In recent years, Australia has been confronted with a number of contemporary threats ranging from natural disasters, violent crimes and transnational safety/security threats. In the wake of the response to these events, some professionals are questioning “is Australia ready” for current and future threats such as natural disasters, terrorism, violent crimes and other safety/security threats?
The question of readiness not only relates to emergency services and infrastructure but also that of the culture and public capacity to identify and contribute to significant events. Are there sufficient people within Australian society to act in order to prevent, mitigate and thwart some of the manmade threats facing the community?
For many years the conventional wisdom and the mantra of emergency services was to shelter in place in the event of a bushfire within Australia. Protect yourself and your property. Sadly, a major bushfire in Victoria claimed the lives of hundreds of people as they held onto this belief and attempted to fight one of the country’s worst bushfire events with garden hoses and water tank supplies. The “system” was quickly overwhelmed and individuals were inadequately educated, prepared and failed to act in a manner that would have saved their own lives. This event was the catalyst for change.
Sydney experienced a hostage event, with an individual armed with just a shotgun taking a number of people hostage within the central business district. It was not a terrorist attack. At the time of the incident and following subsequent reviews and investigations, it is apparent that all the required systems and key appointments were inadequately prepared for even this rather ‘simple’ event. One person was able to dominate dozens of people, shut down the CBD and prolong the incident for nearly a day, armed with just a shotgun and a flag. When an opportunity presented, those affected fled, without anyone confronting the gunman or disarming him. A hostage was shot and killed in the resulting attempts to rescue the remaining hostages. This event was a wake-up event for many.
A single male eluded police for hours in and around Melbourne. He then drove in circles at one of the city’s major intersections, where just two private citizens confronted him momentarily with a bat, before the individual drove at speed through a public shopping mall, killing at least 6 people. It was not an act of terrorism and there was no detailed planning, nor was the individual particularly gifted yet he successfully killed nearly as many people as the shooting massacre that took place in Hoddle St within the city of Melbourne in 1987.
A few kids within the youth detention system have successfully taken over entire facilities and even staged mass escapes, resulting in the deployment and engagement of hundreds of police officers, for less than a dozen escapees. The ability to forecast this threat, manage it and ultimately respond pose questions as to how prepared all the supporting agencies are in the event of a more significant event, particularly one involving adults within the mainstream corrections/penal system.
NSW has had a spate of shooting in suburban areas. Drive by shootings, roadside shootings, attempted murder and general intimidation of people and specific communities. Can it be contained? What if the shootings ceased to target individuals late at night and became more conventional criminal attacks such as robberies, etc?
The state government of Victoria has recently conceded a well-known fact, there are insufficient police numbers for the population they police and the issues they are dealing with. Over 3,000 new recruits are now being sourced, with a number of those that failed other state police standards now being recruited in order to make the numbers. The question is, will they make a difference? How long before they are effective? How long before they accumulate enough experience to make a significant and sustained impact on the problems facing the community?
A number of states have insufficient numbers of paramedics and supporting Ambulance services. Disputes over pay, training, resourcing and adequate manning continue to plague the service. Not to mention the increased attacks and physical confrontations experienced by these medical professionals. This same physical and violent confrontation is now becoming common place in Australia’s emergency wards and primary hospital/treatment facilities.
Australia, for the most part, is a community bound by strict and relatively effective gun controls. This observation/statement is not advocacy for increased/decreased gun controls. There are criminal groups that possess or have access to guns, but at present they are not routinely used in violent crimes or significant criminal acts on a small/large scale. What if this were to change quickly?
There is clearly acknowledgment of the changing times with Australia’s recent convergence of federal government agencies and consolidation of resources, better integration of supporting agencies and “systems” but how long before all of these slow moving entities are effective? This is a significant change for existing Australian agencies and no doubt there is resistance to change and protective territory issues to be overcome, in addition to new skills to acquire and apply.
There have been too many significant incidents, forcing a change. These catalysts have claimed lives and exposed people to significant risk because the systems and culture failed to evolve before the threat became the dominant factor. How quickly can Australia’s services, systems, and communities evolve to adequately prevent, manage or respond to the new age of threats?
The world has changed and some threats have evolved. There is a “better” class of criminal and even professional terrorists at large. Australia is not the only country affected but there is a real question as to whether the community [everyday people], along with the emergency services [police, fire, ambulance] and the “systems” are adequately “ready” for the threat. This means identification, management, and response.
Professionals are not the only ones observing these trends and responses. So too are the adversarial groups, criminals, and terrorist organisations.
As we start 2017, the question on many professionals minds is simple….is Australia “ready”? So far it has been proven it is not. We can only hope there is time and focus to catch up, before there is another significant event or loss of life.