Disaster management strategy issues in Queensland, Australia

Graeme Preston
Group Manager, Business Units
Maroochy Shire Council, Queensland, Australia
Presenter, 2004 APWA Congress

The APWA International Affairs Committee presents this series of articles to assist in the exchange of ideas between our international partners. This article is presented as part of the partnering agreement in place between APWA and its Australian counterpart, the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA).

In Australia the prime responsibility for the protection of life, property and the environment is with the States and Territories. Australia is approximately the same in area as the USA and is the largest island in the world. The population of Australia is 20 million, residing mainly along the southeast coast. Australia has six States and two Territories.

The Federal Government is committed to providing support in developing the capacity for dealing with emergencies and disasters and provides physical assistance when requested by the States. The Federal Government, through Emergency Management Australia, supports a comprehensive approach to disaster management and encourages an "all-agencies," "all-hazards" approach to the prevention or mitigation of disasters, preparedness for their impact, response to that impact and recovery from the consequences.

Each State and Territory has its own plans, arrangements and organizations dedicated to dealing with emergencies. If a disaster occurs, the Federal Government, State and Territory Governments, emergency services, Local Governments, Cities or Shires, volunteer organizations, and communities work together to respond to the emergency, save lives and property, and assist the community to recover. Emergency services such as police, fire, ambulance and the State Emergency Services (SES is a volunteer organization) have specially trained and equipped teams that can deal with a wide variety of disasters and provide support and medical attention as required.

Disaster management in Queensland, Australia
The State of Queensland is 674,687 square miles with 4,625 miles of coastline and comprises 22.5% of the Australian continent. Queensland is 2.6 times the size of Texas.

Twenty-eight-year-old disaster management legislation has just been updated to provide Queensland with the most modern disaster management legislation anywhere in Australia.

Natural disasters have cost Queensland $7.9 billion Australian (1999 values) between 1967 and 1999. These disasters range from bushfires, floods, and violent electrical storms in the south to cyclones and floods in the north.

Terrorism is a Federal Government matter. However, if an incident occurs, the State and Local Governments would be activated for response and recovery.

The Queensland system operates on three distinct levels. These are:

  • Local Government
  • Disaster District
  • State Government

As stated earlier, the Federal Government is also included in the Disaster Management System recognising that Queensland may need to seek their support in times of disaster.

Each of these levels within the Disaster Management System has as its basis a committee structure supported by a disaster coordination centre. These committees and coordination centres are activated when required to manage and coordinate support for disaster-stricken communities. These committees also provide a major role in managing the planning functions and disaster risk assessment and mitigation.

Figure 1 depicts the Queensland Disaster Management System. The Disaster Management System has three main tiers that are set up to quickly provide technical and tangible assistance to disaster-stricken communities.

  Figure 1. Queensland Disaster Management System


All Local Governments in Queensland must have their own Local Government Counter Disaster Plan and a Local Government Counter Disaster Committee.

Local Government conducts management of a disaster at the community level. If the Local Government requires additional resources to manage the event, they can request support from the Disaster District Coordinator. If district resources are not sufficient, the request escalates to the State Government for assistance and, finally, when all of these resources are exhausted, to the Federal Government for assistance.

A brief summary of each of the key components is set out below:

The Local Government Counter Disaster Committee (LGCDC) coordinates the response to a disaster at the local level. The Mayor usually chairs the committee and the Local Government Chief Executive Officer or their delegate is the Executive Officer of the committee. In many cases the Public Works Engineer is the Executive Officer. The LGCDC develops and maintains Disaster Management Plans for their City or Shire. Membership of the committee comprises police, fire, ambulance, power supplier, telco, local government planning, health, public works, local community welfare organizations, and the local State Emergency Service (SES).

The SES is a volunteer emergency service receiving funding from the state and local government with a paid local controller (officer in charge). The volunteers are trained in all aspects of search and rescue, traffic control, evacuation, communication, community welfare, and numerous emergency response activities. Each local government must, under legislation, support an SES unit for their City or Shire.

The SES volunteers play a major role in responses to natural disasters; they provide the hands-on assistance with chain saws, rescue boats, vertical rescue, house roof tarping, etc.

Disaster District Coordinator/Control Group. There are 23 disaster districts in Queensland, which are based on the Police Districts. In Australia the Police Force is a State responsibility (not the responsibility of the City or Shire), and the 23 districts have no relationship with the 125 Local Government areas in Queensland. The Disaster District Coordinator is the senior Police Officer in each district. These Disaster District Control Groups comprise representatives from regionally-based Queensland Government Departments that are able to provide and coordinate whole-of-government support to disaster-stricken communities. They provide coordinated State Government support when requested by Local Government.

The State Disaster Coordination Group (SDCG) is the working body of the State Counter Disaster Organization (SCDO). This Group is the primary mechanism through which coordinated whole-of-government state level support is provided to disaster-stricken communities.

The Central Control Group is the executive arm of SCDO and makes policy decisions in relation to the overall management of disasters and has as its membership the Senior Executive Officers from a number of State Government Departments.

The State Counter Disaster Organization's membership includes the Chief Executives of a number of Queensland Government Departments including representatives of the Australian Defence Force and Local Government. The SCDO is by and large an umbrella organization under which the remainder of the system operates.

Major Incident Group (MIG) provides high level State administrative guidance and support in the event of a significant incident with major community consequences. Membership would be determined on an incident-by-incident basis.

Disaster management in Australia relies on the all-hazards, all-agencies comprehensive approach with the four main components being prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. The system has been successfully tested by a number of major incidents and whilst the outcomes have been very positive, each experience is built on to further improve and fine-tune the process.

Significant emphasis is placed on mitigation and planning, which is underpinned by a hazard risk analysis leading to measures being taken in advance of a hazardous event which are aimed at decreasing or eliminating its impact on society and the environment. Land use planning is an integral part of this process.

The Public Works Engineer plays a major role in all phases of Disaster Management in Queensland, Australia. When an event occurs the Public Works Engineer has a vital role in response and recovery.

Graeme Preston is a Qualified Civil Engineer and a Fellow of the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia. He has had over 40 years of local government experience in Australia with 20 years Disaster Management experience. He can be reached at

Graeme will present a paper entitled "Emergency Management in Queensland, Australia" at the APWA Congress in Atlanta, Georgia. He will expand on this article as well as provide a case study on how the Public Works Engineer was pivotal to the emergency planning for the British Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Australia.

Beautiful "Bays of Huatulco" site of 2004 Mexican Public Works Conference

The 11th Annual Mexican National Public Works and Services Conference will be held May 19 to 22, 2004 in the beautiful Pacific Ocean resort community of Huatulco, Mexico. The exquisite five-star BarcelĀ¢ Resort, situated on the beach in one of the nine spectacular "Bays of Huatulco," will host this year's conference.

This annual public works event is organized by the Asociacion de Municipios de Mexico, A.C. (AMMAC) and brings together public works officials and vendors from throughout Mexico to discuss technical and managerial issues affecting the delivery of public works and services in Mexico. APWA has actively participated in this conference for a number of years, with members both attending sessions as well as making presentations. Larry Lux, Director-at-Large, Public Works Management/Leadership, will be representing the APWA Board of Directors and APWA at this year's conference.

The AMMAC Public Works and Services Conference is a unique opportunity to learn about the challenges facing our Mexican counterparts as their country enters a new era of more open, democratic governance.

The resort community of Huatulco is the youngest of Mexico's five centrally-planned tourist destinations (the others being Cancun, Ixtapa, Los Cabos and Loreto). Huatulco is located in the State of Oaxaca, and stretches for 35 kilometers along nine picturesque Pacific Ocean bays at the foot of the Southern Sierra Madre mountains. Besides the standard beach resort amenities of fishing, windsurfing, scuba diving, snorkeling and the like, attendees can take advantage of the adjacent 18-hole championship golf course, resort facilities including tennis, saunas, pools and exercise rooms, or venture off into the nearby mountains and jungles for off-the-beaten-path excursions in the surrounding pristine environmental areas.

APWA members interested in attending or participating in the conference can contact Bob Kass, APWA/AMMAC Task Force Chair, at (408) 866-2150, or via e-mail at Vendors are particularly encouraged to take part in the conference's trade show.

For more information on Huatulco, visit or For information on the BarcelĀ¢ resort, visit

New Zealand Asset Management Study Tour

13-20 June 2004

The Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA) in association with its sister organisation INGENIUM NZ is pleased to announce a seven-day Asset Management Technical Tour to New Zealand in June 2004. The Tour also incorporates attendance at the 2004 INGENIUM Annual Conference.

Visit Local Authorities
Learn first-hand from leading New Zealand Councils on their experiences in implementing asset management including:

  • Case study examples of asset management plans and their various elements
  • Defining and costing levels of service
  • Understanding customer value
  • Projecting infrastructure financial needs
  • Strategies for funding the renewal gap
  • Asset management and long-term financial planning

Hear from leading asset management practitioners covering all asset classes (roads, stormwater, parks & buildings, water & sewerage) with visits planned to:

  • Wellington City Council
  • Palmerston North City Council
  • Manawatu District Council
  • Wanganui District Council

Address by New Zealand Auditor-General
Special arrangements have been made for the Group to be addressed by the New Zealand Auditor-General Kevin Brady on the essential role of the audit function in local authority asset management. This is of direct relevance in Australia given the findings and directions recommended by the recent Hawker Cost Shifting Inquiry.

Attend New Zealand Annual Conference
The tour concludes with attendance at the 2004 INGENIUM Annual Conference at Palmerston North. The theme of the conference is "The Next Generation."

The cost for the land portion of the Tour is A$1,750 per person based on seven nights single/double room hotel/motel accommodation, breakfasts & lunches, most dinners, bus/coach transportation, Council visits, tour planning and organisation expenses. Conference registration is at INGENIUM member rates of A$750. Total A$2,500.

Participants are responsible for their own air travel & transfer arrangements to/from New Zealand, personal expenses and optional sightseeing. The Tour commences in Wellington on Sunday evening 13th June and concludes at the close of the Conference in Palmerston North on Sunday 20th June.

You may want to arrange your own sightseeing to see more of New Zealand either side of the Tour.

As the Tour will largely base itself in Palmerston North, and technical tour participants travel out daily to the Councils, there is an opportunity for Partners to stay with the Group in Palmerston North/Wellington.

The INGENIUM Annual Conference part of the Tour certainly encourages attendance by Partners and an exciting and varied program will be available. Additional cost for Partners to stay with the Group in Wellington and Palmerston North (seven nights twin/double accommodation, breakfasts, most dinners, bus/transfer Wellington to Palmerston North) including Conference Registration is A$520. Conference Registration includes all social functions but not optional tours.

To register your interest and obtain an information pack including Deposit Form, please contact Lita Somogyi at IPWEA on +612 8267 3001, or e-mail Deposits are required to be paid by 7 May 2004.

A startling prediction from 1984

Jimmy B. Foster, P.E.
Director of Public Works
City of Plano, Texas
Chair, APWA International Affairs Committee

The book, Management of Local Public Works (1986, by the International City Management Association), is no longer in print. However, I still have the book and was reading it for historical reasons a few days ago. I discovered some interesting facts and one startling prediction as I read pages 4 and 5 of that book. Under the subtitle, "An Honorable Profession," the excerpt reads as follows:

"Public works as a profession is undoubtedly one of the oldest professions in the world, predating the Pyramids. Outstanding, intelligent, dedicated public works officials have served humanity as long as people have congregated in cities instead of caves.

The ancient cities of Athens, Rome, Pompeii, Babylon, and many others dating back to 600 B.C. and beyond, are known to have been served with such public works facilities as roads, bridges, canals, aqueducts, water and sewer systems, and even, in some instances, indoor plumbing. Early road systems go back as far as 2500 B.C. in China and Egypt. One example of such an early system is the Old Silk Trade Route, which ran over 6,000 miles, connecting China with Rome and pre-Christian Europe.

The fact that many of these ancient public works facilities—roads, aqueducts, canals—are still in use today attests to the skill, genius, and dedication to public service of the men who conceived, built, maintained, managed, and improved these valuable public necessities over the centuries. We who are engaged in the profession today can be justly proud of its long history of service to mankind.

Lest we become giddy in such a rarified atmosphere of professional admiration, an article in the Smithsonian magazine (March 1984) by James R. Chiles may bring us back to earth. The article recounts ancient wonders that did not survive and compares three modern-day structures—namely the World Trade Center in New York, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in Washington State. On the basis of research and consultation with structural engineers, geologists, and mechanical engineers most intimately familiar with each, the author projects what the life span of each might be.

The first to go would be the World Trade Center because of the flooding of the basement by the Hudson River and the ravages of rust and corrosion. No timetable is given for the final collapse but the basement is expected to be filled with seawater in less than 1,000 years." (The bolding and italics are my own.)

Recalling the events of September 11, 2001, I find it startling that such a prediction, albeit based on dramatically different circumstances, could have been made twenty years ago. The book goes on to state that the effective life span of public works structures is not arbitrarily determined. Les Robertson, the structural engineer who designed the World Trade Center, stated, "The effective life span is completely dependent on those who maintain them. Properly maintained, a building is ageless." Our world has changed (or perhaps not). We have found it easier to destroy than to build and maintain.

Jimmy B. Foster can be reached at (972) 769-4128 or at

African Proverbs

"When an elephant combats, it is the grass that suffers." - Kikuya Proverb

"It is better to have no law than not enforcing it." - Bantu Proverb

"He who guards two termite hills, returns empty handed." - Bahaya Proverb