News from the CRC


Bart van Leeuwen delivers his keynote address
Bart van Leeuwen delivers his keynote address
Release date
15 Dec 2017
More information:
Nathan Maddock
Senior Communications Officer

Collaborating for success at AFAC17 in Sydney

By Freya Jones. This article first appeared in Issue Four 2017 of Fire Australia.

The four day AFAC17 powered by INTERSCHUTZ conference and exhibition saw more than 3,200 people come together to discuss the latest in research, learnings and practice across emergency management and natural hazards.

Held at the International Convention Centre Sydney, the event was a big success, with local and international leaders sharing knowledge from a range of fields. Under the conference theme ‘Collaborating for Success — Improving performance in emergency management’, the program boasted more than 100 speakers.

AFAC CEO Stuart Ellis AM remarked on the overall success of the conference and exhibition.

“The theme of the conference was collaborating for success and it was really great to see so much collaboration occurring throughout the four days,” said Mr Ellis. “We were also very pleased to have such an extensive display of technology, equipment and live demonstrations in the exhibition. This has really added another dimension to the conference and exhibition.”

Natural hazards science on show

AFAC17 opened on 4 September with the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC Research Forum. Researchers and end user practitioners heard about the latest science and the ways it is being used across the sector. The Research Forum kicked off with a keynote presentation from Dr Blair Trewin of the Bureau of Meteorology, speaking about climate change and hazard profiles in Australia. He was followed by Dr Ann Bostrom from the University of Washington in the US, who presented on improving forecast and warning systems for better risk management. Closing out day one was Professor Shane Cronin, Director of The Resilience to Nature’s Challenges, National Science Challenge New Zealand. Prof Cronin shared his perspective on building resilience and what knowledge is needed.

CEO of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, Dr Richard Thornton, commented that the Forum was a great way to showcase the findings of CRC research.

“Findings are really flowing now from the research, and our partners are embracing the results and working hard to implement the work into their practices,” he said. “It was a fantastic chance for the broader sector to see how our science is being used, as well as what is to come over the next four years.”

Learnings and insights in emergency management

Day two of AFAC17 was officially opened by The Honourable Troy Grant MP, NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services, who reflected on the many fires and floods that NSW has endured recently. Plenty of important themes were explored throughout the conference, giving the emergency management community the opportunity to discuss and reflect on key learnings.

International keynote speaker, Bart van Leeuwen — senior firefighter and big data expert from the Netherlands — spoke on using data to drive performance. Mr van Leeuwen explained that firefighters and emergency personnel are often overloaded with information sources all telling them different things. He spoke of smart data, and the importance of determining what information we actually need — and how to better make use of it.

Graeme Head, NSW Public Service Commissioner, explored collaborating for success and the need to establish meaningful partnerships across the sector. On day three, Kristen Hilton, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner, spoke about strengthening organisations through creating diverse and inclusive workforces. Ms Hilton gave a candid reflection of her role in the Victoria Police review and the work she is doing with the Commission.

AFAC President and Commissioner of Fire & Rescue NSW Paul Baxter QSO officially launched the Fire and Emergency Male Champions of Change Program on day three. He gave an overview of the Male Champions initiative, started by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, and highlighted some of the current initiatives to increase diversity in the sector. AFAC CEO Stuart Ellis AM spoke about the professionalisation of the sector and the national registration of certified practitioners through AFAC’s Emergency Management Professionalisation Scheme.

On day three, the closing keynote speaker Steve Vamos, Non-executive Director of Telstra and former CEO of Microsoft Australia and New Zealand, spoke about how to create and enable innovation, and some of the barriers to change.

An impressive display of equipment and technology

Over three days, delegates and visitors were invited to explore the largest exhibition ever staged as part of an AFAC conference. Spanning 14,000 sq m, this year’s exhibition had 189 exhibitors showcasing products, services, technology and equipment for fire and emergency services. As well as the vehicle manufacturers and supporting equipment suppliers, there were large displays of aerial solutions, breathing apparatus, communications, technology and software, confined space equipment, diesel engines, generators, education and simulation providers, fire suppression, first aid and medical, hazard reduction, PPE and fabrics, rescue equipment, water rescue and more.

In addition to the comprehensive exhibition, the Expo Stage Program featured short, practical presentations aimed at operational personnel. The outdoor deck area provided an opportunity for attendees to catch live demonstrations, including a road-crash rescue performed by Australasian Road Rescue Organisation. An impressive display of vehicles also featured on the outdoor deck.

Within the Exhibition, the Knowledge Lounge provided delegates with an opportunity to network and engage in deeper discussions. Many keynote and invited speakers participated in the Meet the Speaker Program, where they attended the Knowledge Lounge following their presentations to allow further discussion about their projects and research. The Knowledge Lounge also included an impressive display of more than 150 conference posters, highlighting research and projects across the sector.

Recognising industry achievements

In acknowledgement of the outstanding efforts of people from the sector, the AFAC17 Welcome & Awards took place on the Monday of the conference week.

The 2017 Laurie Lavelle Achiever of the Year Award was presented to two winners. Cain Trist from Emergency Management Victoria was awarded for his work in leading the introduction of the Emergency Management Common Operating Procedure. Leigh-Anne Sorensen of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) was recognised for her role in taking on the forensic assessment of QFES’s position in relation to recommendations made in the Margaret Allison Independent Review.

The Motorola Solutions Knowledge Innovation Award was awarded in two categories — agency and individual — in recognition of efforts to advance knowledge and use research in the emergency management sector. The 2017 Agency Award was presented to the ARENA Working Group, a network of practitioners who worked on the ARENA aerial resource information management platform. The 2017 Individual Award was presented to Mike Wouters from the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources SA, for his significant contribution to advancing knowledge and practice in bushfire management at state and national levels.

Taking out the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC Outstanding Achievement in Research Award was the CRCs Economics and strategic decisions cluster, led by Professor Holger Maier from the University of Adelaide and Ed Pikusa of the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources SA. The CRC Special Recognition Award went to PhD student Steve Sutton from Charles Darwin University.

The Judges’ Choice Poster Award went to John Towt from Forest Fire Management Victoria (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning) for his poster Joint procedures in tree hazard: from agency agreement to cultural practice. The People’s Choice Poster Award was received by Michelle Englesman, Mark Whybro and Jeremy Fewtrell from Fire & Rescue NSW for Firefighter exposure risks and subsequent reproductive effects.

AFAC17 featured many great networking opportunities, including the Gala Dinner, which offered attendees a glittering night of illusion and magic held in the ICC Grand Ballroom. Throughout the conference, enlightening discussions and conversations centred around the collaboration theme. On Twitter, AFAC17 attendees shared approximately 3,900 conversations, encompassing a total reach of 2.2 million and trending first in Australia.

The conference closed with a professional development and field trip day, with trips looking at bushfire risk in the Blue Mountains, flood mitigation in the Hawkesbury–Nepean region and the Rozelle building fire and explosion. Seven workshops also took place on learning from major incidents, geospatial intelligence, emergency management safety, disaster resilience education, prescribed burning, risk ownership and growing diversity in emergency services.

The incredible success of the AFAC17 powered by INTERSCHUTZ conference and exhibition reflects the ongoing efforts of the host agencies: NSW Rural Fire Service, Fire & Rescue NSW, NSW State Emergency Service, ACT Emergency Services Agency, ACT Parks and Conservation Service, Office of Environment and Heritage NSW and Forestry Corporation of NSW.

All of the resources from the conference including papers, presentations and highlights videos are available from the AFAC and CRC websites. Visit: for day one's proceedings and for days two and three.

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News archives

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Index of Editions

Issue Four 2017 of Fire Australia includes research on including animals in emergency planning, details from AFAC17, new priorities in natural hazards research, and a Black Saturday case study to develop guidelines for improved community messaging in bushfires.
Issue Three of Fire Australia for 2017 features new prediction software for predictions of bushfire spread, how NSW's geography curriculum allows students to become agents of change for community resilience, suggestions for reducing the risks involved in prescribed burning, research on the impacts of severe wind during Cyclone Debbie, and new natural hazards science at the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC.
Issue Two of Fire Australia for 2017 features information about a weather phenomena called a mountain wave that produces severe fire behaviour, an analysis of flood fatalities in Australia, what we can learn about disaster preparation from Indonesia, and leadership for our emergency service volunteers.
Issue One of Fire Australia for 2017 features firestorms, disaster resilience, fire preparation in Bangladesh and the International Day for Disaster Reduction.
PhD progress, human factors and decision-making capabilities, asbestos risk and the role of pharmacies in disasters are showcased in the Spring 2016 edition of Fire Australia magazine.
The Winter 2016 edition of Fire Australia magazine highlights important research including reducing hazard impacts with smarter spending, fire modelling and wind behaviour as well as the rewarding experience of PhD student placements in the sector.
Mitigating disasters: how damage from floods, fires and storms can be prevented through careful planning and investment; a new approach to flood forecasting using remote sensing data; and case studies from the CRC are highlighting paths to integrate bushfire science into government policy and planning.
Developing a smartphone app to measure fuels for bushfire, 2015's International Day for Disaster Reduction, a case study on the Be Ready Warrandyte initiative and a look at what could happen if Adelaide was hit by a large earthquake.
Community resilience in the remote north, how NSW RFS used research to change their approach to engagement around bushfire survival planning, and case studies on CRC research impact.
How extreme water levels could impact Australia's coasts and what can be done to mitigate the risks, the gulf in earthquake risk reduction, and a look at the milestone UN Sendai conference on risk reduction.