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Cross-border inter-agency exercise
A cross-border inter-agency gathering last week in Corryong took the form of a hypothetical.
The desktop scenario was an escaped campfire in a streamside reserve spreading to both sides of the Murray River, threatening farmhouses and small settlements such as Khancoban as it raced towards the Alpine National Park.
A total of 23 participants from CFA, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI), Victoria Police, New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, Rural Fire Service (RFS) and the Forestry Corporation of NSW spoke about how they would respond to this scenario.
“We have a long and strong history in the Upper Murray," said District 24 Operations Manager Paul King. “Of course we all operate using AIIMS [Australasian Inter-Service Incident Management System]. We all know what we do as individual agencies, so this was all about the coordination between us. How does each organisation operate and how do we bring the actions together?
“The discussion threw up some issues and there’ll be follow-up actions. We identified cross-border warnings as an issue. Fire agencies can operate on both sides of the border. The aspiration is to work towards one incident management team at one incident management centre but we’re not there yet. There will be legal implications. Who has control? How far can we go in delivering a seamless service? We still have work to do in that space.”
CFA and RFS have a memorandum of understanding with guidelines about communications plans, liaison, rules of engagement for aircraft, safety and welfare matters. The radios talk to each other and border brigade trucks carry adaptors for different fittings.
Perhaps the biggest recent test of cross-border cooperation was the 2009-10 Ournie fire on the New South Wales side of the river which spotted across to Victoria. CFA ran a division of that fire, operating out of the Corryong air base.
“People here are border-blind,” continued Paul. “District 24 Operations has a very close relationship with our buddies across the river. We have a cross-border coordinating committee that gets together reasonably regularly so we have good awareness of each other’s abilities and resources. We get together socially. We all know we’ll see a friendly face at any cross-border operation.
“The more remote we are, the more we rely on each other.”
The scenario created by District 24 Wildfire Instructor John Kneebone to test out the cross-border agreement was the forerunner to a practical inter-agency exercise.