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A year in review with first term mayor Cr Mal Forman
Notes from the zone: Bundaberg Mayor Cr. Mal Forman reflects on the disaster which would define his first term in office
As a first-term Mayor at the time of the 2013 Bundaberg flood, Cr. Mal Forman has certainly had his baptism of fire.
With the city declared a disaster zone, the national media descending en masse and the rising Burnett River wreaking havoc on houses and lives, it's safe to say that Mayor Forman has gleaned a thing or two about disaster management.
Council Courier spoke with the Mayor prior to his participation in the upcoming LGAQ Disaster Management Summit, occurring 9-10 July in Brisbane.
Working with state, national and non-government organisations during and after the Bundaberg floods, what were your key learnings in terms of working with many different stakeholders at a local level?
Structure and communication were, at times, tested areas of our emergencies with mixed messages at times being an issue. Overall, I was delighted with the chain of command protocols.
Our Disaster Management meetings were very inclusive and this ensured most organisations had a good understanding of the appropriate contacts and where to source required information or materials. I fully embraced the decision to involve the Australian Defence Forces personnel at an early stage and believe their presence assisted in quickly bringing our situation back to some normality.
The sight of uniforms also carried a positive message to the community that we were in a serious emergency situation and assisted in the community being less questioning of decisions that had to be made.
However we had issues relating to accommodating evacuees and the homeless and I believe a clearer strategy needs to be in place in handling temporary accommodation as numerous agencies are involved in this task.
Why are events like LGAQ's Disaster Management Summit important?
Information! Information! Information! Sharing experiences in a cluster group such as this is invaluable. The networking between councils who have been down the natural disaster path enables everyone to share a common experience but to explain the subtle differences each response brings. The LGAQ will also catalogue information shared and this will be a valuable database going forward.
Media management during the 2013 floods was obviously a huge part of your role as Mayor. What advice would you give to other local government leaders fronting national media during times of crisis and natural disaster?
From the outset I think you need to be yourself. It's pointless adopting an image that is not you simply for the sake of the cameras. If you are telling your community's story people want to hear it from a real person and not a 'stiff and starched' politician. Be consistent with your messaging. Have people supporting you from a technical base and don't be afraid to share the media space with them.
Only deal in facts and not simply what the media (or community) may want to hear. It's a time of disaster and people want leadership but above all, they want reassurance.
What are you most looking forward to discussing as a panelist at the upcoming Disaster Management Summit?
I am really anticipating discussing the experiences of other Disaster Management Groups, the challenges they faced, the successes they achieved and the outcomes they drew from their experience.
I am looking forward to broadening my knowledge base regarding the manner in which individual councils react to natural disaster and am hopeful this opportunity to share information will result in 'unexplored territory' being revealed to me and the strategies and processes others implemented to tackle these situations.
Do local councils receive enough training and support to prepare for and respond to large-scale natural disasters? What can we do better to prepare in a state like Queensland that is prone to extreme weather events?
I suspect that time and resources often preclude adequate training being provided. In Bundaberg we were somewhat fortunate in the training department because we held a full-scale desk top exercise in November just preceding the floods.
The scenario was a coastal community near Bundaberg being impacted by a Cat. 4 Tropical Cyclone and subsequent storm surge with residents requiring evacuation. Details from that training event coupled with our experiences in 2010/11 were invaluable in January. Councillors certainly should play a pivotal role in spreading messages or participating in the operation of evacuation centres as these centres are often where 'issues' can arise.
I believe that pre-cyclone season training is imperative and it may not be a bad idea for Queensland Disaster Management to task randomly chosen councils on a 'surprise' basis with a disaster scenario they have to react to.
You can register online to attend the LGAQ's Disaster Management Summit: Debriefing and Debating 2013 Disaster Events. The program includes a simulated disaster media conference at the opportunity to hear from leaders including The Hon David Crisafulli MP, Minister for Local Government, Community Recovery and Resilience.
Download the pdf A year in review: Interview with first term mayor Cr Mal Forman