Lessons learned lead to relief and recovery success

Lessons learned in emergency management led to the successful running of a Landcare recovery program, following the 2014 Mickleham-Kilmore fires.

Having experienced the devastating fires of February 2009, South West Goulburn Landcare Network facilitator, Sonia Sharkey, and her team had an understanding of the complexities involved with fire relief and recovery, as well as some of the things that worked well, and not so well during 2009.

The fires which hit Mickleham-Kilmore in February, 2014 burnt more than 22,800 hectares with a perimeter of just under 220 kilometres. There were 18 houses destroyed, 500 cattle and 11,000 sheep.

The fires had a huge impact on farming and agriculture in the area, as well as the environment.

Residents needed assistance in many ways, but Landcare decided it could band together with a number of local groups, organisations, agencies and departments to provide some immediate and practical support. This included fellow Landcare networks groups, Catchment Management Authorities, Mitchell and Macedon Shire Councils, CFA and DELWP.

Within just over a week of the fires passing, South West Goulburn Landcare network made direct contact with the 142 affected landholders in their area to assess how they had been affected, how and where they needed assistance and identified the priority of measures needed. This immediate action led to a response from 40 per cent of landholders.

A meeting was called to discuss relief and recovery priorities and there were many things that needed addressing, ranging from vets for animals, pasture feed, arrangements for fencing, environment and waterway protection, revegetation, mental health and wellbeing support and more.

“There were so many lessons learned out of Black Saturday and we really wanted to make sure we built on these and improved support the community,” Ms Sharkey said.

“Last time there was a lack of clarity around who was leading what aspect of the relief and recovery and as a result, when people were calling up for assistance, they were just getting handballed around and that was very stressful and frustrating for them.

“One of the ways this was addressed was by quickly getting the key agencies, departments and groups together after the fire to bed down who was doing what and to then meet with the community to discuss their needs and priorities.

“An emphasis was also placed on local knowledge and leaders and this all contributed to the relief and recovery running as smoothly as possible and in an improved and coordinated way.”

After the community’s needs were really known and established, the South West Goulburn Landcare Network worked with Upper Deep Creek Landcare Networks to run joint workshops, which provided information on water quality protection, stock health and management, weed identification, soil testing, land erosion and other topics.

Landcare specifically helped in revegetation, including remnant vegetation protection and weed management, waterway protection and worked alongside volunteer agency, Fencers without Boundaries to rebuild fences along waterways.

“A number of corporate groups and people from all over helped to pull down the burnt fencing and rebuild it, as well as with the Landcare specific tasks,” Ms Sharkey said.

“That is the thing with emergency relief and recovery, people are just so willing to support and help and just get things done. Everyone is so busy and heavily affected but everyone really comes together, as a community.”

One of the biggest successes out of the program has been the development a number of templates and information to provide a quick and effective response to fire, which the South West Goulburn Landcare Network has built upon after the two recent bushfires affecting the area. These have been shared with other Landcare networks to assist them with recovery after fire.

Landcare is a national network of thousands of locally-based community groups who care for the natural resources of our country. Across the country, there are more than 4000 community Landcare groups, 2000 Coastcare groups and many thousands of volunteers.

Ms Sharkey said while Landcare wouldn’t usually work in an emergency management space, it could be said that the organisation was a part of the sector in its commitment to care for the environment and natural resources.

“We will step in and support our communities and our natural resources wherever we can,” she said.

“While we don’t want to see fire in the area, the lessons learned from previous events mean that we are more resilient as a community and it has helped local agencies and groups be better prepared and connected.

“Our Landcare Network is better connected than ever with the Shire, CFA and other government agencies and departments – we’re able to see that we’re all a part of it and have a role to play.”

The South West Goulburn Landcare Network and its partners were recognised recently in the Fire Awareness Awards when they won the 2015 Recovery Award.

The Fire Awareness Awards recognise the extraordinary work of individuals, groups and organisations in their efforts to reduce the impacts of fire in Victoria.  The awards have been presented for more than 30 years by Victoria’s fire agencies and are supported by RACV Insurance, ABC Local Radio and Emergency Management Victoria.