Monday, February 01, 2010

Can’t escape bureaucratic bungling

With only a cell (mobile) phone and small radio to keep me in touch I thought I might become less of a carping critic of issues concerning poor governance. No so when you live in a sparsely populated region still in trauma from the bushfires of last February.
I thought heading into the wilderness, beyond the communications systems we now take for granted, would at least shield me from the knowledge of political and bureaucratic. That was a vain hope.
With high temperatures and strong winds hitting my wilderness I am receiving a stream of confusing warnings on fire dangers. The warnings are so confusing the ABC (radio) presenters are constantly seeking clarifications from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE).
Given the tragic circumstances of previous bushfire seasons, and the pasting authorities have endured through various hearings and inquiries, there is enormous pressure to solve problems of mitigating disasters. Unfortunately it falls to the wrong people in the case of CFA and DSE. Rather than look to the local knowledge of a committed volunteer base it is those who only know the assurance of a pay packet who are dealing with this.
The major issue, in the restructuring of a fire response system, is basic communications. CFA and DSE seem so tied up in their own entrenched language and systems they seem unable to put together A simple set of plans which will work across this relatively small Australian state. Part of the problem is their refusal to listen to those who really understand the territory.

Mapping the issues

BOM has a great reputation with weather districts based on consistently similar patterns. There accuracy, while largely speculative or ‘educated guess’, is well respected. The fire authorities base their maps on multiple municipal boundaries, which are large areas with some dramatic climactic variations.
In my case it is doubly confusing because I live on the edge of the North Eastern Fire District, which extends from central Victoria to the Pacific Ocean. Across the road (pictured above) is the North Western District extending across to South Australia. All last week my district was on the edge of ‘code red’ fire danger, we will get to the various codes, then Saturday the danger swung to the North Western district.
The crazy part of that is where this apparent barrier has been created both sides of the road are tinder dry and any activity likely to set of a fire would only be undertaken by a malicious individual or a dullard unaware of the danger. The problem for my neighbours, and more so for my radio presenters, is the difficulty in focusing in on potential crisis points. As some commentators have noted, there is a danger, after a few panics, of the ‘boy who cried wolf’ syndrome.

Confusing codes

So the CFA and DSE bureaucracies went further than ignoring the well established district regimes of BOM, but also decided to change the old, and understood, fire rating system for a new and confusing model. (see pic) They probably only need low – high – code red, but even with that they have communications problems. It will not be code red across the massive area they are reporting it.
The trouble Coupled with those unwieldy fire reporting districts the new codes simply deepen the confusion on the ground. Now on the ground is just where the local volunteer fire fighters are and there workload is already heavy from using their local knowledge and concern to spot real problems before they happen. That isn’t always possible, but we would already be in deep trouble without their efforts.
So each time code reds have been declared and the worst outcome wasn’t achieved did the authorities clap and cheer a successful operation? No, they blamed BOM who they rely on for their weather predictions. They are bloody crazy. A code red is a message to take special care about fire risk, if people listened then it achieved it’s purpose. But the bureaucrats are obviously focused on a different reality to the rest of us.


lindsaylobe said...

Hi Cart
Considering the past confusion an overreaction this year by the CFA was always on the cards particularly since such a hierarchical structured organization appears to lack the flexibility necessary to devolve responsibility to regions.

Cartledge said...

I feel bad doing these hit and run posts, but I'm back to the bush again and off line. Must find a connection up there.
Lindsay your comment is spot on. It is interesting that this post has drawn hits from BOM and the ABC, but nothing from CFA of DSE. I don't know if they lack the technical nouse to flag online comment or they just don't care what people think.

D.K. Raed said...

The Extemely Catastrophic Red(head) thinks everyone should pay attn to fire danger every day, pay extra close attn on red alert days, and be thankful if a red alert did not result in a fire (this time)!

Fire knows no boundaries (except water and even then it has to be deep and wide) ... so I guess since you are "living on the edge", you must pay attn to both dominions ... and always watch and scan for smoke, soot, and fleeing animals/birds.

you can tell I've been through my share of wildfires in back country of so-cal, the very worst of which were arsonist related which I think should still be hanging crime.