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Declaration of a global pandemic | 72 days of support from the Incident Management Team | Blog takeover

12 March 2020

Declaration of a global pandemic

Hi everyone,

Today is rather symbolic – the declaration of a global pandemic. While I know we have all been watching the progression of COVID-19 – checking in with those we love and know, thinking through what the progression might mean for us and preparing – this is a milestone.  

Just like the first two months of 2020 have been extraordinary for us with the bushfires, so too will the next period of time. With more cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Australia and in countries around the world we are putting in place plans and contingencies for our people and our work. We are using these plans to respond to incidents as they arise but preparing and adapting for what the impacts might be on our humanitarian work, on our people and on Red Cross as an organisation. We are working through the possible worst cases and the possible opportunities so that we together prioritise and focus on what’s needed to navigate the time ahead of us successfully. 

What is clear is that there are some not-negotiable outcomes over the next few months for us. We have significant humanitarian work to do – even more so given the impact of the virus on those already facing vulnerability. We have a significant role to play in supporting and working alongside our neighbours in the Pacific and the broader region. We must continue to be there for those on the long road of recovery from the bushfires. We must ensure Red Cross people are safe including managing the fatigue we are feeling. And we must also ensure that Red Cross stays financially strong despite the inevitable downturn in income.

Managing these dynamics will mean making trade-offs, prioritising what we do even more and ensuring that we deliberately and calmly work through whatever comes our way. It will also mean experimenting even more with working remotely and in delivering our work in different ways. 

I know that our creativity and ability to adapt will shine through because I see it every day. I am always inspired by your individual and our collective leadership. And I know we will navigate this successfully. 

72 days of support from the bushfire Incident Management Team

A couple of weeks ago we had our ​Register.Find.Reunite closed for the first time in months​​.

Last week, after 72 days of responding to bushfires in East Gippsland and Victoria’s north-east, our Emergency Services Incident Management Team (IMT) has stood down and passed the baton to our Recovery Team.

Victorian volunteers and staff have clocked up 3,100 shifts totalling 42,006 hours. To put this into perspective, if one person were to work that many hours and they started now, at 40 hours a week and taking four weeks off a year, they’d be finished sometime in late December 2041!

I asked Damien Maloney, Red Cross Commander at the Victorian Emergency Operations Centre to share his thoughts about the last 72 days. Here’s what he said.

"On 30 December last year, the fires took hold of Mallacoota. We had a long day that day in the IMT – every seat was full, people were in and out all day and night, and we had 50 volunteers deployed or deploying to the field. Just after midnight, I sent everyone home while I stayed and wrapped up and handed over to the night commander. I got back to the hotel around 2am, got in the shower then put my head down for a couple of hours, ready to be back in here at 5am.

While we were sending our amazing volunteers out to the field, we were extremely aware that there were volunteers who were actually living in these communities. Two in particular, were causing me some worry. Now, as the commander, it is incumbent of me to care for everyone, and make sure that all of us are looked after. But it’s hard not to focus on areas of concern. One of these volunteers lives in Mallacoota, the other in Cann River.

I spoke with the one in Mallacoota before I headed to bed. She was on the beach, along with the rest of the local Mallacoota team and about 1,000 other people, watching the fire come closer and closer to the town. She was telling me the wind was changing and the town might be saved, but no one was really sure. I told them to stand down from Red Cross activities and they said they would.

'Just a bit of psychological first aid here and there Damo, you know, since we are here and feel a bit useless otherwise.'

I can’t very well stop them can I? At about 4am, I got a phone call from Cann River. A scared, stoic call.

'Just letting you know that we’re ok Damo. There’s about 50 of us in the hall and Delpy and the firies are trying their best to keep the fire away, but they said if it gets any closer, they’re going to take all of us to the footy ground and start spraying us down. But we’re ok Damo.'

That didn’t sound ok to me. At all. There is a sense of hopelessness one feels in situations like that. I was looking after Red Cross’ entire response and our volunteers are involved in this, in a very real and life-threatening way. After I made this particular volunteer promise to be safe and to listen to the “good-looking young firemen” I hung up and went back to work. There was no getting back to sleep after that call. All morning, I tried Cann River, and the phone just rung out. I kept my eye on all our intelligence sources, looking for any information on Cann River.

At about 11am, my phone buzzed. Cann River.

'All good here Damo.'

All this pent up worry, stress and tiredness that I didn’t realise I had seemed to come flooding out of me. I took 5 minutes then went back to work. There was plenty more to do."

The road to recovery is a long one but we will be there every step of the way.

Thank you to Damo and team for this amazing work. And to everyone who gave up their time to work in the field, on the phones and behind the scenes over the last 72 days. And to everyone across Australia and beyond whose donations make this possible.

That’s all from me this week. I’ve asked Sharon Wachtel (Director, Tasmania) to share a couple of stories for the blog takeover.

DABs engaging in new ways

I wanted to share some of the new ways our Divisional Advisory Board (DAB) members are working. Recently in Tasmania the DAB has been at the centre of engaging on growth potential for the future areas of focus.

DAB members worked together ‘world café style’ looking at three key issues:

  1. Given the areas of future focus, what opportunities are there for growth in Tasmania?
  2. How can we maintain our Red Cross presence in the Northern and North West regions?
  3. How can we create new opportunities for members and volunteers?

Ideas from this session including those from staff and leadership planning will contribute to the development of the TAS plan.

In addition to this last week on March 5 members and volunteers came together in the regional town of Longford to build social connections and to explore ways of stronger engagement with Red Cross.

This event was led by TAS DAB members and supported by the hub team. It was an eventful day with some volunteers expressing an interest in becoming members!

9 out of 10 Australians think we should be more kind every day

You may have read this in the news recently about a new Red Cross survey that reveals nearly nine out of 10 Australians believe we should be more kind to each other every day.

The survey also finds that nine out of 10 people believe Australia would be a better place if everyone did at least one kind thing a day, such as helping friends, family members, work mates or others in their communities.

The study comes as more than 8,500 people are out in their communities calling on their neighbours, checking in to say hello and helping with the annual Red Cross Calling activity.

Our survey reveals that nearly all Australians believe that more compassion will make Australia a better place. Our research also finds that more than two-thirds (69%) of Australians would like to do more to help people facing tough times.

This is heartening to know, especially in the midst of our relief and recovery work.

Thank you Sharon for sharing these updates. That’s all for this week.