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Comparison of Black Saturday Bushfires and Oklahoma City Bombing

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Black Saturday Brushfires (Australia, 2009)
  • Conclusion and Recommendations

Introduction

Natural and man-made disasters have different scope and thus may call for different response mechanism. Natural disasters maybe anticipated; enabling prior preparation of response teams. On the other hand, man-made disasters constitute an aspect of surprise and effectiveness of response depend on emergency control mechanisms developed by the region. This assignment will focus on various similarities and differences of two disasters: Black Saturday Bushfires (Australia, 2009) and Oklahoma City Bombing (1995), in terms of authority response.

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Black Saturday Brushfires (Australia, 2009)

According to Whittaker et al (2013), the Black Saturday bushfires refer to a series of bushfires burning from 7 February 2009 in the Australian state of Victoria. They have been considered all-time worst bushfire disaster in Australia. The fires were stimulated by the extreme weather conditions making it hard to counter them. This resulted to deaths of 173 individuals, thousands of fatalities and massive destruction of properties. Previously before the fire a major heatwave affected some areas in Australia leading to high temperatures of over 43 degrees Celsius for three consecutive days (Royal Commission, 2009). High temperatures coupled with strong monsoon winds created the perfect conditions for igniting fires. In anticipation of the fire, over 300 firefighting personnel were deployed across the state on the day preceding the start of the fire. The morning hours of 7 February experienced strong winds at an approximately 100km/hr. accompanied by very high temperatures. A fire ban was announced for the state of Victoria. Fire ignited at around midday in Kilmore East marking the start of extreme fires (McLennan et al, 2013; Royal Commission, 2009).

As established, fire disasters were anticipated following the intense heat wave in some areas of Australia. Further, the strong-high speed monsoon weeds and the rising temperatures created the perfect conditions for igniting fire. Therefore, many operational systems were already prepared and worked relatively well considering the extreme weather conditions (Royal Commission, 2009). The use and effectiveness of aircraft in curbing the spread of fire was limited partly due to extreme weather conditions and the bureaucracy involved for the dispatch of an aircraft. The dispatching process is complex, and, in some cases, it affected air response. In addition, effective communication was not possible due to poor coverage between various agencies and inadequate investment in technologies (Royal Commission, 2009).

Many people responded to the initial fire disasters. However according to the Royal commission, some poor decisions were made by individuals focusing to protect their own safety and property and the individuals in charge. The first responders included the immediate community who applied the principle of ‘prepare, Stay and Defend of Leave Early’. This principle is applicable especially in less severe fire and less effective in case of massive fires (Whittaker et al, 2013). It was expected that the community in a certain area knew the primary plan in cases of bushfire; therefore, instead of being given directional on what to do; they were made aware of a severe fire possibility. This assumed that they would immediately embark on their bushfire plan. Some members in the community thought they had several alternative; hence neglected the principle of leaving early (Whittaker et al, 2013).

Incident and emergency management enabled planning, preparation and coordination of the fire disaster. The county fire authority (CFA) and the department of sustainability and environment (DSE) worked together through an integrated Emergence Coordination center in Melbourne. The iECC ensured that there was coordinated effort; including shared communication, rapid decision making and effective planning and coordination (Whittaker et al, 2013). The Royal Commission observed that were it not for the coordinated effort, the fire disaster would have been more devastating. Nonetheless, the iECC encountered some obstacles including inconsistency in accountabilities and responsibilities and deficiencies in leadership. An important aspect of the lead response team was the ability to recognize that the fire that started on 7 February had the potential to become catastrophic. Therefore, they embarked on immediate planning notifying members of the community and other agencies. There were pre-designated incident control centers that had prepared for an intensive start. In order to facilitate safety and fire investigations, roadblocks were set up to regulate traffic on roads leading to and around the affected areas. According to the Royal Commission, by 7 February, many firefighting crews were ready for the initial attack and some were able to control fire avoiding further damage. As part of damage control, certain power company were sued in a class action where they were accused of due negligence leading to collapse of the electric poles. Fallen live electric wires started most of the fires in different areas.

Oklahoma City Bombing (1995)

According to Dinsmore (2000), the Oklahoma City bombing was considered a domestic terrorist attack on Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in April 19, 1995. The bombing occurred in the morning hours killing approximately 168 people and injuring more than 680. The bombing had a drastic effect on the building as it destroyed one-third of it and more than 320 buildings surrounding the building. The total estimated loss was about $652 million. The rescue operations involved the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (Dinsmore, 2000). According to Dinsmore, the explosion reached a 55 mile from Murrah building.

Immediately after the explosion, a search and rescue effort were initiated. It included fire, medical, emergency, citizens and law enforcement personnel who came together and entered the destroyed building to locate and save lives. After the blast, the fire department set up an Incident Command System (ICS) to control all the activities involved. Further, different federal agencies, the police department and the county sheriff coordinated effort to control the traffic around the area. The state emergency operations center was set up and started operations within twenty minutes after the blast. After one and a half hour of the bombing the then President Clinton signed an emergency declaration in accordance with Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Dinsmore, 2000). This declaration meant that the Federal Government would in charge of operations, and it would bore the total costs. Further, it enabled the American Red Cross to take the lead in distribution of food, first aid, shelter, welfare information among others. the rate of response during the Oklahoma City bombing showed how intense the situation was and the need of coordinated effort in handling disasters (Dinsmore, 2000; Lewis, 2000);

Victim support systems were established by creation of various teams including the compassion center, the crisis intervention and the resource coordination committee. For instance, Lewis (2000) observed, the compassion center had started operations around three in the afternoon of the bombing. The center had individuals who received family members and efficiently relayed critical information to them. On the day following the bombing, the American Red Cross was operating the center catering for families and victims. The center operated as the central point where information on family and victims was exchanged. Its controlled media intrusion since some family members needed privacy and prepared family members and victims scheduled to give interviews. It enabled family and victims to cope with trauma through counselling (Dinsmore, 2000; Hirschmann, 2000).

Another important aspect of Oklahoma bombing response was the creation of a crisis intervention team consisting of nine professionals from different areas. The team addressed traumatic issues suffered by surviving victims, rescue workers, personnel from various agencies and everyone involved directly with the bombing. The recovery of remain delayed death notifications since the bodies were to be identified first. Further, autopsy carried out on the bodies to collect some evidence also delayed their release. After the bombing, individuals and organizations made big donations. For instance, the citizens donated up to $14 million to the disaster relief funds. The Murrah fund was created to enable the victims of the disaster to be compensated fully (Dinsmore, 2000).

The above analysis has established various strategies adopted in the two situations in order to rescue individuals or prevent spreading of the fire. However, although the incidents had similar outcomes, implementation of strategies was different in certain extent and similar in other extent. The two situations have various similarities as outlined below:

First, both situations had large number of deaths and casualties. Properties worth millions were destroyed. Secondly, in both instances, various agencies were involved in the rescue mission; in addition, both disasters had one central communication center where operations were coordinated. For instance, during the Black Saturday Bushfires coordination of various operations was under an integrated emergency coordination center at Melbourne. During the Oklahoma City bombing, the state emergency operational center-controlled operations; coordinating various groups such as the FBI, American Red Cross, State and Local police and the citizens.

Accordingly. There were differences between the two disasters. First, the Black Saturday bushfires had been anticipated. According to Royal Commission, in the week preceding the fires, there had been a surge of a heat across several areas in Australia. Extreme high temperatures were experienced. Further, the state experienced strong winds that created perfect conditions for rapid fires. The premier of Victoria had warned a possibility of bushfires due to the weather conditions. Further, Australia had experienced bushfire before; thus, it was in a position of identifying the possibilities of bushfires. Following the understanding above, firefighting crews were prepared in advance and deployed on the day preceding the beginning of bushfires. In fact, some of the teams were able to manage some bushfires that would have been drastic (Royal Commission, 2009). On the other hand, the Oklahoma City bombing was not expected. It was a domestic terrorism aimed at killing innocent people and destroying properties. Local fire engines and police departments responded after the blast and set up command centers. Despite lack of prior knowledge, different agencies coordinated and set up a running operational center with minutes. The federal government acted very fast announcing that the bombing was a natural disaster and thus the federal government took lead.

Another aspect is differences in efficiency level. During the Oklahoma, bombing, different teams were created including crisis intervention, resource coordination committee, and compassion center. These teams managed flow of information, catered for the families and victims, offered psychological training for every personnel involved in the rescue mission and had a central point for collection donations, and relief foods etc. according to Royal Commission, communication strategies between different units were not efficient making coordination of responsibilities difficult. For instance, the dispatching process for aircrafts had several layers delaying the air response. Another difference is that only one disaster occurred in Oklahoma City affecting an area of 16 blocks radius. This enabled easy coordination of rescue effort. On the other hand, the Australian bushfires in 2009 consisted a series of fires in different areas. Knowing exactly what place would experience fire was difficult, thus also worsened the coordination efforts. Finally, community members in Black Saturday bushfires had not anticipated such severe fires thus the stay or go principle was not applied adequately.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Natural and man-made disaster may take similar approach in their management despite that natural disasters are usually anticipated. Nonetheless, the scope in natural disasters may be difficult to establish since it may affect different areas simultaneously or subsequently. It demands rapid movement of rescue teams and resources. On the other hand, although man-made disasters are hard to predict, there are usually concentrated in one area easing the rescue operations. Both type of disasters requires a well-coordinated central command center to ensure smooth dissemination of information and resources. Most government have established protocols to be followed given certain degree of a disaster. In the case of Black Saturday bushfires, the government should have put in place enough measures including authorization of aircrafts mobilization of fire engines. Further, the government should have adequately prepared the people on how to respond since it anticipated for severe bushfires due to record-breaking temperatures experienced within the week. More alternatives such as bushfire shelters, community refuges and evacuation should have been prepared.

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