The objective of the audit was to assess how well EMA is meeting its objective of providing national leadership in the development of measures to reduce risk to communities and manage the consequences of disasters.



Emergency management incorporates a wide range of measures to manage risks to communities and the environment. It comprises four elements, prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.

The philosophy of, and approach to, emergency management has evolved over time. Initially, emergency management largely was reactive, concentrating on civil defence (civil response to external attack during armed conflict). Since the 1970s, the focus has broadened to encompass natural disaster relief and, more recently, threats arising from potential acts of terrorism. Emergency management now encompasses an ‘all hazards' philosophy; that is, promoting a professional approach that responds effectively irrespective of whether the situation is natural or human caused. With such an approach the objective is to have in place plans, strategies and mechanisms that can respond in an appropriate manner irrespective of the actual cause of the emergency.

Australia operates under a federal system, which shares power and responsibility between the Commonwealth and the states and territories. State and territory governments determine the powers and responsibilities for local government. Each of the three levels of government has a role in emergency management because there is a shared responsibility for the overall objective of ensuring community safety.

In the first instance states and territories are expected to respond to emergencies within their jurisdictions, using state, territory, local government and private sector resources. Nevertheless, the Australian Government acknowledges that in times of major emergencies, jurisdictional and private resources might be insufficient, inappropriate or exhausted and so, on request from a state or territory, will coordinate physical assistance. The Australian Government also supports states and territories through involvement in education, training, research, public awareness, information collection and dissemination activities, and by providing direct and indirect financial assistance.

In addition, through the Australian Government Counter Disaster Task Force and various agencies, the Australian Government supports measures to assist communities to recover from the effects of emergencies.

At an international level, the Australian Government provides physical and financial assistance to other countries when major disasters occur.

Emergency Management Australia

The primary Australian Government agency tasked with emergency management is Emergency Management Australia (EMA). EMA is a Division within the Attorney-General's Department (AGD). Until late 2001 EMA was part of the Department of Defence, having evolved from the former civil defence function.

EMA is not an emergency response agency but rather is the coordinator of the Australian Government's response when a request for assistance comes from a state or territory. EMA has primary responsibility for maintaining and arranging activation of the Australian Government's overall disaster response plan, COMDISPLAN.

EMA is led by the Director-General, supported by three Branch Heads (Assistant Secretaries) and a staff of approximately 140 people. For 2007–08, EMA's departmental appropriation for salaries and ongoing operations is just under $23.5 million, and it administers funds of some $30 million for assistance to the states and territories, and grants to local government and volunteer emergency organisations.

Audit Objective

The objective of the audit was to assess how well EMA is meeting its objective of providing national leadership in the development of measures to reduce risk to communities and manage the consequences of disasters.


The mission of the Australian Government's primary emergency management agency, EMA, is to provide ‘national leadership in the development of emergency management measures to reduce the risk to communities and manage the consequences of disasters.'1 In an environment where responsibilities relating to emergency management are shared between the Australian Government and the states and territories, EMA's ability to provide leadership relies heavily on effective consultation and agreement with the states and territories, and with other Australian Government agencies. At an operational level, EMA has greater ability to influence key stakeholders when its strategies and initiatives are backed by dedicated Australian Government resources.

EMA's planning and reporting arrangements largely focus on its operational-level projects and activities. However, the alignment of these activities to EMA's strategic directions, and their contribution to overall intended outcomes, often is unclear. There would be benefit in EMA undertaking further work to define its roles and responsibilities, review critically its activities and align these with strategic directions, and develop and report measures to allow a better assessment of the impact of its activities. EMA has commenced a process to address these issues, including the preparation of a paper that identifies long term strategic directions for emergency management in Australia.

One of EMA's key roles is to coordinate the Australian Government response to requests for assistance during emergency situations. EMA's domestic and international response activities have been timely and responsive to requests by jurisdictions and relevant authorities.

EMA assists in the education and training for those with emergency management responsibilities and contributes to community education activities. EMA also undertakes other initiatives to further support the emergency management sector, including maintaining an Internet presence. All these activities have, broadly, been managed well by EMA, and have been responsive to the needs of the emergency management sector. However, EMA has not had a process to review periodically its approach to delivering individual training courses, to ensure the most appropriate delivery mechanism is used commensurate with training objectives. Also, improvements to the structure and content of the EMA website would enhance its usefulness to the emergency management sector.

EMA helps build the physical infrastructure and equipment used by response agencies and volunteers during emergencies, through the provision of specific-purpose resources and grants schemes. A primary avenue for building these resources is the Working Together To Manage Emergencies (WTTME) grants program. WTTME generally has been managed well by EMA. However, EMA's follow-up of non compliant projects has not been timely and the linkage between the program and its overall objective of enhancing emergency management physical preparedness could be made clearer.

Key findings

Strategic Relationships and Planning

Since it moved from Defence in late 2001, EMA has lifted its profile, and that of the emergency management function, within government and with stakeholders in states and territories. However, the opportunity to define EMA's role provided by the move was not taken, nor was a comprehensive emergency management strategic plan developed. The situation has only recently begun to be remedied.

EMA has developed a Business Plan that aligns with the AGD objective of ‘providing national leadership in the development of emergency management measures to reduce risk to communities and manage the consequences of disasters'. However, the ANAO found that current plans are largely a consolidation of existing projects and activities. While not necessarily inappropriate, the plans would be stronger if they were based on an objective assessment by individual sections within EMA of their contribution to a detailed statement of EMA's objectives. Currently the linkage from EMA's vision and mission statements to planning activities and outputs is not clear.

EMA has commenced developing a Strategic Plan to cover a three to five year period. The Strategic Plan is being developed from a paper prepared for the EMA Executive assessing the emergency management environment in the next ten years and outlining the strategic directions that EMA should pursue over that timeframe. The task in going forward will be to implement sound linkages from vision and mission statements to planning activities and outputs.

EMA's performance measures largely target activity, with little context against which the reader can compare performance. Further, although the AGD, of which EMA is a part, has a costing model developed to enable cost recovery, that the model does not enable any diagnostic activities on business performance. Attempts by EMA since 2000 to develop an activity-based costing system and improved financial information have stalled. Given the increasing demands being placed upon EMA, the ANAO considers that EMA's monitoring of performance would be strengthened by a capacity to estimate the cost of its key emergency management activities and outcomes.

EMA's current efforts to improve its strategic planning through the Strategic Directions initiative provide opportunities to enhance performance measures for major emergency management activities, to encompass outcomes, quality of outputs, and the cost of activities.

Building Knowledge and Skills

EMA undertakes various activities to build knowledge and skills amongst the emergency management sector and communities, through its involvement in education and training activities, maintaining or producing emergency management-focussed resources and by promoting better understanding of risks and their management, through public education for the general public and in schools. The objective of these activities is to develop a better equipped emergency management sector, and informed and better prepared communities.

Efforts by EMA, and the sector, to implement programs of competency-based training have raised the profile of emergency management in Australia. EMA's efforts have been responsive to the needs of stakeholders. However, EMA has not had a process to review periodically its approach to delivering individual training courses, to ensure the most appropriate delivery mechanism is used commensurate with training objectives. Such review is important as the administrative load in delivering training under the formal competency-based framework can be substantial. Further, in implementing the EMA's review of its environment and strategic direction at an activity/operational level, it would be of benefit for EMA to identify the specific areas where it is best suited to contribute to emergency management capability in Australia and review current practices to align these with clear strategic objectives.

EMA supports the emergency management sector through maintaining a dedicated, emergency management-focussed library, publishing a quarterly journal and producing a suite of guidance publications. These initiatives are well managed by EMA and well received by the sector.

EMA also maintains an Internet presence, which provides various emergency management-related materials. However, the current EMA website has substantial shortcomings. It is poorly structured, and in some instances confusing, making it difficult to find relevant information, and some material is dated. EMA recently reviewed material and removed obviously redundant items but progress has been limited.

Building Physical Preparedness

EMA seeks to build physical preparedness by providing specific-purpose resources, administering discretionary grants schemes and recognising emergency management excellence through an awards program. A primary objective of EMA's involvement in this process is to facilitate national approaches to addressing physical preparedness gaps.

With the states and territories, EMA is involved in identifying specific gaps in Australia's capabilities and then addressing those gaps through directed assistance. The ANAO found that EMA's efforts to build the physical infrastructure and equipment in the emergency management sector are generally well managed. For example, for the National Urban Search and Rescue Capacity Development Project, the ANAO found that a robust assessment of need had occurred and the response to identified gaps was well targeted. EMA has in place satisfactory controls and management practices to ensure that directed physical preparedness projects are well managed.

With the National Urban Search and Rescue Capacity Development Project, EMA took a pragmatic approach in managing equipment procurement to achieve efficiently and effectively project objectives. This approach provided the benefits of cheaper purchasing and, at the same time, reduced the administrative requirements on EMA in maintaining the Project. The approach used by EMA provides a useful model for consideration in future national physical preparedness enhancement initiatives.

EMA also assists to build physical infrastructure and equipment by way of discretionary assistance, where the Australian Government is not involved directly in identifying gaps and undertaking procurement. For these initiatives organisations are invited to apply for various grants to purchase emergency management-related equipment and infrastructure, undertake mitigation activities and deliver training. Projects will vie against those in other organisations, and across jurisdictions, in a competitive selection process.

EMA facilitates discretionary physical preparedness building primarily through its administration the WTTME initiative. WTTME generally has been managed well by EMA. However, EMA's follow-up of non-compliant projects has not been timely. Proactive monitoring of the progress of projects and follow up of those that might be behind schedule, or not be fulfilling all funding agreement requirements, are important controls.

The linkage between programs such as WTTME, and the Safer Communities Awards,2 and their overall objective of enhanced emergency management physical preparedness could be made clearer. Enhanced linkages would provide EMA with assurance that discretionary activities achieve their objective of building physical preparedness within the emergency management sector

Coordination in Emergencies

The Attorney-General is the responsible Minister for committing Australian Government resources in response to an emergency. Provision of Australian Government resources does not occur until a formal request is received from a state or territory, as a result of the jurisdiction's resources being inadequate, inappropriate or unavailable to meet the situation. Following approval by the Attorney-General of a request for assistance, EMA can call upon the resources of the Australian Government to arrange for the request to be satisfied.

The ANAO found that EMA's domestic response activities are timely and responsive to requests by jurisdictions and that EMA actions specific requests in an appropriate manner.

In recent times EMA has become involved increasingly in coordinating an Australian response to overseas incidents, as the region of Australia's interests, identified by the Government, has expanded. Recent examples include Australia's response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami and the Yogyakarta earthquake and its offer of assistance during the 2007 Greek forest fires.

When EMA is involved in overseas operations it is as an agent acting on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and/or the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). As such, EMA seeks reimbursement for the costs incurred during its involvement in overseas emergency situations.

The ANAO found that EMA's overseas response was timely and responsive to the situation's requirements. However, in recent times there has been some disagreement between AusAID and EMA over arrangements for overseas involvements. For the response to the Yogyakarta earthquake, AusAID was critical of some aspects of the response arrangements made by EMA, for example, in sourcing some supplies from Australia rather than buying these locally at significantly less cost.

This issue arises primarily because of the difference of focus between activities undertaken by EMA and AusAID and the resultant differences in performance expectations. Development of an agreement between EMA and relevant stakeholders specifying the broad principles, responsibilities and performance expectations to apply when EMA is involved in overseas operations would assist in this regard.


The ANAO has made five recommendations focussed on assisting EMA achieve its strategic vision of providing national leadership in the development of emergency management measures to reduce the risk to communities and manage the consequences of disasters.

Summary of agency response

EMA was fully consulted in the development of this report, agrees with its recommendations, and has commenced acting upon them.

Emergency management in Australia has evolved over the last decades into a structured discipline that addresses emergency risk to the Australian society, economy and environment. This evolution continues and EMA, in partnership with state and territory governments, non-government organisations and the private sector, will continue to further enhance the national emergency preparedness and resilience of communities and organisations. Matters for resolution in the coming years include: achieving the right resourcing balance between mitigation and preparedness on the one hand, and response and recovery on the other; ensuring that a heavy reliance on volunteers does not leave Australia vulnerable in its ability to deal with risk and emergencies; and developing a national program of continuous improvement in emergency management.

This report provides a critical review of EMA processes and activities, and will assist EMA in materially improving its ability to provide national leadership in emergency management and assist Australian communities.


1 Emergency Management Australia, This is EMA, 2007, p.5.

2 Since 2000 EMA, in conjunction with the states and territories, has sponsored the Australian Safer Communities Awards. The awards are designed to recognise and encourage best practice and innovation across the emergency management sector, business, local government and community organisations.