Bushfires Stress Resources in Australia
Thousands of Australians have been evacuated as bushfires reached the outside suburbs of Sydney this week. More than 12 million acres of land have been burned, according to The Associated Press. So far, 24 people have died as a result of the fires.
Over the weekend, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced he was calling up 3,000 reservists to fight the fires and conduct evacuations. Additional firefighting aircraft and the Navy’s largest ship, the HMAS Adelaide, have also been deployed to aid in evacuations of residents stranded along the coast. This marks the largest military deployment the continent has seen since World War II, NPR reports.
Private organizations in Australia are also chipping in effort and resources—private companies, such as fuel company Esso, sent ships and boats to Mallacoota, a small town in Victoria, Australia, using helicopters to fly in fresh firefighters and evacuate their weary colleagues, The Age reports. The ships also brought in food and water for the town after wildfires forced up to 4,000 residents and tourists to shelter on beaches after homes were destroyed.
National telephony company Telstra is offering assistance packages—including free use of public payphones and Telstra Air Wi-Fi network hotspots—to residents and businesses across all of Australia, as electricity failures cause mobile networks to falter.
This year’s fire season started early in Australia due to drought conditions—around 6 September. 2019 was the driest and hottest hear on record in Australia, and temperatures continue to climb; on 4 January, it was 48.9 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Sydney suburb of Penrith.
The wildfires are triggering additional business continuity challenges, even outside directly affected regions, says Rinske Geerlings, principal consultant at Business As Usual, a business continuity planning and consulting firm based in Sydney. Smoke from the bushfires has drifted as far as New Zealand, over 1,000 miles away, and businesses in Australia have to decide whether to turn on air conditioning units or prevent bushfire smoke from entering workplaces, Geerlings says.
In addition, continuity options are limited as the fires spread, she adds; alternative locations or suppliers are likely to be similarly affected by the bushfires. Read more about business continuity challenges amid wildfires in the February edition of Security Management.
The effect of the unprecedented bushfires on firefighters—most of whom serve as unpaid volunteers—is yet to be seen. According to a January 2019 Security Management article, “Haunting After Heroism,” first responders face possible long-term physical and psychological effects from traumatic events such as fires or mass shootings. A white paper from the Ruderman Family Foundation found that first responders are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty, often stemming from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, the article reported.
“First responders are heroes who run towards danger every day in order to save the lives of others,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “They are also human beings, and their work exerts a toll on their mental health.”
Firefighters in Australia have skipped Christmas with their families, using up annual leave from work as they battle the blaze, The Associated Press reports. As of 29 December, eligible volunteer firefighters in Australia will receive compensation of 300 Australian dollars a day, up to AU$6,000 in total, if deployed for more than 10 days. The compensation focuses on people who are self-employed or work for small and medium businesses. “The early and prolonged nature of this fire season has made a call beyond what is typically made on our volunteer firefighters,” said Prime Minister Morrison when announcing the decision.