On 9 February 2014, embers from a number of bushfires ignited the Hazelwood Mine Fire near Morwell in the Latrobe Valley. Despite major suppression efforts the coal mine continued to burn for 45 days, with severe consequences including an emotionally and physically exhausted community in Morwell.
An independent Board of Inquiry was established to consider the impacts of the complex fire and public health implications. The Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry Report (2014) identified 18 recommendations, including Recommendation 12 as the key driver for this project: ‘The State, led by Emergency Management Victoria, develop a community engagement model for emergency management to ensure all State agencies and local governments engage with communities and already identified trusted networks as an integral component of emergency management planning.’
Whilst this recommendation was generally supported by key stakeholders, local residents voiced concerns about issues not fully addressed in the initial inquiry. In May 2015 the inquiry was reopened to investigate whether the Hazelwood Mine Fire led to poorer health outcomes and increased deaths. It also considered how to potentially improve the health of the Latrobe Valley community, together with opportunities to increase community safety and resilience levels.
A series of engagement processes during this time identified that connections between agencies, organisations and the community were difficult to establish during the fire. Local residents also highlighted how difficult it was to make their voices heard and that these experiences reinforced an underlying lack of trust between the community, government and organisations.
The Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry: Victorian Government Implementation Plan (2016) was released to provide further direction toward supporting the community. This upheld the priority to complete Recommendation 12, together with the employment of an Engagement Officer to use the Community Based Emergency Management (CBEM) approach, to guide the planning and engagement processes in Morwell and the Latrobe Valley.
By June 2017, this project will have supported the Morwell community (and by June 2018 the wider Latrobe Valley community) and organisations to better connect and work together before, during and after emergencies by:
- connecting people and networks
- using local knowledge
- understanding long term stresses and the potential impacts from shocks
- developing goals and solutions, and
- continuing to learn, share and improve.
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