fire protection, how to warn the community, the
coordination of emergency management, relief, appropriate responses to disasters, and the value of
sharing knowledge and effective / timely decision making.
Specific responses to the events of Black Saturday were:
• The establishment of strengthened relationships between government agencies and the
• A new national three-tier bushfire advice and alerts system;
• Putting more warnings in place than ever before, including the development of a telephone
emergency warning system; and
• The development of a national ’emergency alert’ system enabled warnings to be sent to
fixed and mobile phones.
Shortly before the fires the Victorian Government launched an important initiative called Living with
Fire: Victoria’s Bushfire Strategy. The initiative identified six strategic directions:
• managing the land with fire;
• building community capacity to live with fire;
• enhanced response and recovery;
• workforce/volunteer capability;
• planning for protection; and
• risk and adaptive management.
The following advice is taken from the Victoria’s Bushfire Strategy.
All Victorians should have a collective responsibility to help build and maintain community
resilience: individuals, households, neighbourhoods, communities, businesses, not-for-profit
organisations, agencies, local, state and national governments. A resilient community has the
capacity to survive adapt and thrive no matter what kinds of chronic stresses or acute shocks they
experience1. They are often connected and able to work together to manage stresses, and cope with
emergencies. They are self-reliant and able to manage local issues, together with the ability to draw
upon other communities and organisations during times of significant need.
Emergency Management Relief and Recovery: A Shared Responsibility
Recovery from emergencies is a developmental process of assisting individuals and communities
affected by emergencies to achieve an effective level of functioning. Recovery planning must ensure
there is a clear understanding of the community context (prior to the emergency) and is based on
continuing assessment of impacts and needs.
Recovery is part of the management of emergencies and if done well, it:
• reduces the effect and consequences of emergencies;
• restores essential services, infrastructure and lifelines that our communities need to
• adapts to the interruption to normal day-to-day business; and
• provides tailored services that are able to adapt when our community needs it most • brings
together people, resources, skills and capability.
Relief and recovery are responsibilities that require collaboration and coordination shared between
individuals and communities, non-government organisations, businesses, all levels of government
and other partners.
Relief and recovery are complex social and developmental processes. All sectors must work together
to support the personal, family and community structures and networks typically disrupted by a
• Individuals / Community members – have a responsibility to seek out information to make
informed decisions on how to prepare for emergencies and should help meet their own
relief and recovery needs wherever possible. During and immediately following an
emergency, individuals and households need to be as self-reliant as possible, because in the
first instance, agencies will offer emergency support to the most vulnerable community
• Municipal councils – and the Victorian Government each have a role in ensuring relief and
recovery services are effective and well-coordinated. Municipal councils take the lead in
delivering ‘on the ground’ relief and recovery services, because they are the closest to an
affected community. The Victorian Government supports municipal councils to fulfil these
local responsibilities and is responsible for establishing the state’s relief and recovery
arrangements, and for coordinating all regional and state level relief and recovery activities
• Businesses – can play an important role in emergencies and can provide resources, expertise
and essential services to support emergency relief and recovery. Business should have
continuity processes in place to plan for emergencies. This is particularly important for the
continuity of essential services and critical infrastructure
• Non-government organisations and partner agencies – play vital roles in supporting affected
communities, building on their preestablished community connections to deliver enhanced
services during and following an emergency. Through their large volunteer base, they have
the capacity to coordinate and deliver services in many locations – often simultaneously.
The Victorian community receives significant benefit from the emergency management
contributions of a wide range of community sector agencies, volunteer groups and organisations
whose operations are either quite specialised and/or available mainly in a specific locality.
Relief and recovery coordination commence at the local level through Municipal Councils. As
required, these relief and recovery functions may escalate to regional or state level:
• when requested, because capability is exceeded, or expected to be exceeded; or
• where an emergency has affected multiple municipalities in one region, or multiple regions
within the state; or
• where an emergency has a significant community-wide impact or consequence, in which
case the Victorian Government may establish an event-specific relief or recovery
coordination structure to oversee a whole-of sector response.
State relief and recovery responsibilities include:
• review and maintenance of state relief and recovery plans and lead relief and recovery
planning processes – including state planning committees
• development of state relief and recovery plans and lead post-incident relief and recovery
processes – including operational committees
• the leading inter-jurisdictional and national liaison on Victorian relief and recovery
• coordination of existing state resources and activities across the relief and recovery sector,
including in support of local and regional relief and recovery coordination
• facilitation of the relief and recovery sector’s capability assessment, readiness and
• coordination of state relief and recovery sector public information and messaging in
connection with Regional or Incident Joint Public Information Committees as required.
• assessment of the state situation, impacts, risks, progress and resources
• monitoring of the regional situation, impacts, risks, progress and resources
• collation and analyse state information on loss and damage and resulting consequence
• coordination of whole of government relief and recovery funding processes
• coordination of real time relief and recovery intelligence and information to the Victorian
• ensuring the effectiveness of funded relief and recovery initiatives are evaluated and fed
into forward planning
• leading state transition from response to recovery
Your group may consider the knowledge management challenges at the individual, community,
Municipal council, Business, Non-government agency or state coordination level.
Consider the functions and responsibilities in response to emergency management and value of
knowledge in your analysis. See Figure 1 – Interactions between different levels of government to
deliver emergency relief and recovery and support, for illustration of the interactions between levels
of emergency relief.
Figure 1: Interactions between different levels of government to deliver emergency relief and recovery and
Victorian State Coordinated Relief
Emergency Management Victoria leads for each of the eleven relief activities shown in Figure 2 –
Lead agencies with state relief responsibilities. The agencies are responsible for relief activities that
provide direct assistance to individuals, families and communities or indirect assistance through the
resupply of essential goods or services to communities isolated in an emergency.
Figure 2: Lead agencies with state relief responsibilities
Adaptive Management and Knowledge Management
Adaptive management has the potential in areas of emergency management, with a focus on how
new and current knowledge flows from one person to another, or from one organisation to another.
For adaptive management to be realised in practice, managers must consider how new and current
knowledge can be shared across communities, including organisations for effective coordination of
emergency management and coordinated relief in response to potential disasters.
Considerations to be included in the conduct of your KM Analysis
• What are the lessons that we can learn from the Black Saturday Disaster in terms of
managing knowledge for emergency management?
• What are the key things that you would put in place to enable emergency management,
recovery response or relief coordination to prevent or respond to destructive incidents such
as the disaster of Black Saturday?
• What is the scope of your review? (e.g. prevention, emergency response, recovery and or
• What is the core knowledge within the scope of your review?
• Is there a focus of your review? (e.g. individual community, municipal council(s), a
business(s), a local agency(ies), state relief?
• What are the KM challenges?
• How is knowledge being managed?
o What processes are important?
o Is there a strategy which focuses on knowledge?
o What knowledge management mechanisms in place? (e.g. human – people,
systemic, technology, content or process mechanisms) Refer to a suitable KM
Resources and Useful References
• Victorian Department of Sustainable Management (2010), “Understanding, developing and
sharing knowledge about fire in Victoria Australia”, Report 77, May 2010, available on LMS
and at https://www.ffm.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0016/21094/Report-77-
• Emergency Management Commissioner (2018) State Emergency Relief and Recovery Plan
Part 4: Emergency Management Manual Victoria, July 2018.
• SA Government (2010), “Management of Donated Goods”, available at
• Australian Broadcasting Corporation (2020), “Lessons Learnt from Victoria’s Black Saturday
Recovery Effort”, Linda Mottram on PM. Duration: 12min 57sec. Broadcast: Mon 13 Jan 2020,
5:20pm. Podcast available from https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/pm/lessons-learntfrom-victoria’s-black-saturday-recovery-effort/11864308,
• McGinn, Christine (2019), “Lesson-learned from Back Saturday Fires”, Media Release, Feb
2019, available from https://www.thesenior.com.au/story/5881466/lessons-learned-fromblack-saturday-fires/