Natural Disasters

Shane Fitzsimmons On The 2019–20 Australian Bushfires, Leadership, And Natural Disaster Resilience | by Nick Fabbri | Oct, 2021

Originally published at https://www.nickfabbri.com/bloom/shanefitzsimmons

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Full transcript below

Shane Fitzsimmons currently leads Resilience NSW — the peak disaster management and recovery agency in NSW — as its inaugural Commissioner, following a long and distinguished career with the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS). Shane came to national prominence in Australia through his role as Commissioner of the NSW RFS during the 2019–2020 bushfires, where he led NSW’s response to the fires which raged across South Australia, Queensland, Victoria, and most severely in NSW and the ACT. These fires tragically caused the loss of 33 lives, destroyed over 3000 homes and damaged thousands more, burnt 30 million hectares of land, and caused over a billion animals to perish. Shane’s leadership throughout the bushfires received universal acclaim for his empathy, calmness, trust, care, and clarity of communications as the nation endured unprecedented natural disasters.

In this podcast, Nick and Shane discuss:

  • Shane’s early life in Sydney’s northern beaches, and how he found his way to volunteer firefighting
  • His 35 year career with the NSW RFS, the modernisation of the emergency management sector, and the remarkable spirit and humanity of volunteers and staff working in disaster management
  • Shane’s experience of the 2019–20 Australian bushfire season: its devastating scale and impacts, and the remarkable stories of hope, spirit, and community resilience that emerged through shared hardship
  • Leadership qualities, including authenticity, humility, care, and communication
  • The creation and work of Resilience NSW, and how communities are faring amidst the compound disasters of drought, fires, floods, storms, and mouse plagues
  • How government agencies can ensure that recovery is community-led
  • How to ensure community groups who are disproportionately impacted by disasters, such as women, First Nations peoples, the elderly, and migrants, are able to participate in resilience and recovery activities
  • The outlook for the 2021–22 bushfire season, and how organisations can look after their fatigued and exhausted workforces after years of continuous responses to disasters
Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons awards a bravery medal to Harvey Keaton, whose father Geoffrey Keaton tragically died fighting bushfires: source

Shane Fitzsimmons on the 2019–20 Australian Bushfires, Leadership, and Natural Disaster Resilience
15 October 2021

00:00 Nick: Welcome to Bloom, a conversations podcast featuring guests who have lived meaningful, interesting and flourishing lives. I’m lucky to be joined today by Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, who currently leads Resilience NSW as its inaugural commissioner, following a long and distinguished career with the NSW Rural Fire Service. Shane came to national prominence in Australia through his role as commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service during the 2019 to 2020 bushfires where he led NSW’s response to the fires which raged across South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and most severely in NSW and the ACT. These fires tragically caused the loss of 33 lives, destroyed over 3,000 homes and damaged thousands more, burned over 30 million hectares of land and caused over a billion animals to perish. He joins me today to talk about his life story in career, leadership, the 2019 to 2020 bushfire season, and all things emergency management and natural disaster resilience in Australia and, before jumping into the interview, I’d first like to acknowledge the generous guiding and feedback that I had in developing questions related to natural disaster recovery and resilience from Shona Whitton. Shona leads the recovery program at Australian Red Cross in her role as national coordinator for recovery and psycho-social report. Thank you, Sho.

So, thank you so much for joining me today, Commissioner. It’s a great pleasure to be speaking with you.

01:30 Shane: It’s great to be joining you and having this chat on something that I think is so important when it comes to community and disasters and particularly what we’ve been experiencing here in NSW but more broadly across the nation in the last 18 months to 2 years.

01:45 Nick: Absolutely and for our listeners who may not be so familiar with your story, can you talk a bit about your early life in Sydney’s northern beaches and how you found your way into volunteer firefighting from what you described in Australian Story recently as ‘troubled or rebellious teenage years’?

02:01 Shane: Yeah, thanks, Nicholas. Look, I did grow up on the Northern Beaches area of Sydney. We grew up predominantly in areas like Duffys Forest, Terry Hills, Mona Vale, and a lot of people don’t know where Duffys Forest is but one of its predominant features used to be the home of Skippy Park or Waratah Park where they used to film the old series ‘Skippy the Bushfire Kangaroo’, and I remember as a teenager there, I even had some part time work in Skippy Park helping with the animals and doing horse rides and those sorts of things. So, a very bushland suburb that’s changed dramatically over the last 30 or 40 years.

As a matter of fact, we grew up as a family in quite modest housing and the houses that I recall growing up in and when I visit those areas today, the horse stables are probably 3 or 4 times the size of the houses that we grew up in. So, it’s certainly changed a lot over the years but nonetheless there’s still that inherent bushfire risk and…

Yeah, as a young person my mum and dad separated when I was pretty young and I lived most of my teenage years — most of my youth and teenage years living between my mum and my dad’s place and dad and I moved in with my grandma for a while there as well.

So, I lived between homes and I think over those years I became somewhat rebellious. I probably wasn’t the best student at school, that I’ve been pretty public about. As a matter of fact, I got in trouble a fair bit at school. I still to this day don’t know how I wasn’t actually expelled.

I remember getting lots of detentions and I was a regular in the Deputy Principal’s office getting the cane on some many occasions and I think at one time there it got to the point where I wasn’t allowed to join in with the rest of the students and I had my own desk set up in the main administration block outside the principal’s office and my work was monitored there, and then I had to have separate recess time and separate lunch time and those sorts of things.

So, school wasn’t — I wasn’t the best student but I did pass. I enjoyed learning, but I also enjoyed the social aspect. I continued right through to year 12 but in was in those teenager years that I actually joined the local Duffys Forest volunteer bushfire brigade.

My dad was a volunteer as — from as early as I can remember and I remember as probably around about a 10 year old in the 1979 fires which were significant fires in the northern suburbs of Sydney there, the northern beaches of Sydney, and I can just remember as a little kid being really worried about my dad and the fires and being out there, and I’ve got these vivid memories of him coming home. Back then, it was white overalls and they were just covered in black ash and soot and so was him and his face and everything and I just remember that sense of duty, that sense of getting out and making a difference in the community.

So, when I was 15 I was actually able to join as a member, the local volunteer bushfire brigade, and I just found a real sense of belonging, a real sense of camaraderie, a sense of purpose and having a lot of fun but at the same time doing things and participating in activities, making decisions that made a real difference in the local community.

Yes, we were there to respond to fires and emergencies and all sorts of other things, but we were also there to do community education, community engagement. We also did lots of important activity like fire trail maintenance and hazard reduction burns and trying to keep the fuel levels down to manageable levels.

So, there was this real sense of community and I just thrived in the area of training, being trained myself but then also becoming a general trainer and a specialist trainer in all different areas and then, yeah, I just thoroughly enjoyed that in my early years and then I…

When I left school, I came from a family that wasn’t too focused on university and it was all about you’ve got to get a trade. So, I ended up getting a trade and I was a mechanic by trade, automotive technician I think it was technically called, but I wasn’t a very good mechanic and the bosses knew that so they put me on the front desk and I did a lot of my time with customer service and customer interface.

So, I spent about 10 years in the motor industry before I was able to secure fulltime employment and effectively turn a real passion and a real hobby — a real volunteer vocation — into a career as well, and I secured employment in September 1994 with the then Department of Bushfires, the Department of Bushfire Services, following the awful January 1994 fires which were a pretty big watershed moment for the NSW community.

07:00 Nick: Yeah, extraordinary stuff and your own personal story in how you got involved in volunteer fire fighting through the local brigade and your [unclear 07:07] into civic life and community service reminds me so much of the ABC TV series which has been recently published called ‘Fires’ which is a fictional retelling in story form of the 2019 to 2020 bushfire season.

It’s incredibly emotive and powerful but, looking back on your 35 year career at the NSW Rural Fire Service with 12 years spent leading the organisation as Commissioner, what stands out for you most when you look back on your experiences over several decades, and what have been some of the most significant changes to both Australia’s patterns of extreme weather and also how we respond to emergencies as agencies and as society?

07:49 Shane: Look, when I reflect back now on 35 years as a volunteer and as a salaried officer, there’s a couple of things that really come to mind. The progress that’s been made is enormous.

I remember when I first joined, our fire trucks were often ex-army converted trucks, four wheel drive trucks or any other sort of truck we could get our hand on. They were typically petrol powered carburettors, so they’d often have fuel vapour lock and they’d break down on the fire grounds in extreme heat.

You wouldn’t be worried about any sort of roadworthy inspection back then and literally, with some colleagues, we used to dedicate ourselves to getting these trucks to actually drive. You know, if the thing started when you got to the fire shed, it was a good day. If it went forward and engaged gear, even better day. If you put your foot on the brakes and it stopped, fantastic, and we used to get around literally sitting on the back of the tray. We used to make up bench seats around the water tank and all those sorts of things, so when I think about those things…

08:51 Nick: It wouldn’t pass the OHS test.

08:53 Shane: Just in my 35 years, let alone all those people that were there, you know, in the decades before hand, from really humble rudimentary beginnings we had people, men and women, that were dedicated to serving and protecting their community and doing the very best they could with what was available and…

As we’ve seen over the decades, we’ve seen one thing that’s stayed constant and that is the core value of people coming together to help one another, help themselves and help their community, and that spirit of volunteerism, that mateship, that camaraderie, men and women pulling together, is the cornerstone, the foundational element of all that’s good in community and particularly in fire and emergency services and…

What the people have also shown us is over those decades, that when we see government and communities invest in recognising that professionalism is not about whether you get a pay-packet for what you do. Professionalism is about what you do and how you do it. So, when you invest properly in people and you equip them, equip them with the right equipment. You invest in their infrastructure like vehicles and fleet and buildings and training programs and you support them with technology and systems and programs that focus on safety and wellbeing, coordination, operational activity.

We’ve seen over the decades billions of dollars’ worth of investment in modernising and professionalising the capacity and the wherewithal of that remarkable organisation, and being able to partner with their salary counterparts, not just here in NSW but right around the country. Indeed, we’ve had volunteers deployed overseas to help with firefighting operations because of their international regard and reputation for being the best at what they do.

10:43 Shane: But it’s that investment and that modernising that’s really transformed the organisation, being at the leading edge of technology, embracement and utilisation has been really important, but…

The thing that I’ve observed the most, probably in the last two decades, is our openness and our willingness to invest in research. Investing in research, asking questions that we’re seeking answers to or that we think we know the answer to, but having the courage to ask questions about the things we don’t actually know the answers to and seek the expertise of our institutions to go about and understand what’s happening with climate, what’s happening with social behaviours and social patterns, what’s happening with demographics and land use, and what that interplay means when it comes to community vulnerability and susceptibility to disaster and events, and then what that means in terms of preparation, anticipation, adaptation and investment in strategies, programs, infrastructure, all manner of things.

So, over the decades I think that’s really come through as one of the biggest, transformative areas. It’s that technology, investment, infrastructure, systems and programs but underpinned by research, research that provides us with the evidence base to prosecute arguments, to run business cases, to see governments at all levels investing with that evidence based platform, with the independent research to back us in to substantiate what’s needed today so we can ready ourselves for what’s coming tomorrow, and I’ve been really proud to be part of that and work with governments at all levels and governments of all persuasions.

It’s been quite encouraging and quite humbling to see the investments that have transformed the way I think about where I was 35 years ago, where I had to buy my own clothing. It certainly wasn’t fire treated. We used to go to a local Army Disposals store to get our boots and our overalls and all those sorts of things. Whereas today we’ve got our teams in state of the art, researched, tested and evaluated second to none technologies and platforms anywhere in the world. So, they’re the sorts of things that I’m particularly proud of that I reflect on over the years, but the one constant is those remarkable men and women, both volunteer and salaried alike, that commit themselves to persevering, to arguing, wanting change, seeking change, all in the interest of serving and protecting their local community. That’s pretty special.

13:29 Nick: Yeah, that’s a really fascinating sweep of insights. Thank you, and I completely agree with you that the beating heart of the whole operation is the people, volunteers and staff, who are doing the work to make it all happen.

There’s often a lot of cynical academic and media reporting about the declining participation in civic life across the world, but certainly within emergency management and disaster response you’ve got so many men and women lining up to help the community and we really saw that in the 2019–2020 bushfire season. So, can you take our listeners back to this year’s scale of the 2019–2020 bushfire season and what it was like at the time being at the centre of this unfolding, unprecedented national emergency?

14:05 Shane: And, Nicholas, I used the word ‘unprecedented’ very early on in the season and there was a few people out there, commentators, that kept trying to dismiss this word ‘unprecedented’ as though I was trying to suggest that it was some sort of alarm or something. It wasn’t.

I’m pretty simple. When we haven’t experienced something, witnessed something, dealt with something like we were dealing with at that time ever before in our history, then it’s without precedent. So, if unprecedented is not the word, what is it?

But what I would say to substantiate the unprecedented nature of the season, it was unprecedented on many levels. I won’t use the phrase ‘black summer bushfires’ because I think it does a disservice to so many people in NSW and indeed up in Queensland who started earlier on in the season but in NSW, we were averaging 1,000 fires a month — over 1,000 fires a month during Winter, June, July and August — and as we moved into Spring, the numbers increased, the activity broadened, the fire area consumed was getting bigger and bigger, and then of course as we headed into Summer, we saw, you know, some pretty horrific scenes, but it was the building effect and the longevity of the season that was without precedent.

As a matter of fact, the season went for over 160 days of summer. The highest temp, most ferocious, intense fire activity — 160 consecutive days. 200 consecutive days of declared bushfire emergencies in NSW. Now, if you look back in our history over all the decades past, you will find some of the most intense fire seasons, the most damaging, destructive fire seasons, you’ll be lucky if that intensity period lasts more than two weeks. Two weeks, maybe three weeks at the absolute most. Often, some of the most destructive events occur over 24 hours or three days but let’s just say it’s two or three weeks. We’re talking six months of extraordinary, drawn out, interrupted above average temperatures, below average rainfall, an absence of moisture month after month after month.

The 2019–2020 fire season as we moved into the season, one hundred percent of the state was drought effected, drought declared. It went down in the record books as being the hottest year on record.

We saw fire burning across landscapes that traditionally don’t burn or that typically don’t burn such as rainforest regions where there’s usually a high level of moisture in the surface fuels or the ground fuels where fires would often — I’ll say self-extinguish — but it’s quietened right down overnight allowing manual work to get in to put them out.

Well, they weren’t. Fires were burning through these rainforest areas. The moisture deficit in the landscape was profound and fires were starting very easily and they were spreading extremely quickly, and so you had the longevity of the season.

You also saw fire behaviour and fire spread. The best available computer modelling, the best available fire behaviour specialists doing manually predictions, normally as a simple descriptor, when they predict a fire based on where it is, time of day, weather variables, terrain, vegetation, all those sorts of inputs that go in, they can model an output of the fire spread and they will start with best case scenario — i.e. the least likely spread — then they’ll usually go worst case scenario, the most it could possibly spread under the conditions, and then often the fire will go through judgement and through simulation somewhere in between.

What we found during the 2019–20 fire season, that so often fires were actually exceeding the worst case scenario, that some of our worst fire behaviour — because of the moisture deficit, because of the above normal temperatures, the below normal rainfalls, we were seeing some of the worst fire behaviour at 2am, 3am and 4am in the morning when most fires traditionally settle down and you would expect that sort of fire behaviour at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm in the afternoon.

So, the fire season itself, the fire behaviour, the weather, the underlying landscape conditions because of the moisture deficit and the drought, but then on top of that you look at the damage and the destruction. 5.5 million hectares across the Great Dividing Range from the Queensland border and the northern tablelands area, all the way down to the southern border region down into Victoria and the south east and the high country of NSW. 5.5 million hectares consumed. There was just over 2,500 homes destroyed. Having said that, fire fighters and community did a remarkable job. As awful as it is and I don’t mean to be insensitive or disrespectful, but they saved over 15,000 homes in that same burnt out scar area, and of course you look at the wildlife, you look at the ecosystems, the impact there. You look at the livelihoods, you look at the infrastructure, you look at the businesses, you look at the communities that were dislocated and disaffected and broken. It was extraordinary.

But on top of that, we also lost 26 lives out of 33 lives that were lost nationally with fires in other states. 26 lives in NSW. The single biggest toll of life lost in bushfires ever in our state’s history, and of those 26 lives that were lost, 7 of them were our own fire fighters. Four volunteers. There’s dates and times and moments that will be etched in our memories forever. On the 19th of December, we lost Jeff and Andrew in south west Sydney when a tree crashed through the front windscreen on their truck while they were driving down the road.

We lost young Sam on the 30th of December down near the Victorian border when a fire generated thunderstorm, a pyro convective column had a down draft or collapsed as it’s often referred to, had this down draft that went across the fire ground. Benign conditions on the fire ground suddenly became what they described as cyclonic type winds that were full of fire and heat that enveloped fire crews on the ground and were so strong and so volatile that they flipped over the truck that Sam was working on and he was crushed underneath the weight of a 12 tonne truck. So, just extraordinary events, extraordinary behaviour and tragedy with losing Sam.

We also lost Col on the 31st of December, a volunteer working down in the southern ranges on his way back to the fire station which was the safe point to protect people. Col never made it back. They found his burnt out remains in the cabin on his truck that had overturned on a bend which they assume was enveloped in fire and smoke and he lost visibility.

And then of course as we got through December hoping that it wouldn’t get any worse, then on the 23rd of January one of our large water bombing aeroplanes crashed down in the southern ranges, down in the high country near Cooma, killing all three people on board. Our contract partners, some of the best aviators in the world, aerial firefighting operators, Ian, Paul and Rick all died when their plane crashed into the ground while they were down there helping the firefighting operations. So, it had an enormous toll and indeed it was unprecedented on so many dimensions. It was truly awful, to be truthful.

21:50 Nick: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. Thank you for also remembering and memorialising each of those individuals who gave their lives for others. It’s so important to remember the names and stories as time goes on.

Could you talk a bit about what it’s like being a leader, having command responsibility over a natural disaster of such an immense scale and proportion, when your nation is suffering so much and is seemingly so helpless in the face of the natural disaster but, in the face of that seemingly overwhelming disaster and maybe helplessness, I’d never seen anything like it in terms of the community outpouring of support and the desire to help that we had, and so I was wondering if you could talk to me about the personal and community stories that stand out for you most from that time, stories of resilience and hope and defiance even.

22:38 Shane: I reflect on that season so often, Nicholas. There would be rarely a day where I don’t think about what unfolded during that fire season and, whilst I obviously default to reflections of sadness and sorrow and indeed grief to be honest — the losses were immense, the losses were extraordinary — but the bitter sweetness that I reflect on that fire season also reminds me that in our darkest of times, in our darkest of moments, we saw the remarkable Australian spirit. We saw this remarkable human spirit, this humanity that rose above everything else and…

What I mean by that is we had thousands and thousands and thousands — in their tens of thousands — people that dedicated themselves to the firefighting effort, the fire emergency response effort. You had men and women on the front line with fire hoses and firetrucks and all those sorts of things. You had people in the air. You had people behind the scenes. You had the emergency management teams all pulling together. So, we had literally — we were averaging 2,500 to 5,000 people per shift day and night every day for months that were dedicated to making a difference.

The premier issued a citation to recognise those that were involved in the firefighting effort. The last time I looked at how many we distributed to those that were part of that effort, it’s over 65,000 people.

24:08 Nick: Extraordinary.

24:09 Shane: So, you’re talking an extraordinary army of men and women that dedicated themselves, had this united resolve to make a difference as much as they possibly could, save and protect as many and as much as they could but…

At the same time, you mentioned those people that were looking on and there were people looking on with fear and anxiety and just profound sorrow and sadness and this want to help and assist, and boy did we see it.

The thing that will sit with me forever was this remarkable and sincere outpouring of love, of compassion, of camaraderie, of support. People that just gave — and when I mean they ‘gave’, if they couldn’t get there themselves to help out physically — and plenty of people did, they gave of themselves their labour, their time, their energy — but others donated goods and supplies and materials and whether that was big business, small business, mum and dad, kids at home, it didn’t matter. People gave and they gave things that they saw mattered, whether it was clothing, whether it was kids toys, it didn’t matter and…

Then of course you saw this remarkable generosity with donations, donations that went to charity organisations and the relief effort and the recovery effort which was just extraordinary, and it does restore your faith in humanity that when you’re having a bad day, people will unite together and they did. They did in their numbers and so many little stories…

I visited so many evacuation centres, relief centres, people’s homes, people’s businesses and just sifting through rubble and all those sorts of things, but there were so many local stories.

I remember this one time I was down the south coast with my colleague and the premier and we went to visit — we came across this family that had been coming together for Christmas and New Year for decades and this family had to be evacuated because they were in a high risk area. They were not defendable at the time and they located further south to a little community called Tomakin which was a safer place to be and they were sitting there as a group of families that all come together and they realised very late at night that they weren’t going to get back home. They weren’t going to get back to the place they were staying and…

They shared this story that a lady and a man came up to them. This one woman was holding her little children and this woman and a man came up and said, “Look, young lady, if you need a hand we’ve got a spare — we’ve got some spare rooms in our home; you’re more than happy to come back and spend the night in comfort and reassess how things are going tomorrow,” and this lady was quite taken aback by the offer and she had to say, “Look, you’re so kind but I just need to let you know that my family is pretty big,” and she said, “We’re actually five small families as one big family, there’s 27 of us, we range in age from 4 years to 80 years; when we evacuated, we took our two rabbits and our four dogs so if you’re going to take me, I need to take all of them,” and this couple just turned around and said, “We can do that.” I mean, I’m still getting emotional thinking about it now.

27:22 Nick: Yeah, it makes you tear up, doesn’t it?

27:23 Shane: They said, “We can do that,” and this lady just said, “You’re kidding.” So, they were telling us this story, all of them. They were sharing their experience and so the remarkable generosity to complete strangers to give over effectively their entire house and their yard to accommodate these animals. They all spent the night and they said to us while we were talking to them — they said they’ll never forget that generosity and that willingness to accept all of them, 20 odd of them and all their animals and everything. They said, “Not only did we have, you know, what ultimately turned out to be a lovely night in really horrific circumstances.” They’ll never forget that generosity but for however this couple did it, they cooked up one of the best breakfasts that family can ever remember before they were able to leave and head back to see what was left of their homes.

So, things like that was remarkable and I remember when the fires settled down and a lot of the recovery kicked in, there was just — I remember calling in on my way down south one day to the Braidwood showground where Blaze Aid was set up, where all these volunteers come together. Often it’s nomads traveling around in their caravans around the country that pull up and lend a hand but I called into the Blaze Aid camp while I was driving through one afternoon and got chatting to the coordinator there and they had all the teams out in the field and, while we were there, this car turned up and it was this handful of young people.

I reckon they would be in their late teens / early twenties and they wandered in and this fellow said, “Can I help you?” and they said, “Yeah, we’re just wondering how we can help,” and he said, “What do you mean?” and they said, “Well, we come from Sydney and we’ve got these friends over here that come from Canberra and we can see all the work that’s going on; we’ve never done a fence in our life but we saw that there was a message out there that if you wanted to help farmers and landholders, Blaze Aid would really welcome support; so we’re here to learn and we’re giving up our weekend and we’re going to come back for the next few weekends if you’ll allow us because we want to lend a hand to helping those that need it.”

So, I could bore you all day with stories like that, no matter where I travelled. So, it was just that — it was that generosity and that unconditional want to make a difference, even if people thought they didn’t have any capacity to do so. Every little bit mattered and when you spoke to people that were picking up the pieces — and literally pieces because often there was nothing left of their home or their livelihood or their business — just knowing that sort of care, that compassion, that love, that generosity was there, it lifted there and I think that humanity, that Aussie spirit of mateship and coming together when the chips are down, that’s what really inspired me and kept me going. That workforce that was just relentless every day, day after day.

I was part of a massive team. Yes, as leaders and as leaders of something so significant, we carry seriously the burden of command and I was broken emotionally unashamedly quite publicly on several occasions, particularly when we lost our fire fighters and I was involved with their families and their loved ones and attending funerals and doing eulogies and all those sorts of things. It cut. It cut very deeply and it was tragic. It was tragic in every sense of the word and we mourn their loss to this day and may we never, ever forget the sacrifices made and that generosity that came to the fore when people needed it most.

It’s still there and we’re all experiencing Covid now in a different way. We’re all troubled and we’re all living through uncertain and difficult times but it’s that spirit of togetherness, that openness about what’s going on, sharing information, that will help get us all through.

31:04 Nick: Yeah, I’d love to come to that actually later in the interview, talking about how we can sort of encourage similar response to different disasters like the NSW floods and Covid but I just want to hone in on leadership because a lot was written about you and your leadership qualities. You know, the public found it immensely refreshing, especially when compared to that of politicians, but it’s been described as empathetic, reassuring, calming, consultative, conducive to instilling public trust and great communication. So, it’s not a bad rap sheet for your leadership style. I’m curious as to what has influenced your leadership ethos in the field and also in leading major organisations.

31:41 Shane: I think what’s influenced me the most is, like everybody, it’s lived experiences. It’s what we experience ourselves when we’re surrounded by people that we value and admire and we also learn and reflect on traits and behaviours by those that we’re connected with or that we observe that we don’t admire, that we don’t appreciate, that we don’t value and…

For me, I think ultimately I sit around half a dozen key points when it comes to leadership and I would say this by saying I think it’s leadership generally. The more of a leadership culture we can build in ourselves and in our teams and our organisations, the stronger we are, particularly when the crisis comes.

So, if you’ve got weaknesses, if you’ve got challenges in your leadership and in your organisation, they will be very much magnified or amplified when you hit that crisis time. So, the more you invest in leadership and in culture ahead of the big crisis, I think the stronger and more capable you will be and…

For me ultimately, leadership is simply about building trust and confidence in people, internally and externally to your customers and your partners, and the core to building that trust and confidence, particularly in times of crisis or in times of significant uncertainty like we experienced with the fires and the floods and now with Covid, but the core to building trust and confidence for me starts with authenticity and that starts with someone like me who might be the lead of the organisation, but starting with yourself that’s responsible for all of us.

Be very real to yourself. Understand your limitations. Understand your strengths, and surround yourself with good quality people that make up the difference where you know you’re lacking. I think also when it comes to authenticity, is being real about the situation or the circumstance.

There’s an old crude phrase, Nicholas, that I like to use — and pardon me for the analogy — but if you’re dealing with a dog poop sandwich, don’t cover it in hundreds and thousands and try and tell people it’s fairy bread; they’ll work it out pretty quickly, you know.

So, when you’re dealing with a disaster or a crisis, the key is not to exaggerate the situation and overstate it but, equally as importantly, don’t understate it or don’t dismiss the potential gravity of the situation. If you can be as authentic as possible personally and then of course with the circumstances or the situation you’re dealing, I think that resonates with people and…

That authenticity centres too when it comes to communications around not using fancy words. Don’t use jargon. Don’t try to be too sophisticated or polished. Be authentic with what you’re trying to describe.

Second to that would be humility and empathy. Remember as leaders and the higher up you go, it’s actually not about you. It’s actually about everybody else. Take what you do very seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t let ego get in the way.

When it comes to empathy and understanding everybody else, the more you can legitimately understand, connect with, relate to, appreciate, seek to understand as much as possible what people’s perceptions are, what people’s drivers are, what people’s circumstances are. The more you can connect and relate and understand your own team, your team, your subordinates, your peers, your supervisors but of course your community or your customer — he more you can understand and connect with people and keep it people focused, I think the stronger you will be.

I think mutual respect is the third one and, growing up as a kid, my sisters and I — what was drilled into us as a phrase over and over again that I remember as a little one, manners cost you nothing but the lack of them can cost you everything and, I think as we translate into leadership roles and into adulthood, we’ve just got to remember that manners quote and mutual respect really comes down to genuinely valuing and involving and inviting divergent views, divergent opinions, divergent perspectives, people with different backgrounds, people with different lenses or perspectives that they’re looking and understanding the situation, and if we maintain civility — if we maintain basic courtesy — we can have really good, beneficial, robust discussions and arguments and we learn the art of the compromise and the please’s, the excuse me’s, the thank you’s, the listening, it all matters when it comes to mutual respect.

Manners cost you nothing, the lack of them can cost you everything. If you’re not getting that buy in, if you’re not letting people contribute, you could be missing out on the key part of the strategy that you need to make a difference in the situation.

The other thing I would say is around the need to make decisions and take actions, particularly in times of crisis where you don’t have the luxury of time for procrastination or reflection or further research. You’ve got to make the best decisions you can with the best available information, insights, circumstances and knowledge concerning the situation and you’ve got to put trust in what you’ve built and invested in over the years to leverage that capital.

It’s also about taking action, particularly with inappropriate or unwelcome behaviour and attitudes in the workplace, and I like to use the flat tyre analogy in that regard. So, if things aren’t going right or someone is not doing the right thing or someone is not being a team player, then you’ve got to deal with it and sometimes that dealing with it can be slight. It just might need a soft touch, it might need a small intervention. A bit like a flat tyre, sometimes all you need to do is reinflate the tyre and it’s okay and away you go, but sometimes we might accept that the intervention is a little bit more intrusive. So, that flat tyre might have a hole in it, so we’ve got to plug the hole first, then we can reinflate the tyre and away it goes, but we’ve also got to make the decision at times as well that sometimes the tyre is stuffed and you can’t repair it and you’ve got to get rid of it and change it for a new one. Once you do that, you can reinflate the tyre and away you go.

Why do I use the flat tyre? It’s one thing if it’s a unicycle but if that flat tyre is the front wheel on the bus that’s carrying your strategy, your team, your organisation or your operation, then the reality is no one is going anywhere until you deal with that flat tyre. So, don’t underestimate the criticality of making decisions and taking action.

I think the fifth one that I would talk about would be communicating in leadership and communications needs to be plain English. It needs to be authentic and for me, every time we were doing those press conferences on a daily basis — if not, you know, multiple times daily — I had two broad audiences always in my mind, the men and women on the front line and those behind the scenes and their families that were all part of the fire and emergency response effort, and then the other audience was always those that were impacted, effected, threatened, in the community, losing property, being susceptible to the next outbreak or whatever but, no matter what the audience was, I followed probably five key elements.

Number one, what’s the latest update? What do we know and what don’t we know and therefore what do we expect to be happening over the next period? You then back that up with, based on that information, this is what we’re doing and these are the reasons why we’re doing it, then we also explain this is what we’re not doing or we can’t do and these are the reasons why we can’t do that or won’t be doing that, and then finally what do we actually want everyone else to do? What do we want others to do to be part of the effort to help us through these really difficult times?

And then the final thing I would finish on in terms of a key leadership trait would be leaders need to care. It’s a simple word that’s not used a lot but C-A-R-E — care- to me, it comes down to things like presence. In the difficult times, in the dark times, leaders need to be present. They need to be standing up and backing in their people. They need to be supporting their people and they need to be backing in those that are making good faith decisions, particularly when those decisions might not pan out the way we want, but it’s also about being vulnerable. It’s also about being connected and if you genuinely care about your role, about your organisation, importantly about your people and those they’re trying to serve and protect, then that will come through in your authenticity. It will come through in your communications. It will come through in the strategies and decisions that are being made and the explanations behind them.

So, for me that would be over the decades what I’ve reflected on, what I’ve learnt and what I try to aspire to when it comes to my own leadership and the thoughts that I have in sharing them with others if they’re asking questions about what do I think is important in leadership.

40:34 Nick: Wonderful reflections. Thank you. In April 2020, you were appointed to lead Resilience NSW and you picked disaster management and recovery agency, encompassing NSW’s response to all disaster and emergency events. One of the most extraordinary and challenging aspects of the disaster we’ve had in the past few years has been the compound nature of these disasters with some communities effected by prolonged drought, then severe fires, followed by storms and flooding and the devastating social, economic and health dimensions of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as mouse plagues in NSW.

41:10 Shane: Absolutely.

41:11 Nick: So, from your perspective in this new role how are communities faring in the wake of these seeming less endless and concurrent disasters, and how has it changed the way disaster management agencies go about their work within communities?

41:23 Shane: Look, I think communities are doing remarkably well, Nicholas, but a little funny story here which will go to a serious end. When I first accepted this role, we talked about it in the middle of fire season. The fire season was unprecedented. The damage and destruction was unprecedented and the government knew that the recovery, the rebuilding, the healing would be equally as unprecedented.

So, they decided to establish the new agency and when it was first talked about and I accepted the role, it was going to be called something like Disaster and Emergency Management NSW. As a simple fire fighter, that kind of made sense to me but then they introduced this word ‘resilience’. They said, “Oh, we’re going to call it resilience,” and I remember saying to the premier and the minister and others — I said, “What the bloody hell is resilience? You know, no one is going to understand that work, no one is going to relate to that word.”

Well, I’ve had to eat humble pie because in the 16 months or so that I’ve been in the role now and particularly once they decided to call the agency Resilience, it really got me thinking what do we mean when we say resilience, and I know I’ve been focused on the word but my antenna in the last 12 or 15 months, I can objectively say, even with a focus on that word, I don’t remember ever a time in my life where the word resilience has been used so much. Whether it’s our family discussions, our social discussions, our business discussions and contemplations, main stream media reports, government dialogue, it’s a word that is everywhere.

So, it got me really to thinking and reading and most importantly, reflecting on the last few decades of my time in fire and emergency management, but also traveling around the state to impacted areas, catching up with families and communities and front line workers and those picking up the pieces to rebuild their lives and listening to them when I say to them, “What do you mean when you say resilience?”

There’s a couple of things that have really come home for me. Number one, I don’t buy the simple definition that you find in most dictionaries and most often it’s paraphrased as something like, you know, bouncing back after adversity or disaster, bouncing back to normal. Well, I just call BS on that because firstly, what is normal, especially after you’ve just been so heavily impacted or dislocated by a major event or a major disaster, and why would anyone want to go back to ‘normal’ (in inverted commas) to be just as susceptible or vulnerable to that disaster or that event or that type of disaster or event again.

So, talking to people and listening to people, I’ve really formed the view that resilience is about lived experiences and learning from those lived experiences so that we can adapt and grow and come out stronger for those experiences so we’re better able to prepare for, anticipate and endure the next event and, when we do, again come out of that stronger and wiser and better again.

Resilience I find, particularly through community and indeed front line workers, it is about strength. It is about courage. It is about resolve and it is about learning. It’s about picking up the pieces and going forward.

But, Nicholas, what I’ve also learnt is that we overlook that resilience is all about living through those experiences and invariably suffering pretty significant psychological and emotional trauma or difficulty and as society, I think there’s so much more for us to do when it comes to normalising and destigmatising this issue around mental health, psychological and emotional wellbeing, the fact that we’ve all got thoughts, feelings and emotions and they get challenged and they get compromised during these really difficult times, and that happens to all of us with one event but, as you say, with droughts, bushfires, storms, floods, mouse plague, you know, more storms and floods, Covid, Covid version one, Covid delta…

45:19 Nick: It’s biblical, isn’t it, yeah.

45:21 Shane: It is extraordinary. You know, so you’ve got the consecutive and compounding nature of disasters. Some communities experiencing all three, four or five of those; other communities and individuals might only experience one but one is enough, particularly when it comes to Covid.

So, I think there’s a conversation for us to have that as we learn and as we rebuild and repair and heal, we’ve also got to focus very much on the fact that we are all human and that our feelings, our thoughts and our emotions are challenged and the more that we can look at the person in the mirror and say to ourselves, “How are you going? Are you okay?” and have an honest answer and conversation back, that’s a good starting point, then let’s do that with our loved ones. Let’s do that with our families, our neighbours, our mates, our broader community, our workplace. We’ve got to normalise and destigmatise this notion that somehow putting your hand up for help, putting your hand up to have a conversation with a mate because you’re a bit worried or can’t process something, that there’s somehow shame in that. It’s absolute rubbish. It’s not weakness. Indeed, I think it’s absolute strength if we can start looking out for each other.

46:26 Nick: Yeah.

46:27 Shane: So, there’s no doubt in my mind that our communities are showing that they are remarkably resilient. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still deeply traumatised in some areas. There’s a lot of uncertainty and there’s a lot of challenge when they look ahead to work out how on earth do I continue going forward, but it’s that community togetherness. It’s that extraordinary array of supports and programs.

I mean, just for the fires and floods alone, we’ve got over $5 billion worth of programs and supports and whilst most people in the recovery phase talk about rebuilding, repair and reconstruction, there’s also a lot in this space around healing, around support services and social constructs to help people through the very difficult and uncertain times.

Look, let’s sincerely hope that as we go forward and get to the other side of this current Covid challenge and we open up and we start renewing and we start rebuilding and we start repairing and we start normalising life, that we see those community spirits and that resilience continue to grow, continue to evolve and come out stronger through the extraordinary adversity that we’ve all been experiencing.

47:35 Nick: Yeah, it’s so important and just contrasting, you know, these insights which you’ve sort of garnered through Resilience NSW, with your extensive firefighting and leadership experience at the Royal Fire Service, I’m curious as to what you’ve learnt about recovery work that’s different to your experiences in a hazard focused disaster response organisation like the RFS. How have you found the move to an all hazards agency from a hazard specific agency?

48:05 Shane: So, look, I think that’s a really good question and what I would say, Nicholas, is our fire and emergency services fraternity here in NSW tied in with the Commonwealth and our partners interstate and around the world, no matter the disaster or hazard type, we all continue to work together.

So, even with the Covid response now, you’ve got — yes, you’ve got health leading a major health operation but you’ve also got all the other related operations, the logistics, the welfare relief, the coordination of major operations, all those sorts of things. The entire fire and emergency service fraternity are all working together in support of that effort.

So, community connectedness, all areas of government, non-government operations, not for profit sector, charitable organisations, big business, small business, industry bodies, we’ve all got to work together and join up together.

48:58 Nick: Cross-sectoral, isn’t it?

49:00 Shane: Yeah, absolutely and it’s multi-layered and multi-faceted. So, you can see right now the interplay between government and non-government entities, state government, federal government, local government. Everybody is working together to ensure we’re joined up as much as possible to do the very best we can for the people of NSW.

I think the biggest distinction always between — and I’m going to crudely describe this — but the response phase of an operation versus — the response and relief versus the recovery operation, is that there’s an understanding in the response or emergency phase of a major event that there’s a lot of shellshock. There’s a lot of fear, there’s a lot of anxiety, there’s a lot of focus on the immediacy of the here and now, of the unfolding event. So, people tend to scramble in an organised way together to get the best result and it really is focused on just saving and protecting as much as they possibly can.

But as you transition through the — and so people are just focused on that one thing but as you transition out of that into relief and recovery, it’s where the real human dimension sets in. When people have got the time to process loss, when people are coming back and particularly if they’ve lost loved ones. You know, they’ve had time to process and realise that their loved ones are not coming home. When they go back to their property, to their home, to their business, to their livelihood and find it’s been washed away or it’s ashes and rubble on the ground, the overwhelming contemplation of where to from here.

It’s that real — when you’re in the emergency phase, you’re often in that process together but in the recovery phase, it’s often a very individual unique experience and an individual and unique journey, and all our supports and all our…

50:45 Nick: It can hit you years later as well. It sort of can come, you know, at times you wouldn’t expect.

50:50 Shane: Absolutely. Correct and, as we’ve said very publicly, the fires might have gone for weeks and months in different areas, but the recovery will be going for months and years, and I can tell you, Nicholas, even after the fires — 18 months after the fires went through some areas, it was only 18 months later that we’ve had people coming to see us to say they’re now ready to have a conversation around what sort of recovery support and assistance might be available, and the reminder is that we all process and deal with things in different ways because our individual, family, business and community circumstances are all unique and different as well and…

In the recovery process, that is spread out over a long time. For some, it’s over a life time. We’ve got to have the systems, the programs, the supports, that whole architecture that builds in rigour and robustness to make it sound, to make it solid and make it viable but it’s also got to be flexible and nuanced enough to be able to allow for local need, local priority that will vary from one area to another, that will vary from one individual to another.

So, yeah, I think to simply describe it, you’ve got a much more profound human element to recovery — even though you’ve still got a strong human element in response, it’s much more individual and personalised and variable when it comes to the very long journey of recovery.

The important thing about recovery. Most people default to recovery meaning repair, rebuilding — you know, rebuilding roads, rebuilding homes, rebuilding businesses, rebuilding infrastructure, all that renewal sort of stuff. The word we don’t use enough is healing. So, there’s a lot of individual and societal community healing that’s also part of that very significant recovery journey and for a lot of areas, that recovery healing can be around things like storytelling and reflections. It can be about capturing memories and moments and putting together those libraries of information or those libraries of stories so that people don’t forget what happen, so that communities that come later don’t forget what this community experienced or what this family or business experienced and how they worked together to get back up again

So, it’s that real human and social and personal dimension that really features so heavily into recovery, which is why it’s so complex and so challenging and so emotive, because that’s the reality. It’s very different for everybody and we’ve got to be there to try to support and accommodate the needs of all that individuality and uniqueness.

53:30 Nick: I really love that. Focus on the human and the individual because that is the essence of the recovery work I’ve been involved in with my time with the Australian Red Cross as a salaried employee and as a volunteer.

When we talk about emergency management and disaster relief and recovery work, there’s a lot of emphasis across the sector on ensuring that recovery from disasters is community led. How does this work with the creation of new, big government agencies such as Resilience NSW, Bushfire Recovery Victoria and the National Recovery and Resilience Agency federally? Could you talk a bit about what it means for recovery to be community led authentically and how government agencies can facilitate communities to lead their recoveries from disasters?

54:17 Shane: My philosophy is — the general philosophy is the best led anything is that which is locally led, so whether it’s planning, response, relief or recovery. Our job — agencies like mine and bigger agencies — our job is to ensure that we’ve got the right architecture around the place, the policy architecture, the support mechanisms, the frameworks that are there to support, to facilitate, to enable, to empower that local leadership, and I can say we are channelling and coordinating billions and billions of dollars, but so many of that billions of dollars isn’t sitting in my bank account. It’s out there with partner organisations. It’s out there with partner government agencies. It’s out there with some of our not for profit partners, with our industry partners, with individuals and business owners themselves.

So, the idea is we want to be able to provide the wherewithal to allow that local leadership and that local led collaboration to identify priority, to identify need and deliver on strategies that enable them to grow and learn out of adversity, to come back stronger and better than they were before the event and, in doing that, we centre very much around local government focus areas and then the subsets of local government into local communities, and…

In the last 15 months or so, as I’ve done over decades, being able to get out into some of these local communities, spend time with some of these local leaders, with some of these local community meetings and hear firsthand what the needs are, what the priorities are, what the challenges or the limitations are — that allows us — and people in my team, people in Resilience NSW — they’re out there in the field every day working with people, either physically present or indeed more virtually in the last 12 months or so, but understanding first hand and providing that support, providing that coordination.

Similarly for me, working closely with our Commonwealth partners, learning the lessons and the insights from our interstate colleagues. The ability to share and learn is just wonderful and I see that maturity today.

Even little things like in decades past, we would always talk about building back better after disaster. We call it Betterment funding or Betterment investment but I remember in decades past, we’d talk about it, we’d get there and try and do it and then everyone would talk around in circles and we didn’t replace the old timber bridge with a concrete one because we couldn’t agree on who was going to own the asset, who was going to account for the asset, who was going to depreciate it. All those sorts of silly things would stand in the way, so we’d build the same bloody timber bridge back and then wonder why it burns down in the next fire or indeed it gets flooded.

So, this year alone we’re seeing Betterment investment and that’s a partnership between the Commonwealth, the state governments and the local governments and local communities and, by way of a practical example using the bridge analogy, plenty of bridges were damaged or destroyed up along the Great Dividing Range, particularly up the mid north coast there. We’re replacing those bridges with concrete bridges.

57:20 Nick: Fantastic.

57:21 Shane: Not only are they going to be better to withstand fire, but we’re also raising them a little bit because they’re often low lying where it’s practicable to do so. A lot of those communities, one of their biggest challenges is that they’re isolated because of low to moderate floods. So, we’re building in resilience into Betterment investments and Betterment infrastructure after these sorts of disasters and that’s coming out loud and clear as local community led, local council led priorities to help them go forward. So, it is absolutely about we provide a leadership coordination facilitation role to enable us to support and empower and assist those locally led efforts.

58:00 Nick: Yeah, fantastic and evidence and research tells us that disasters exacerbate existing social inequalities which disproportionately affects women, the elderly, First Nations people and refugees and migrants in transition. So, in terms of recovery and relief work, how can we better enable these groups to participate in relief and recovery activities, ensuring that they’ve got adequate access to services, etc.?

58:24 Shane: Look, that’s a really good example, Nicholas, and as we speak we are seeing — so, yeah, whether it’s the bushfire recovery efforts or the flood recovery efforts, you’re a hundred percent right in your message of the research.

In practice, we do find that disaster and tragedy highlights or reinforces underlying disadvantage or vulnerability in community and we’ve certainly seen that through the fires. We’ve certainly seen it through the floods and we’re seeing it again through the Covid response, and particularly with some of the extraordinary implications of the Covid response just recently, as we’ve learnt the lessons and captured the lessons through the fires and the floods and what have you of the last 18 months to two years, focusing very much on joined up approaches, involving bodies in the same room, on the same calls from agencies like Multicultural NSW, Aboriginal Affairs and related groups, connecting in with local community leaders — leaders of faith, leaders of local business, leaders of local programs — connecting in with them and related bodies, understanding what the needs and priorities were and then tailoring and nuancing everything from products and materials through to communications message and language, communication mediums.

Being able to tailor and nuance strategy, support and assistance is absolutely critical and that’s been central to the current and ongoing relief efforts that are being applied right across Covid and many tens of millions of dollars have been dedicated into supporting local existing community groups to enable them to further expand their work and maintain an increased demand for the need for relief because of disasters that overlay very challenged areas and very challenged communities.

So, acting in a joined up way, not just with government departments with the non-government partners, industry bodies, groups that represent different community profiles and different community demographics, engaging firsthand with them makes a significant and discernible difference.

1:00:50 Nick: Yeah, and just coming to the end of the interview, last two questions, but what are some of the biggest policy changes at the federal and state level do you think that are needed to further improve emergency management in Australia and NSW as well?

1:01:03 Shane: Look, I think that’s an ongoing and evolving area, Nicholas, and there’s a lot of work already going on in that regard. The creation of organisations like Resilience NSW, their equivalent in Victoria and Queensland, and of course the Commonwealth establishing Recovery and Resilience Australia only in July of this year. Those bodies are already working together.

We’ve got national structures in place where we’re looking at going forward. In NSW, we’re working with government. We’re looking at putting together the first state resilience strategy where we’re looking to identify and coordinate and pull together other big policy instruments that are led by the emergency management sector of the state, but also the broader state policy instruments like state infrastructure strategies, state climate strategies. All those sorts of things that are really key to how do we understand and capture at a community level, at a local level, what we’re vulnerable and susceptible and therefore going forward, what are the strategies, programs and investments — everything from low cost, no cost, right through to quite significant — how do we identify what the prioritised array of things that we can do over the short, medium and longer term, you know, of the next 12 months, the next five years, the next 10 to 20 years — what are the things that we can do that builds resilience, that lifts resilience of communities in local areas so that we can provide the confidence to people to live, work and invest in their community and indeed in this great state.

So, that area of work will continue to evolve, as it has for decades before us but particularly in light of the number of significant events and disasters and the consecutive and compounding nature of those events and disasters, there’s a genuine willingness and want to learn and — to capture learnings and evolve that knowledge capture into ongoing strategy and policy change and reform.

1:03:18 Nick: Yeah, and that research is so important, particularly when you think about the IPCC’s recent warnings about the worsening outlook for natural disaster events throughout the 21st century as a result of climate change, but also the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Community’s recent report, the annual cost of disasters in Australia will reach $73 billion by 2060. So, taking that as a jumping off point to look forward, we’re coming into bushfire season now in Australia and emergency services personnel are extremely fatigued after years of constant emergency responses to fires, floods, pandemic, drought. What’s the outlook for the months ahead in terms of weather and how do you think organisations should be looking after their people so that they can be ready to respond to help the community?

1:04:04 Shane: Yeah, absolutely. I think we’ve all got an individual and collective responsibility to look after ourselves and look after each other. I’m really pleased to see the fire and emergency services organisations and related partners are investing significantly in increasing programs and resources, on boarding psychologists and other programs, to help and focus on the emotional and psychological wellbeing of their people while they continue to grow and invest and build the infrastructure and the equipment and the systems that support them.

I think as a society, we’ve also got to focus on that. So, while our teams are tired and fatigued, so too is the community more broadly and ultimately at the end of the day, our teams and our emergency services personnel come from those communities.

I think the good thing is that they will be ready, they will be able, they will be capable and they’ve — and like every year that evolves, they’ve never been better resourced and they’ve never been better supported than they are right now and rightly so, and there’s more coming and more to do.

But as the season immediately ahead goes, thank goodness we’re not seeing any significant signals like we did coming into the 2019–20 fire season for example. If anything, this year we’re once again seeing the bureau tick towards an increasing la Nina event which typically, for South Eastern Australia and NSW, means above normal prospects for moisture. We’re starting to enter the storm season already and just in the last 24 hours, the last couple of weeks indeed, we’ve seen some pretty significant storm related events impacting rural communities of NSW, central west up in the normal tablelands only last night and again, we’ve got to be mindful that with good rains over the last couple of years, we’ve got above normal fire potential west of the Great Dividing Range particularly with grassland and cropping conditions.

The only good thing in this is we’re probably not going to see a drought this season but we’re going to go into what would be described probably as a pretty normal disaster season, whatever normal is, but the reality is I think the challenges of the last 18 months — droughts, fires, floods, mouse plagues, cyber activity, you know, critical infrastructure dependency, all those sorts of things — and of course Covid, it’s reminded us all that we are vulnerable and susceptible to impact, that we are vulnerable and susceptible to emergency and disaster and, whilst traditionally disasters happen somewhere to somebody, the rest of us move on with our life.

I think the big level with Covid has just reminded us all that it doesn’t matter who we are, where we are or what we are, we’ve got to do our part to mentally and physically prepare for the potential that we could be impacted and effected by a disastrous event in the future

We are as prepared as we’re going to be. We’ve never been better prepared than we are today but the reality is we’re tired, we’re fatigued and we’re all suffering the effects of an extraordinarily long 18 months to 2 years of compounding and successive disasters and we’ve got to keep that front and centre.

1:07:19 Nick: That’s a wonderful way to summarise and conclude the interview. So, thank you so much, Commissioner Fitzsimmons, for your time today but also for all your extraordinary work in emergency services across many decades and for, yeah, all the work you’re doing now at Resilience NSW.

We could have talked for many more hours I’m sure about all this stuff but, yeah, have a wonderful afternoon and thank you very much.

1:07:37 Shane: Thanks, Nicholas. Really appreciate it. Catch up again soon.


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