7th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Environmental Health Conference Kalgoorlie, WA

Indigenous Communities Emergency Risk Management Project, Eastern Goldfields

Page last updated: December 2010

Kenan Bender & Troy McKrill, City of Kaloorlie Boulder, WA and John Lane, WA Local Government Association

Hello everyone, as has already been mentioned, I am Troy McKrill, this is Kenan Bender and this is John Lane. We’re presenting this morning on the Emergency Risk Management Project we’re currently running in Indigenous communities in this region.

Before we start, we too would like to take the time to acknowledge the people on whose land we meet, their elders and history and the people of this country present today. We’d like to thank them for their ongoing help in the completion of this project and hope that it leads to safer communities for Indigenous people throughout the region.


Firstly I’d like to give a brief overview on the City of Kalgoorlie- Boulder and its Indigenous EH Program and explain how the project came about.

Some stats on the city:
  • It has a population of around 35 000 people.
  • It covers an area of over 95 000 square kilometres.
  • It’s located in central WA. It looks as though all of you found it so you should be right there.
  • It has 2 Indigenous Communities within its boundaries but acts as a service centre for much of the region and beyond.
The city also through funding from the Office of Aboriginal Health runs an Indigenous Environmental Health Program which covers the Eastern Goldfields region. Kenan and I in conjunction with Bega Garnbirringu Health Service and the community based environmental health workers provide environmental health services to 12 communities.

It takes over 2000 kilometres round trip to visit all of the 12 communities we work with.

The Need

The need for the City to undertake some sort an Indigenous EM project first become apparent in 2007 when, during a review of its local EM arrangements and plans, the city identified that their documents did not contain content on indigenous emergency management/planning.

This was also supported through our regular visits in aboriginal communities as it also became apparent that they are threatened by multiple emergency risks. Over the course of my 6 years in the area, I’ve heard of many fatal car accidents on roads from communities, there have been three house fires that destroyed the buildings on fire and in the space of a year three people died from exposure after their vehicles broke down between town and their community. If a larger emergency were to affect a community, many people could very well be stranded without basic provisions or a transport link to services.

The city had previously purchased an emergency tent and some portable toilets through a lotteries grant so we were aware of the situation but we didn’t have any action plan or strategic approach in place. The more we thought about it the more potential issues and problems arose. How would we get even the equipment we had to communities if the roads had been washed out?

So then we thought about investigating to see if there was any projects/plan or research that we could use to help address the EM issues… surprisingly, there was very little information, plans or templates available.

Despite the risks we have not identified any research into the emergency risks effecting communities in our region or any emergency plans for communities.

This is a problem for local government as the WA Emergency Management Act 2005 says that local government has to ensure that effective local emergency management arrangements are prepared and maintained for its district and that it must manage recovery following an emergency affecting the community in its district. Circulars have been disseminated by FESA to stipulate that this includes Indigenous communities. From my experiences I think its very unlikely that any of the arrangements prepared for the mainstream town in the local government area would be effective for any Indigenous community that may be hundreds of kilometres away.

This being the case, it was the case we thought it was essential that emergency arrangements be made for Indigenous communities in the region. We’re hoping that this project goes a good way to meeting this need by providing effective emergency arrangements for some regional Indigenous communities and providing the structure needed to make arrangements for the remaining communities.


To give you some background into the region, the area around here is made up of semi-arid eucalypt woodland which runs from about 100 km north of here and continues east and south. Beyond the eucalypt woodland is open mulga scrub that becomes sparser as you go east until you reach the Nullarbor. There are 30 Indigenous communities situated in the region. In which we only provide services to only 12 of these. Three of them are located in the middle of eucalypt woodland, five in the mulga while some are town-based. Four of the communities are situated over 100 km from the nearest town with one of them being around 600 km away from the nearest town. The only regional hospital is in Kalgoorlie with half of the communities being over 200 km away. Most of the roads are gravel as soon as you leave the north-south connecting highway or go beyond Laverton so much of the time the most appropriate method of evacuation in emergency situations would be by air.

The communities we work with have a resident population of between 30 and 150 but at times, like cultural business, funerals and footy carnivals, the population can swell a lot sometimes reaching 300 or more in places.

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The Project

The City was able to source $38 000 of funding through an application to the Fire and Emergency Services Authority of WA, FESA’s AWARE program, that is All West Australians Reducing Emergencies. Usually local governments are restricted to applying for $30 000 but as we were proposing to run the project in an area of known need and across multiple local government areas FESA provide the additional funding.

Some reasons for the extra cost included;

The cost of (diesel) and flights, accommodation, and the need to adapt training material for indigenous focus. We also have to allow extra time for community members to absorb the material so that people understand. It is evident that there is a clear gap present which needed to be addressed. However we are under budgeted with contract fees etc, to effectively deliver this project to its full capacity.

The aim of the project was “to identify and evaluate the emergency risk profiles of three representative Indigenous communities situated in the Eastern Goldfields Region and advocate adequate emergency risk management planning at a community and a local authority level.”

So we want to find out what emergencies are likely to occur in these communities and how bad they’d be and we want to help get the communities start getting ready to deal with them with the Shire, City or Council.

The Scope

Firstly, the City IEH program works while based in City of Kalgoorlie- Boulder also works in the Shire of Coolgardie (next door), the Shire of Dundas and the Shire of Menzies, Leonora and Laverton to our north and we’ve restricted the project to communities in these areas where we’ve already got links with the people and where we know the area. Kenan is gazetted as an EHO in each of these LG’s. Second, we also only limited to work with three communities due to time and budget limitations but our main aim was to keep the project manageable.

And thirdly, we’re just looking at identifying the risks and drawing up arrangements, we’re not looking at mitigation strategies or treatment options in this project. We intend to submit another application for AWARE funding to look at these items.

Lastly we tired to choose communities which were ‘representative’ of the our 12 communities we look after.

Consultation for Project

There has to be continuous consultation and plenty of feedback to a successful project. Kenan and I have done a lot of work, even before we had applied to run the project, making sure there was interest and support in the communities.

Once we had sourced funds we both met stakeholder face to face to discuss the project and by phone to set meetings and training up. We formed a project committee with Yvette Griggs from FESA’s community emergency management who provides support to community initiatives and Moya Newman from FESA’s manager for Indigenous Strategy and Policy. Teleconferences have been used for the committee to communicate as a group; we’ve all been in different locations and this has presented some difficulties. Emails have also been useful.

A lot of effort was put into liaising with Indigenous community staff to find the best ways of communicating with community people, whether there were special needs like translation and the best ways to run the training.

Plan / Arrangement

As opposed to just sending out emergency risk surveys with no precursor, we ran the project using presentations in conjunction with workshops slash training seminars. One of the objectives was to train community stakeholders in emergency management awareness so that valuable information on emergency risks could be gathered. We thought this could best be done in a workshop presentation format with discussion and a lot of pictures to get across the emergency management ideas we were trying to get across.

In all of this, there is a very strong commitment to seek the views of the Indigenous communities and we endeavour to engage people in the emergency management process. Accordingly, we are using a community survey which will largely focus on identifying community perceptions of risks of emergencies (e.g. fire, flood etc).

The surveys have been designed to help people identify the emergency risks to a community and it is an expectation that some assistance may be required to complete them so project personnel are involved at a hands on level with people as they complete the surveys so that they are not misunderstood or incorrectly completed.

Considerations in Arrangements

It was important that the project was tailored to suit the intended participants. There were a number of issues the project needed to consider so that the objectives could be achieved.

These issues needed to be adequately planned for, in formulating the method of project implementation, as they could become potential issues that could inhibit the successful execution of the project:
  • funerals
  • cultural business
  • reading / writing skills / language barriers
  • delivery distance
  • taboos
  • kinship
  • gender issues
  • Aboriginal sites
I will now hand you over to Kenan Bender and John Lane to go through the remainder of the project.

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The major outcome of this project is to initiate the emergency risk management process in the Indigenous communities of the Eastern Goldfields Region with following objectives.

Beginning we have to analyse the 12 Indigenous communities in the region and select 3 for inclusion in the AWARE project.

Getting local governments (and other stakeholder) involved was seen as an important part of the project. As you’ve seen, local government holds a responsibility towards Indigenous communities in regards to emergency management arrangements and it’s important for them to be kept in the loop as to the project so that they can put the information from the project into their larger plans.

We needed to investigate and arrange appropriate training for relevant community members and key stakeholders. Indigenous community members and community staff needed to be trained so that they were aware of emergency management precepts and were able to combine their experience, providing the valuable information needed to identify emergency risks. In regards to agency stakeholders like the local firies, we knew that they had a lot of skills and experience in emergencies but we thought that they may not have the skills and experience in Indigenous communities to provide an adequate service to those communities.

The project aims to clearly demonstrate the differing roles of both the local government and the Indigenous communities in emergencies. The local government has a responsibility to have in place – arrangement and plans – but what support and assistance do they need, how should they engage communities etc? Indigenous communities obviously have the knowledge of the area and history. They know about emergencies that have occurred and the cultural issues that must be respected. So how do we fit indigenous communities into the emergency management process in a cultural sensitive way?

With this in mind, we believe it is important that we facilitate partnerships between the local government, the Indigenous community and hazard management agencies (firies) so that they can plan for emergencies together. Local government already has structures in place to deal with emergencies but they don’t know much about the situation in Indigenous communities. They need the support and knowledge from Indigenous communities to be able to do their job well….and Indigenous communities need local government so that the management of emergencies in their communities is not ad-hoc and thought of when the emergency has already occurred. Indigenous communities need to be able to fit in to the emergency management structures in place so that the state emergency management agencies know what to do when a emergency occurs.

Local Emergency Management Committee

A large part of this partnership will be formed by getting Indigenous community involvement in their Local Emergency Management Committee, the LEMC and the FESA Community Emergency Management Officers. LEMC a local committee that is run (and often chaired) by local government, its main function is to advise and assist the local government in ensuring that local emergency management arrangements are established for the district.

LEMC also:
  • liaise with public authorities and other persons in the development, review and testing of local emergency management arrangements
  • carry out other emergency management arrangement activities as directed by the State Emergency Management Committee or prescribed by regulations
  • prepare and submit an annual report of activities undertaken throughout the year to the District Emergency Management Committee (DEMC)
  • participate in the emergency risk management process.
LEMC is a forum where emergency management information from Indigenous communities can be put into the larger emergency management arrangements for the area. It’s really important that Indigenous communities get involved here, on an ongoing basis, so that the LEMC is kept up-to-date with emergency management on the communities and can keep improving their response. It’s here that work can keep on happening to make sure that everyone is ready for emergencies in communities. Everyone knows what’s in place: what resources there are to deal with the situation, who to call, where to go.

Obviously, we want to have a starting point from the project by finding out what the greatest emergency risks are for the target communities now. The project aims to find out what the risks are from community people, from the emergency management agencies, from records and from our own experience of the communities. As we’ve said, a number of emergencies have occurred while we have been here.

Lastly, we’re going to identify resource sharing opportunities that may assist in management, response and recovery of the 3 target Indigenous communities from emergencies. If a fire breaks out, it’s good to know if you’ve got a fire truck, to know where to find transportation to remove people if you need.

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Project Management

G’day everyone. We knew that there would be quite a few more things to do than we were used to so we developed some project management sheets with tables showing the different tasks, responsibilities and deadlines that were needed during the project and allowing us to track progress; whether a task hadn’t been started, whether it was in progress or had been completed.

As has been shown, the project brings together many different agencies that are involved in the hazard management process. Apart from FESA, WALGA and local government other agencies we involved include the WA Police, the Department of Indigenous Affairs, the Department for Child Protection and the Department of Housing. We had a meeting before project kicked off to see what resource sharing opportunities there were between the different agencies and were given offers of help with transportation from the Department of Indigenous Affairs and assistance with shared visits with various organisations.

One of the most important areas for managing the project was in the area of vital communications and liaison, especially with our target communities. It was extremely important for us to keep the lines of communication open to these communities so that visits and training could be run. We knew it was important from the beginning and we had multiple methods of communication with the communities using phones, faxes and emails. We tried to fit in to the community calendar and made ourselves aware of funerals and cultural business that could affect project delivery.

Having said that we knew this, it was still one of the most difficult issues we had to deal with. We didn’t want to waste a 400 km round trip with a flight added on for John but we found that there is sometimes still no guarantee that a trip is going to be successful. At times it seems impossible to contact the communities we’re dealing with. We needed to have flexibility built in so that despite running into problems, we would be able to continue. One advantage we had was that John was running the city’s mainstream emergency management arrangements at the same time as our project with Indigenous communities so when we had a hiccup with communities, John could continue working on the mainstream arrangements.

Community Selection

Selecting 3 target communities was one of our objectives. We needed these communities to be reasonable representative of all the communities in the region so that the framework or template we come up with at the end will be suitable for use in other normal Indigenous communities.

Some other key areas we were looking at in the selection process was that the communities we selected would have different emergency risks, the likelihood of participation and cooperation we thought we’d get and the stability of population and community administration.

It’s not that we wanted to bar communities where we were not going to get good results in all these areas, but we needed to make sure we had a good range. The communities with unstable populations and with less likelihood of participation could well be more at risk from emergencies.

We did find, however, that the communities with less stable administrations were much harder to deliver the project to than the stable administrations.

To select the communities, we created a matrix that allocated a score to each community based on the above factors and various emergency risk factors. I’ve included the matrix in the next 2 slides.

The communities are listed across the top, while the factors we included run down the side with the final scores at the bottom.

The factors down the side are:
  • the community remoteness which we sourced off Accessibility/ Remoteness Index of Australia +(ARIA+)
  • population Size with small being below 50 people, moderate being between 50 & 100 and large being over 100 people
  • population stability
  • internal political/administrative stability – some subjectivity but based on our experience
  • familiarity with English
  • how participative the community has been with our EH program in the past
  • what their road access conditions were like
  • whether they had air access
  • whether they’d had a major emergency in the last 5 years
  • what local government they were located in.
The weighting we gave to these factors may have needed a bit more work but I think it did identify those communities with the highest risk factors.

In the end we selected the 2 communities with the highest scores, Tjuntjuntjara & Coonana and one with a lower score, Kurrawang. Each had different risk factors like remoteness and accessibility and stability and taken as a whole, were representative of Indigenous communities in the region. The inclusion of Kurrawang allowed us to run the project where we knew we would get cooperation and where we could ensure we were on the right track to be able to deliver the project elsewhere, to the higher scoring communities.

We now had to run out the training and data retrieval activities like the survey in the communities. I’ll hand over to John to talk about these activities.

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Training Focus [John Lane]

I would like to thank the organisers for allowing us to present today and of course to pay tribute to the owners of the land on which we meet today.

A little about myself and the Western Australia Local Government Association (WALGA) is a peak body for local government in WA. We have 139 member councils and it’s up to (WALGA) to provide for the policy direction and advocacy to government. Local Government has a responsibility in WA for 950 pieces of legislation. The Emergency Management Act is another one that got placed on top and I might add without any extra funding for local governments. So it’s an extra is an onerous piece of legislation as well. One of the extras local government had to get their heads around was not only did they have to produce emergency management arrangements for their communities but what they had to do now was to include Indigenous communities or Aboriginal communities that were part of their local government area.

A business area called Emergency Management Services was basically raised to assist local government with a myriad of legislation responsibilities under the Emergency Management Act and all of the policy that comes out of State Emergency Management Committee.

My part of this was the fun part of the process and a fairly onerous part as well. Whilst Keenan and Troy have alluded to how they set the program up and how they wanted to run it and include the Indigenous communities. We had to come up with a way that we would bring emergency management knowledge and emergency risk management knowledge to Indigenous people and that was quite a task. We had a starting and point and that starting point was the FESA program called Safer Country. I suppose that most people in WA have probably heard of that and have had a little bit of dealing with Moira Newman from FESA she is only one person in that organisation that deals with Indigenous emergency management so we decided that we would look at what their program had to offer and how we could probably improve on that and probably simply it a fair bit. When you have a look at the Safer County Program it was quite mind boggling it was about 120 slides in a Power Point presentation that went over three days and it went right across the whole gambit of emergency management structure in WA. I spent probably the best of my career, my previous life as a police officer in the last 32 years I have spent a good part of my career in communities in the Western Desert trying to explain to them what emergency management and risk management is all about. So that what we had to come up with. What we decided to do was to simplify quite succinctly and bearing in mind we were going into communities like Jun Jun Jarra, Pitandjara speaking people; English is not their first language and so we have to use interpreters. We didn’t put the program together and translate it Pitjandjara language what we did was put the program into simpler terms so that anybody could pick it, read it and get the knowledge and then translate it if there was an issue with understanding the program. We decided we would run it in three modules or three sessions. The first was an introductory session to the AWARE Program and what emergency management is in WA and how it fits together and how it can affect Aboriginal communities. The next module was emergency risk management which was a light introduction to risk management if you have a look at risk management process and how that actually operates and the intricacies of the risk management process there would be no way that you would expect Aboriginal people would understand. There are a lot of people out there in the EM industry that still do not understand it. We didn’t send out a survey to everyone in the community because that would defeat the purpose so we gave a survey to the people at the sessions we were conducting. So that would give us a good insight into what the risks were in that community and those people through the running of the program their understanding that they gained out of the sessions would have a better insight into what we were trying to get through the survey.

As Keenan has already alluded we had a good communication process but trying to get the community involvement in the process was fairly hard we went out to Kerrawang which is only 20 kms from Kalgoorlie. They put up their hand fairly early and said that they wanted to be involved and we go good involvement from them. But when it came to trying to get involvement from the other communities that was a little more difficult and we may even have to revisit who were are going to see because of that non- involvement.

What we wanted to get out of this process is to identify the risks within Indigenous communities now that has never been done in WA before. The process has been explained but they have never actually gone into a community. So what we wanted to do, and I am very grateful to the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder because it’s the first local government that has actually put their hand up and said that they want to be involved in this and we want to involve our Indigenous communities no other local government in Was has done that yet. So we are very pleased that Kalgoorlie-Boulder has done that. As the Professor pointed out not so long ago in his presentation was that if you document what these risks are and you go through the process then your bargaining power to get something done about those risks and mitigate those risks is going to be enhanced. It’s alright talking about that we’ve got a very narrow road in the community, or that our electricity goes out because there’s branches hanging over the power line or we have speeding vehicles in the community which endangers our children, you can talk about those things till you are blue in the face but until its actually put on paper nothing can actually be done about it. The AWARE Program has got $40k involved in it for mitigation for each local government that actually wins it. Now $40k in mitigation is not an awful lot of money the whole program is $400k and that is specifically for emergency risk management. That’s across 139 local governments. Through this project and what we have done in this project what we are hoping is that part of the $80M over 4 years can actually go to making some difference in Aboriginal communities for mitigation of risk.

We put together a survey, we wanted to really identify what the causes and sources of risk were in the communities and we wanted them to understand it as well and what we were going to do was sit down alongside them and ensure that we got understanding of what we were actually on about so it worked out quite well. We have a few areas that we need to make some fine adjustments to. The terminology that was not really understood. To wind up Kerrawang Community – loss of drinking water was their biggest one right down to road crash which was the less sever and severe storms came in at number 5 and you get some quite severe storms in Kalgoorlie-Boulder. They were some of the things that they highlighted that they thought were issues in their community and there were quite a few of those that I have already alluded to and quite a few of those are in evidence in most Aboriginal communities.

So we have a lot of ongoing work to do and we are hoping that other local governments will follow the lead and WALGA will hopefully be in the mix of that. I will leave you with one little thought, have you ever thought of what causes emergencies happening worldwide currently we think of all the things that are happening worldwide and it seems to be getting worse and I would just like to ask you are the Chinese really to be blamed for all this? And if you have a look at it in 2007 the Chinese New Year celebrated the year of the Chicken, and what did we have? We had bird flu, decimated Asian countries all over the place. In 2008 they celebrated the year of the horse, and what did we have in Australia? Equine influenza, which decimated the racing industry across the eastern seaboard. In 2009 year of the pig, what have we got? Swine flu! And you can look up what 2010 year is. Thanks very much for your invitation for speaker here.

Ongoing Work

We’ve still got a lot of work to do to get the project complete. We haven’t yet done the training in our 2 remaining communities. We’re now making our last efforts in organising training with Coonana & Tjuntjuntjara but if it turns out that it’s just now going to happen we’ll run the training in our back-up communities around Laverton and we’ll still come up with a very good and representative results. The survey will also be completed in these communities and we’ll work with the administrations to make sure we collect more specific community information on emergency management resources they already have.

We’ve then got to collate the information we’ve gathered and write up the project report and compile the risk statements for each of the communities. The risks will then be evaluated and analysed so that the risk plans can be drafted and fed back to the communities and local governments / LEMCs. The project report and risk plans will also be provided to the FESA funding providers for comment and evaluation.

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Where to once complete?

When the project is complete, we’ll continue to assist local governments to partner with our target communities to formulate their emergency arrangements. We’ll also be encouraging the communities to get involved in the local LEMC. These were two of the main objectives of the project and are the avenue for the ongoing sustainability of emergency management in the communities. The risks effecting communities are not static and will need to be maintained and reviewed by each of these parties regularly.

The city will also be applying for further funding under the AWARE Stage 2 program where we’ll be looking at treatment options to deal with the identified risks.

The framework or template for community involvement in LEMC will be provided to all regional local governments and Indigenous communities so that they have a model of involvement and can use the template as a stepping stone.


Over the course of the project, we’ve learnt a number of take away lessons. We really need to plan for a good amount of ‘face to face’ meetings with each community to ensure that there is engagement with the project and emergency management process. Budgeting for these trips, for translation services and for experienced officers really needs to be sufficient to cover the eventualities.

The timeframe we initially planned had to be pushed back quite drastically. This was not too problematic on ground level as we just need to keep FESA informed of the situation and an extended timeframe can be authorised but the budget will inevitably rise with the duration of the project.

In future we also think that it would be better if a local government representative could participate in any training, surveys and presentations on relevant Indigenous communities so that there is a smooth hand over to both of these parties at the end of the project.

For more information

Kennan Bender
Environmental Health Officer - Indigenous Communities
City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder
PO Box 2042, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, WA, 6430
Ph: 08 9021 9650 Email: kenan.bender@kalbould.wa.gov.au