The audit objective was to assess the administrative effectiveness of Defence’s procedures to provide emergency assistance to the civil community.

Summary

Introduction

1. An emergency situation can be a natural occurrence, such as a bushfire, flood or cyclone, or result from human activities.1 Emergencies occur frequently in Australia and range in severity from small-scale incidents to large-scale, catastrophic events. The human and economic cost of these events can be substantial. For example, the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria in 2009 claimed the lives of 173 people, affected over 78 communities and destroyed 2029 homes; and the insured cost for losses due to Cyclone Oswald in 2013 was estimated at $1.1 billion in Queensland and New South Wales, with $154 million in State and Australian Government assistance provided to those affected.2

2. A well‑directed, coordinated and timely emergency management response acts to minimise the impact of an emergency on the community and support the recovery process. When a natural disaster or other domestic emergency occurs, it is primarily the responsibility of the relevant state or territory (state) government to protect life, property and the environment. State governments draw on a range of emergency services, volunteer organisations and commercial resources when responding to emergencies. State governments may also request Australian Government non‑financial assistance to provide additional resources for response and recovery activities.3

3. The Department of Defence (Defence) undertakes a large majority of Australian Government emergency assistance tasks in response to state requests. When Defence accepts a request and provides emergency assistance, this is referred to as emergency ‘Defence Assistance to the Civil Community’ (DACC). The benefits of utilising Defence in support of emergency responses include that Defence is often able to deploy Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel (including Reserve personnel) with relevant expertise and skills (for example, engineers), as well as equipment (from transport aircraft to water purification units). Defence may also have the capacity to deploy its personnel and equipment at relatively short notice due to the geographical proximity of certain bases to incident areas and its access to transport assets. Further, Defence has developed approaches to the planning, coordination and conduct of operations, which may be readily adapted to emergency responses.

4. Based on Defence data, 275 emergency DACC tasks were recorded for the period 2005–06 to 2012–13.4 Examples of the emergency assistance provided by Defence include: airlift of equipment and personnel; engineering support; search and support; temporary accommodation and general support; health and psychological support; aviation refuelling; and communications.

Australian Government and Defence emergency assistance arrangements

5. The Attorney‑General’s Department, through Emergency Management Australia (EMA), develops and maintains the Australian Government’s emergency management policy and plans. The Australian Government Disaster Response Plan is known as COMDISPLAN. This plan outlines request and coordination arrangements for providing Australian Government emergency assistance, in the event of an emergency in Australia or its offshore territories. One of the guiding principles of COMDISPLAN is that, ‘Before a request is made under COMDISPLAN a jurisdiction must have exhausted all government, community and commercial options to provide that effect’.5

6. The arrangements established by COMDISPLAN apply to emergency DACC. The provision of emergency DACC is also governed by Defence policy and procedures. Defence Instructions (General) OPS 05‑1: Defence Assistance to the Civil Community — policy and procedures (the Instruction) applied until December 2012. The Instruction was replaced at this time by the Defence Assistance to the Civil Community Manual (DACC Manual), which states that:

Emergency Defence Assistance to the Civil Community (DACC) is support provided to the civil community where immediate action is necessary to save human life or alleviate suffering, prevent extensive loss of animal life, prevent widespread loss/damage to property or to prevent environmental damage, and when State/Territory resources are inadequate. It also encompasses assistance associated with the recovery from an emergency or disaster.6

7. The DACC Manual recognises two types of DACC: emergency and non‑emergency. Emergency DACC is divided into three categories according to the type and duration of assistance: local emergency assistance (category 1); significant emergency assistance (category 2); and emergency recovery assistance (category 3). Defence may agree to provide emergency assistance in one of two ways:

  • In response to localised emergencies, or as an initial response to a larger emergency, Australian Government resources may be deployed in support of state authorities for limited periods without the need to activate COMDISPLAN.7 In this situation, regional, district or local emergency management authorities may request assistance directly from an ADF unit located in the affected area. Local ADF commanders decide whether to undertake the task, taking into account available resources and priorities. This type of assistance is classified as DACC category 1.
  • For more extensive or ongoing emergency situations, or assistance associated with recovery from a civil emergency or disaster, requests for Australian Government assistance must be approved and coordinated through EMA, under the guidance of COMDISPLAN. On the receipt of a state government request, EMA determines the Australian Government organisation best placed to undertake the task. EMA informed the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) that approximately 80 per cent of the requests it receives are tasked to Defence.8 Defence assesses whether to provide assistance based on its available resources and priorities. This type of assistance is classified as DACC category 2 or 3.

Audit objective, criteria and scope

8. The audit objective was to assess the administrative effectiveness of Defence’s procedures to provide emergency assistance to the civil community.

9. Four high‑level criteria were developed to assist in evaluating Defence’s performance in terms of the audit objective:

  • procedures for deploying Defence personnel and assets to provide emergency assistance are clear and robust;
  • Defence undertakes adequate planning for emergency assistance;
  • there are clear arrangements and lines of authority for Defence to work with other agencies to provide emergency assistance, including with state emergency management authorities; and
  • Defence divisions with responsibility for emergency assistance are accurately reporting on tasks and incorporate relevant lessons learned from previous operations.

10. The audit scope focused on Defence’s administrative arrangements and practices supporting the delivery of domestic emergency assistance. The audit did not address Defence’s management of non‑emergency DACC or the conduct of Defence operations.

Overall conclusion

11. Under national emergency management arrangements, state and territory (state) governments have primary responsibility for protecting life, property and the environment in the event of an emergency in their jurisdiction. When state resources are inadequate, the Australian Government can be called upon to provide assistance, representing a ‘surge’ capacity within the federation. Some of the skills and assets available to Defence to conduct military operations can be readily applied in support of states responding to natural disasters and other emergencies, and as a consequence there is a regular demand for Defence assistance. Defence can provide assistance either directly for local emergency assistance (category 1 tasks), or through Emergency Management Australia (EMA) for significant emergency assistance (category 2 tasks) and emergency recovery assistance (category 3 tasks). Defence’s emergency Defence Assistance to the Civil Community (DACC) procedures therefore need to establish clear decision making, coordination and administrative arrangements to guide Defence commanders and personnel on the conduct of tasks outside of core military operations.

12. The effective contribution of Defence in emergency situations is highly dependent on the quality of relationships across the areas of Defence with emergency DACC roles, and between Defence, EMA and state emergency management authorities. It also depends on a strong feedback loop so that on-the-ground experience informs future operations.

13. In recent years Defence has played a prominent role in responding to natural disasters in Australia. As part of five major emergency DACC operations between 2008–09 and 2012–13, Defence has deployed significant human and physical resources, organised in Joint Task Forces (JTF)9, to provide assistance to state emergency management authorities. For example, Defence assistance to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria reached a peak operational strength of approximately 800 Defence personnel per day10, and over 1250 Defence personnel provided assistance over the seven weeks of the operation. For these major operations, Defence also recorded supplier expenses totalling some $6.7 million, for items such as travel, consumable goods and garrison support.11 Defence has also undertaken many smaller scale emergency DACC tasks utilising Defence base personnel and resources located in the area of an incident, at the discretion of local commanders.

14. Overall, Defence’s emergency DACC procedures are generally effective in guiding and enabling the provision of Defence assistance in response to emergencies. The DACC Manual outlines principles for Defence commanders to consider when judging the merits of requests for Defence assistance, including the need to evaluate the readiness of Defence resources to achieve the Government’s expected defence outcomes against the capacity to make those same resources available in an emergency. Defence has also developed sound coordination arrangements with state emergency management authorities, involving the appointment of Defence liaison officers, who communicate with states about their emergency assistance needs and Defence’s capability to provide support, both prior to and during emergencies. Emergency management authorities interviewed as part of this audit acknowledged the responsiveness of Defence and the value of the support provided. However, emergency DACC has been largely focused on response efforts, with less attention given to meeting the administrative requirements set out in the DACC Manual, particularly in the areas of task recordkeeping and cost recovery. There is also scope for Defence to develop a stronger feedback loop to inform decision making on future emergency DACC delivery approaches.

15. While emergency DACC is only a small part of Defence’s overall responsibilities, it can involve a large number of Defence personnel, and the utilisation of valuable Defence equipment and supplies. In the circumstances, there is a need for Defence to develop straightforward administrative requirements. The Instruction of 2004 and the DACC Manual of 2012 set out extensive reporting requirements for individual DACC tasks, indicating a desire by Defence to understand the nature and cost of the provision of DACC, and to learn from experience. However, for many years Defence has not met these requirements across the DACC tasks it undertakes. The main focus of Defence units has been to complete tasks, and they have not prioritised reporting on tasks outside of the Service chain of command. The failure to record key task data means that other areas of Defence responsible for emergency DACC strategy, procedures and reporting are not routinely informed about the nature, resource impact and cost of emergency DACC tasks, as well as any task acceptance and delivery issues. To address these issues, Defence should review task reporting requirements to ensure they do not present an unnecessary administrative burden, but instead give priority to meeting an appropriate set of requirements that generates useful information to help shape future emergency DACC activities while satisfying recordkeeping requirements for accountability purposes.

16. To further encourage states to manage emergency recovery efforts using their own resources, the DACC Manual requires that the direct costs12 incurred by Defence in undertaking category 3 ‘recovery’ tasks be reimbursed by states, and only allows the ‘waiver’ of cost recovery in limited ‘special circumstances’.13 However, Defence has not consistently recovered or waived costs in accordance with the requirements of the DACC Manual. In contrast to its current policy, Defence has advised that it plans to amend the DACC Manual to indicate that costs are ‘generally not recovered unless the government recipient agrees to pay costs’, and that cost recovery ‘may not be warranted where it is not cost effective or it would be inconsistent with government policy objectives’. However, this approach does not clarify the circumstances in which cost recovery is warranted and Defence personnel are obliged to pursue the recovery of costs. While it is a decision for Defence and the Government, the ANAO suggests that Defence review and clarify its cost recovery policy for emergency DACC, and develop practical thresholds for the application of cost recovery, in terms of the estimated value and type of recovery assistance provided. Pursuing such an approach would reinforce the responsibility of state governments for emergency recovery when the immediate threat to life, property and the environment has passed.

17. The emergent nature of emergency DACC tasks means that it is difficult to develop and apply objective measures of performance. Nevertheless, identifying lessons from emergency DACC activities, including the efficiency and effectiveness of the approaches adopted remains important. Defence has established some elements of an emergency DACC evaluation and learning system, including reports on major operations14 and an annual Lessons Board. The Lessons Board considers key themes arising from these reports, and can recommend procedural changes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of emergency DACC. However, these elements are not currently supported by an information system to record and manage key lessons and recommendations arising from DACC activities, creating a risk that learning will be lost and actions not pursued. The initial roll-out of a Defence‑wide system for managing lessons learned is planned for July 2014, presenting an opportunity for Defence to develop a stronger feedback loop to inform improvement in the administration and delivery of emergency DACC activities.

18. Within Defence, various office holders, Groups and Services have different emergency DACC responsibilities, ranging from the development of strategy and procedures to the completion of tasks. The audit highlights that the overall effectiveness of emergency DACC administrative arrangements depends on the collective contribution of all of these areas toward planning, delivery, monitoring and review efforts. To this end, the ANAO has recommended that Defence review the minimum information necessary to be reported for each emergency DACC task for planning, management and accountability purposes. The recommendation also encourages Defence to take steps to strengthen the priority afforded by Defence units to meeting mandatory reporting requirements.15

Key findings by chapter

Defence emergency assistance framework (Chapter 2)

19. Defence’s primary focus is to advance Australia’s strategic interests by developing the armed forces and conducting military operations, as directed by the Government. Defence is also able to assist the civil community in Australia during emergency situations, in a supporting role to state emergency services authorities, utilising its available capabilities. At the government and community levels, the provision of DACC can be highly visible and result in favourable media coverage. This can lead to further requests and greater expectations for Defence support, potentially stretching available capabilities. To address this set of issues, Defence’s DACC Manual includes clear policy and guidance, which informs Defence decision makers about the circumstances and limitations applying to the acceptance of DACC requests. Defence has also actively engaged with emergency assistance stakeholders to build understanding of Defence’s supporting role and capability to provide emergency assistance.

20. Defence has established different emergency DACC management and administrative requirements according to three ‘categories’ or types of tasks. The emergency DACC categories enable local Defence commanders to make on‑the‑ground decisions and apply base resources in response to localised emergencies (category 1); and provide for higher level Defence decision making and coordination in response to more extensive or large-scale emergency situations (category 2 and 3). The categorisation of emergency DACC tasks is not always straightforward or clear, which has at times created uncertainty about the appropriate acceptance, delivery and administration of DACC tasks that do not fit a category definition neatly. Defence revised the category definitions when it released the DACC Manual in December 2012, to provide additional flexibility in categorising tasks.

21. COMDISPLAN advises that cost recovery may be sought by the Australian Government for emergency assistance tasks which are not directly related to the safety of life or property, or that could be handled within the resources of the state government. This policy encourages self-sufficiency within state governments for the management of emergencies, and discourages reliance on the Australian Government after the immediate threat has passed. The DACC Manual goes further in requiring that cost recovery be sought for all DACC category 3 tasks (recovery tasks which are not directly related to saving life or property), or that a cost ‘waiver’ be approved in limited ‘special circumstances’. However, Defence has not consistently recovered or waived costs for category 3 tasks in accordance with the requirements of the DACC Manual, reflecting a generally immature approach to emergency DACC cost recovery. Further, Defence has advised that it plans to amend the DACC Manual to indicate that costs are ‘generally not recovered unless the government recipient agrees to pay costs’. If revised along these lines, the DACC Manual will not provide clear policy and guidance on the circumstances in which cost recovery is warranted. The ANAO suggests that, in consultation with the Government, Defence review and clarify its cost recovery policy for emergency DACC. As part of the review, Defence could also develop thresholds for the application of cost recovery to category 3 ‘recovery’ tasks, in terms of the estimated value and type of assistance provided. Another option available to Defence is to develop memoranda of understanding with individual states which formalise the reimbursement of costs when Defence undertakes relevant emergency recovery activities. For example, there is a memorandum of understanding covering aircraft refuelling in Western Australia during firefighting activities.

22. The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) establishes a range of duties that organisations need to meet in order to provide health and safety protection from hazards arising from work. The requirements of the WHS Act have significant implications for emergency DACC, which is often delivered in an environment subject to uncertainty, risks and hazards. The DACC Manual requires that Defence only provide emergency DACC support when its personnel are appropriately prepared or trained, thus minimising the risk of injury and establishing a primary control to ensure compliance with the WHS Act. The DACC Manual also mandates documentation of formal risk assessments for DACC tasks, but this does not occur in practice. Defence informed the ANAO that in preparing personnel for emergency DACC tasks, it instead relies on existing approaches to skills development, as well as procedural documentation related to specific activities undertaken by ADF personnel, and the transferability of ADF skills and procedures to DACC tasks. In light of the variation between the DACC Manual requirement and actual practice, there would be benefit in Defence reviewing the requirement for formal risk assessments for all DACC tasks, and clearly documenting in the DACC Manual the measures it considers necessary to meet its obligations under the WHS Act when providing emergency DACC. This would increase assurance on the approach adopted, reinforce individual roles and responsibilities, and provide a firmer basis for monitoring compliance with the WHS Act.

Strategies to support operational effectiveness (Chapter 3)

23. A range of Defence office holders, Groups and Services are involved in the administration, coordination and delivery of emergency DACC. Their respective roles and responsibilities are clearly set out in the DACC Manual. The effective delivery of emergency DACC depends on the quality of communication and coordination between the various areas of Defence involved.

24. A set of operational plans provides Defence with guidance on its emergency responses. They include an overarching national plan, which provides standardised guidance and is supported by regional DACC plans. The most significant feature of these plans is that they move beyond the mainly administrative guidance in the DACC Manual to operational considerations, such as execution arrangements and phases, and the roles and responsibilities of various emergency management organisations across Australia. While most of these plans had recently been updated, many still contained references to out‑of‑date material, such as old versions of COMDISPLAN and Defence’s overarching national plan (Charlemagne). This highlights scope for better communication within, and between, the different areas of Defence involved in emergency DACC about agreed policies, procedures and delivery approaches. The ANAO suggests that Defence centrally review the content of regional DACC plans on an annual basis. This would promote more current plans, and the identification and dissemination of better planning practices.

25. Each regional Joint Operations Support Staff (JOSS) office has appointed Defence liaison officers to engage with emergency management authorities in the area. The ANAO noted evidence of regular contact between relevant Defence personnel and state and regional emergency management authorities, with regional JOSS representatives participating in various state emergency management planning activities. State emergency management authorities informed the ANAO that this resulted in greater awareness of Defence’s capability and more effects based16 requests for Defence assistance from state and regional groups.

26. In addition to the planning and preparatory liaison conducted by JOSS in each state, JOSS coordinate the provision of Defence assistance during an emergency through liaison officers embedded with the state emergency services authority coordinating the response. These liaison officers help communicate and coordinate requests for Defence assistance so that the affected jurisdiction is aware of the available capabilities, limitations and expected timeframes for the provision of emergency DACC. They can also provide feedback to Defence about a jurisdiction’s capabilities, and the likely need for Defence assistance, which assists Defence to prepare for and respond to requests for assistance. Nevertheless, EMA, the Directorate of Operations and Training Areas Management (DOTAM) and JOSS noted that during an emergency DACC operation led by a JTF, established chains of reporting can be disrupted or replaced. This can result in a lack of situational awareness or understanding of the emergency response. Defence informed the ANAO that it intends to document liaison officer roles and responsibilities during JTF operations in the next version of the DACC Manual, which is scheduled for release in mid‑2014.

Recording and reporting emergency assistance (Chapter 4)

27. The Instruction of 2004 and the DACC Manual of 2012 imposed extensive reporting requirements for individual DACC tasks. With few exceptions these requirements have not been met by responsible areas of Defence on a consistent basis. This raises questions for Defence about the balance between the benefits for DACC planning and public accountability of capturing more comprehensive information, and the risks in not capturing certain task information. Against this background, Defence should review reporting requirements to ensure they represent the minimum information necessary to: identify the nature and cost of emergency DACC tasks, undertake any cost recovery, discharge accountability obligations, maintain reasonable records for future use and learn from emergency DACC activities. Defence should also take steps to strengthen the priority afforded by Defence commanders and personnel to meeting the reporting requirements that are determined to be appropriate.

28. The history of Defence not accurately recording the cost of DACC dates back many years. A 1999–2000 ANAO performance audit recommended that, to improve the cost effectiveness of DACC, Defence should regularly monitor the costs associated with the provision of DACC and enforce central reporting of DACC activities.17 Some 14 years later, the quality of emergency DACC cost data remains low. Defence has described the impact of DACC on its budget as marginal because it largely involves the provision of personnel, which does not constitute additional expenditure. Nevertheless, Defence does not have an understanding of the overall costs of its DACC activities because it has not captured accurate costing data for DACC activities undertaken. In a resource constrained environment, a better understanding of the cost drivers and complete costs of emergency DACC over time would assist Defence to pursue efficiencies in delivery approaches. Defence should also keep in view the opportunity cost associated with the time spent by Defence commanders and personnel preparing for and undertaking emergency DACC tasks.

29. Defence’s implementation of a national DACC database in December 2013 is a positive development which has the potential to improve emergency DACC recordkeeping if relevant Defence personnel increase the priority given to meeting the reporting requirements of the DACC Manual.

30. Defence does not have a set of objective performance measures to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of emergency DACC, reflecting the emergent nature of activities. To identify lessons, the DACC Manual states that Defence Groups and ADF Services may require individual units providing DACC support to prepare a Post Activity Report at their discretion and for their own use, and that Headquarters Joint Operations Command (HQJOC) may seek a Post Activity Report for DACC operations. Post Activity Reports (or equivalent) were generally completed following the larger emergency DACC responses but not for smaller scale tasks. In addition, HQJOC has run a Lessons Board following the end of the annual disaster season, which considers analysis of key themes arising from Post Activity Reports, and recommends improvements to DACC procedures and activities. As previously discussed, the elements of Defence’s emergency DACC evaluation and feedback loop are not currently supported by an information system to record and manage key lessons and recommendations arising from DACC activities. Collection and analysis of lessons learned, and the subsequent identification of improvement actions have been long-term issues for Defence. The implementation of a Defence–wide management system for lessons learned, due for initial implementation in mid‑2014, is an important step in creating an integrated approach to the management of lessons learned from Defence operations.

Summary of agency response

31. Defence’s covering letter in response to the proposed audit report is reproduced at Appendix 1. Defence’s response to the proposed audit report is set out below:

Defence thanks the ANAO for undertaking the Defence Assistance to the Civil Community audit.

Defence welcomes ANAO’s comments regarding Defence’s prominent role in responding to natural disasters in Australia, in particular the value of the support provided to the Australian community by Defence during times of crisis and that Defence’s emergency DACC procedures are generally effective.

Defence acknowledges the findings contained in the audit report and welcomes the Recommendation made by ANAO which, once implemented, will allow Defence to more accurately and fully demonstrate its support to the Australian community at times of domestic crisis. Defence will also consider the feasibility of the suggestions made in the report.

Recommendation

Recommendation
No. 1

Paragraph 4.17

To promote the efficient and effective use of Australian Government resources in the administration of emergency assistance to the civil community, the ANAO recommends that Defence:

  • review the minimum information necessary to be reported for each emergency DACC task to discharge accountability obligations, identify costs, undertake cost recovery where appropriate, maintain records for future use and learn from emergency DACC activities; and
  • take steps to strengthen the priority afforded by Defence units to meeting these reporting requirements.

Defence response: Agreed.

 

Footnotes

[1] The terms ‘emergency’ and ‘disaster’ are often used interchangeably by organisations involved in emergency/disaster response to describe events which require special arrangements to manage the situation. Criteria used to define ‘disaster’ can be found at Emergency Management Australia, Disaster Information, [Internet], EMA, available from <http://www.emknowledge.gov.au/disaster‑information> [accessed 4 November 2013].

[2] Emergency Management Australia, Knowledge Hub, [Internet], EMA, available from <http://www.emknowledge.gov.au/disaster‑information> [accessed 28 January 2014].

[3] Non‑financial assistance can include, but is not limited to: planning, expertise, provision of mapping services, counseling, advice, management of external resources and physical assistance. Emergency Management Australia, Australian Government Disaster Response Plan (COMDISPLAN), 2013, p. 5.

[4] This report identifies shortcomings in Defence’s emergency DACC task recordkeeping. The actual number of emergency DACC tasks for the period 2005–06 to 2012–13 is higher than that recorded by Defence.

[5] Emergency Management Australia, Australian Government Disaster Response Plan (COMDISPLAN), 2013, p. 6.

[6] Department of Defence, Defence Assistance to the Civil Community Manual, 2012, paragraph 3.1.

[7] Emergency Management Australia, Australian Government Disaster Response Plan (COMDISPLAN), 2013, p. 6.

[8] EMA informed the ANAO that 80 per cent is an overall average which can vary greatly depending on the disaster. For example, some emergencies will see more, or less, requests for assistance tasked to Defence, depending on the type of disaster and the assistance required.

[9] Australian Defence Doctrine Publication 3.14 defines a JTF as a force composed of assigned or attached elements of two or more Services established for the purpose of carrying out a specific task or mission.

[10] Department of Defence, Defence Annual Report 2008–09, Volume 1, 2009, p. 137.

[11] These supplier expenses do not include the cost of Defence personnel or the cost of depreciation of Defence assets utilised in emergency DACC tasks.

[12] Direct costs include the cost of the workforce, fuel, spares, stores and the cost of repairing Defence platforms. Direct costs are normally presented as a per/day or per/hour cost.

[13] Category 3 tasks are not directly related to saving life and property and are subject to cost recovery. DACC Category 1 and 2 tasks are directly related to saving life and property and are not subject to cost recovery. See Table 2.1 on page 40 for details.

[14] Emergency DACC operations involve many individual DACC tasks.

[15] The audit report also suggests that Defence clarify cost recovery policy for emergency DACC category 3 ‘recovery’ tasks, and centrally review the content of regional DACC plans on an annual basis. These suggestions are discussed in the key findings at paragraphs 21 and 24.

[16] According to COMDISPLAN 2013, the most effective method of seeking assistance from Defence is to define or outline the outcome or result required (the effect to be achieved) rather than to seek provision of a specific capability. Defence is then able to consider the usefulness of a broader range of its available capabilities to achieve the required effect.

[17] ANAO Audit Report, No.41, 1999–2000, Commonwealth Emergency Management Arrangements, p. 24.