The challenges of bushfire management are not dissimilar to those of biosecurity, according to Shane Fitzsimmons, Commissioner of Resilience NSW, who spoke at the Australian Biosecurity 2030 Workshop ‘Building a mass movement’ on 4-5 November 2020, insights from which were reported by conference organisers in March 2021.

Touching on his experiences as Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service in light of the devastating 2019–2020 bushfire season, Shane spoke about ‘Making biosecurity part of everyday life’.

“The challenge of disasters and emergencies is that they are very quickly out of sight and out of mind. COVID-19 has made it clear that, given the right set of circumstances, we can all be impacted by a disaster, and no one is immune,” he said.

Shane said immense importance must be placed on investment in preparedness and prevention, with community at the heart of all conversations.

Organisations must:

  • Understand, prioritise and document the current and future risks;
  • Understand which prevention awareness activities to invest in now and the difference they will make to improve the prospects of families, businesses and the community in an event of an incident;
  • Prosecute clear, evidence-based arguments to get greater investment in particular local and prioritised prevention strategies and resource building;
  • Identify which activities to prioritise in light of a response; and
  • Understand how best to gain buy in from their industries even if motivations differ.

Shane recommended using a systematic planning framework that can identify risks, assets and vulnerabilities in an area, some of which may be conflicting, then identifying the broad actions needed and who is responsible for it.

He said the lead agency in biosecurity must ensure it is leveraging jurisdictional and national capacity, so there are other agencies to call on when responding to an outbreak (e.g., for assistance with command-and-control systems, logistics, organisation and movement of people and management of information).

Shane said to keep learning, reflecting and improving on the way messaging is delivered during an incident to gain better buy in during an incident. He said the most effective messages are those with consistent methodology, recognised nationally so they mean something to everyone at the local level.

Authenticity and simple, clear, factual articulation of the biosecurity message, without being alarmist, is fundamental. People should be kept updated with the latest information and what is expected of them to prepare. Misinformation in the media or social media should be corrected quickly, with a single source of truth for information identified.

Shane said the best-led recovery is locally led but facilitated/coordinated/sponsored/funded by local/state/federal government.

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