WA governments unprepared for ‘large-scale emergencies’

By Angela Dorizas

Western Australia’s Auditor-General, Colin Murphy, has warned that state and local governments are unprepared for ‘large-scale emergencies’.

The Auditor-General’s report, tabled in State Parliament, found that the Government has not appointed agencies to manage six hazards, including bushfires.

This means that a number of authorities would be unable to fully invoke powers of the state’s Emergency Management Act, including the power to force people to flee their homes in the case of a bushfire.

The report also found that State Emergency Management Committee (SEMC) has not ensured local government complies with its emergency management obligations.

“While the SEMC has the authority to direct local governments to prepare for emergencies, it has not done so, even though many do not meet the obligations that the Act and emergency management policies place on them,” the Auditor-General said in the report.

“The SEMC also does not periodically assess the suitability and comprehensiveness of local government plans and arrangements.

“We also found that while the SEMC has statistical information which enables an overall assessment of local government compliance, it was unable to specifically identify which local governments were not meeting their obligations.”

A SEMC survey of local government in June 2008 found that eight emergency management obligations were often not met.

It also revealed that only 24 per cent of councils reported to have prepared risk treatment plans and only 55 per cent reported to have established local emergency management arrangements.

The Auditor-General has recommended that SEMC and Emergency Management WA (EMWA) work with local government to ensure that comprehensive local arrangements are up-to-date and in place.

He also recommended that SEMC and EMWA formally and regularly assess which hazards the state should be prepared for; assess the state’s level of preparedness at least annually; ensure agencies fulfil their obligations under the act; and urgently submit outstanding legislative changes to State Parliament.

Key findings:

  • There is no formal process for reviewing hazards, so WA may not be prepared for the right hazards.
  • The SEMC has not assessed how well-prepared the state is overall for large-scale emergencies.
  • 13 of the 24 state emergency management plans (Westplans) are past the required review date.
  • There are gaps in emergency management regulations which could impact upon an agencies’ capacity to respond to emergencies.
  • Six hazards listed in the legislation do not have a specified hazard management agency and three hazards identified by the SEMC are not included in the legislation. As a result, agencies will not be able to invoke full powers of the Act to respond to such hazards.
  • SEMC has not ensured local government comply with their emergency management obligations.
  • Most agencies reviewed by the Auditor-General test their plans, but individual agencies do not formally assess their overall capacity to respond to large-scale emergencies.

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