State planning for fire

Victoria has a multi-agency framework for emergency management, some elements of which are legislated and other elements of which are established by agreement.1

The Victorian emergency management framework is currently undergoing significant reform. At the time of the Hazelwood mine fire, the Emergency Management Act 1986 (Vic) (Emergency Management Act) and the Emergency Management Manual Victoria governed emergency management in Victoria.

The Emergency Management Act 2013 (Vic) came into operation on 1 July 2014. The focus of the new Act is the establishment of key statutory positions under new governance arrangements, including the creation of an Emergency Management Commissioner, which succeeds the role of the Fire Services Commissioner. The Emergency Management Commissioner will have broader oversight, control and coordination in relation to emergencies.

Future legislation is planned to progressively repeal and replace the Emergency Management Act, but at the time of writing this report, it remains in force and needs to be read in conjunction with the Emergency Management Act 2013 (Vic).2

The position of the Fire Services Commissioner was established following the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. Mr Craig Lapsley was the Fire Services Commissioner at the time of the Hazelwood mine fire. He has since been appointed as the first Emergency Management Commissioner under the new legislative arrangements.3

Any reference to the Emergency Management Act in this report should be read to mean the Emergency Management Act 1986 (Vic), as in force prior to 1 July 2014.


The Emergency Management Act establishes the command, control and coordination arrangements for emergencies in Victoria. ‘Emergency’ is defined in s. 4 of the Act to include the actual or imminent occurrence of an event, including fire, which in any way endangers or threatens to endanger the safety or health of persons in Victoria, damages or threatens to damage property in Victoria, or endangers or threatens to endanger the environment in Victoria.

Section 16 of the Emergency Management Act provides that the Fire Services Commissioner has overall control of response activities to a ‘major fire’ in any area of Victoria.

A ‘major fire’ is defined as a large or complex fire which:

(a) has the potential to cause or is causing loss of life and extensive damage to property, infrastructure or the environment; or(b) has the potential to have or is having significant adverse consequences for the Victorian community or part of the Victorian community; or

(c) requires the involvement of two or more fire services agencies to suppress the fire; or

(d) will, if not suppressed, burn for more than one day.4


The Emergency Management Manual Victoria is a single multi-part book integrating the principal policy and planning documents for emergency management in Victoria.5

Part 3 of the Emergency Management Manual Victoria is the State Emergency Response Plan for the coordinated response of all agencies having roles or responsibilities in relation to the response to emergencies. The Minister for Police and Emergency Services is required to prepare this plan under s. 10(1) of the Emergency Management Act. The Minister has delegated responsibility for preparing the State Emergency Response Plan to the Chief Commissioner of Police.6

Part 7 of the Emergency Management Manual Victoria lists the responsible emergency service agencies for each type of emergency. For each different type of emergency, whether it is a house fire in metropolitan Melbourne, a whale stranding, a bushfire in a national park, a pandemic, or an oil spill, the Emergency Management Manual Victoria nominates a control agency to lead the response.7

The Emergency Management Manual Victoria allocates responsibility for responding to fire in Victoria to different agencies depending on the location of the fire, as follows:

  • Country Fire Authority (CFA)—fire on private land within the country area of Victoria
    (such as the Hazelwood mine)8
  • Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI)—fire in State Forest, National Park and Protected Public Lands9
  • Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB)—fire in metropolitan areas.10

The control agency responsible for leading the response to a ‘major fire’ in Victoria is the Fire Services Commissioner, supported by the CFA, DEPI or MFB (depending on the location of the fire).11 This reflects the Fire Services Commissioner’s statutory role as mandated by s. 16 of the Emergency Management Act.


The State Emergency Response Plan adopts a three-tiered approach to emergency management in Victoria—state, regional and incident.12 This three-tiered approach is standard protocol during major emergencies and is an outcome of the implementation of recommendation 63 of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission (Teague, McLeod, & Pascoe, 2010, p. 6). The Fire Services Commissioner has issued ‘State Command and Control Arrangements for Bushfire in Victoria 2013’ as a supplement to the Emergency Management Manual Victoria. This document clarifies how the State Emergency Response Plan is to be implemented in the event of bushfires.13

A representation of the State Emergency Response Plan tiers of emergency management as applied in a bushfire scenario is shown in Figure 2.18.

Figure 2.18 The State Emergency Response Plan tiers of emergency management14


As shown in Figure 2.18, each tier within the structure includes a position responsible for command, control and coordination. Command refers to the direction of personnel and resources of an agency in the performance of the agency’s role and tasks. Control involves the overall direction of response activities in an emergency and runs across agencies. Coordination involves the bringing together of agencies and resources to ensure effective response to and recovery from emergencies. Victoria Police is the coordination agency for response and the Department of Human Services is the coordination agency for recovery.15

For bushfires, the positions responsible for control at each tier of emergency management are the State Controller, Regional Controller and Incident Controller. These positions are referred to collectively as the ‘line-of-control’. The State Command and Control Arrangements explain that:

The purpose of the line-of-control for bushfire in Victoria is to ensure an operational, informational and evaluative connection between the controllers at each tier so that the [Fire Services Commissioner], who has legislative accountability for the control of major fire and is the State Controller for bushfire, is assured that the needs of the community are being met.16

The roles of the State Controller, Regional Controller and Incident Controller are explained in further detail below.

The fire services agencies responding to an emergency retain command of their own resources and maintain their own chain-of-command. Firefighters on the ground report up through the chain-of-command within the relevant emergency service organisation (for example, the CFA),to the Incident Controller.17

In 2013, the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission Implementation Monitor reviewed the state bushfire readiness arrangements that established this integrated and coordinated structure for emergency response across agencies. The Implementation Monitor found that the current structures of emergency management have improved operability across agencies (Comrie, 2013, p.19).

Emergency Response and Recovery Coordinators

Section 11(1) of the Emergency Management Act specifies that during an emergency the Chief Commissioner of Police steps into the role of the State Emergency Response Coordinator (see Figure 2.18). The State Emergency Response Coordinator coordinates agencies with roles or responsibilities in responding to emergencies. Where more than one emergency is happening at a time, the State Emergency Response Coordinator is required to take action to ensure effective control and coordination across all emergencies.18

Emergency Response Coordinators can also be established at the regional and incident tier to support Regional and Incident Controllers respectively. Emergency Response Coordinators form part of the Emergency Management Team.19

State Controller

The State Controller’s role is to provide strategic leadership for the resolution of emergencies at the highest level, and where there may be significant political or economic impact.20 Key functions of the State Controller are to:

  • establish a control structure and a State Emergency Management Team
  • ensure coordination between agencies
  • ensure risk or threat identification and mitigation
  • provide tailored information to the community and agencies about emergencies
  • ensure warnings are issued
  • ensure community relief arrangements are in place.21

Pursuant to s. 16 of the Emergency Management Act, the State Controller may appoint a Deputy, a Chief Officer, or another officer from an emergency service agency, such as the CFA, DEPI, MFB or the Victoria State Emergency Service (SES). The State Controller’s appointee assumes overall control of response to a major fire. The State Controller (or the person appointed to perform that role) may exercise the power and authority granted to the Chief Officer of the CFA by the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic) (CFA Act).

When the Fire Services Commissioner takes control of a major fire, the Fire Services Commissioner becomes the State Controller. Under Standard Operating Procedures Control of Major Fires SOP 05/2011, the Fire Services Commissioner automatically assumes the role of the State Controller when the following conditions are present:

  • a Code Red Fire Danger Rating is in place in one or more forecast districts
  • an Extreme Fire Danger Rating is in place in three or more forecast districts.22

These conditions were present on 9 February 2014.23

Regional Controller

The role of the Regional Controller is to provide leadership and management across emergencies within a Victorian region. For the extent of the bushfire season, the Fire Services Commissioner approves the appointment of rostered Regional Controllers to take charge and provide strategic leadership for bushfire readiness and response in each region.24

Incident Controller

Under the State Emergency Response Plan, the role of the Incident Controller is to provide leadership and management at the emergency incident.25 In the context of a bushfire, the Incident Controller is accountable for the overall direction of response activities.26 An accredited and experienced Incident Controller is normally appointed from within the relevant agency responsible for responding to a particular fire. However, to prepare for days of high fire risk, or for major bushfires, the State Controller or Regional Controller may appoint an Incident Controller from any agency.27


At each tier of emergency management (state, regional and incident), emergency response plans are prepared. Emergency response plans include:

  • objectives
  • the State Controller’s strategic priorities
  • hierarchical emergency management structures
  • fire risk identification
  • response strategies or other actions
  • resource requirements
  • evacuation planning
  • communication with the community.28

State Controller’s Strategic Priorities

The State Controller has established strategic priorities to guide decisions about the allocation
of resources when responding to emergencies. These strategic priorities are:

  • the protection and preservation of life is paramount
  • issuing community information and community warnings
  • protection of critical infrastructure and community assets
  • protection of residential property
  • protection of assets supporting individual livelihoods and economic production
  • protection of environmental and conservation assets.29

Resource requirements

The Standard Operating Procedures also govern resource allocation in response to fires. The objective of ‘Readiness arrangements for Incident Management Teams’ under Standard Operating Procedure J2.03 is to ensure the State has Incident Management Teams pre-positioned to manage major bushfires or potential major bushfires.30

An Incident Management Team comprises an Incident Controller supported by personnel responsible for the incident management functions identified in the State Emergency Response Plan. The Incident Management Team applies the Australasian Inter-service Incident Management System (AIIMS).31

AIIMS is a nationally recognised system of incident management for emergency services agencies. AIIMS is based on five key principles—flexibility, management by objectives, functional management, unity of command and span of control. These principles ensure that the Incident Management Team is only working to one set of objectives at any one time, that the team is managing the incident with five functional areas (control, planning, public information, operations and logistics), and that there is a limit to the number of groups that can be supervised by one Incident Controller.32

Standard Operating Procedure J2.03 contains several schedules, including:

  • the weather forecast location for each Incident Control Centre (Schedule 1)
  • levels of an Incident Management Team for readiness purposes (Schedule 2)
  • Incident Control Centre footprints and clusters (Schedule 3)
  • staffing of Incident Management Teams depending on the fire circumstances (Schedule 4).33

Schedule 4 of Standard Operating Procedure J2.03 identifies 17 Incident Control Centre clusters in Victoria. The Traralgon Incident Control Centre is the designated Primary Incident Control Centre for the South and West Gippsland cluster. The footprints within that cluster are Traralgon, Erica, Noojee, Ellinbank, Leongatha and Yarram. The Schedule provides that on days of extreme fire danger, the minimum Incident Control Centre readiness arrangement for the Traralgon Incident Control Centre is a core Incident Management Team, with other Incident Control Centres in the cluster required to have base Incident Management Team readiness arrangements in place to spread the workload.34

Schedule 2 of Standard Operating Procedure J2.03 provides that the staffing requirement for a core Incident Management Team include:

  • Control: Incident Controller (Level 2 or Level 3) (a Deputy Incident Controller is also recommended)
  • Operations: Operations Officer, Aircraft Officer and Radio Officer
  • Planning: Planning Officer, Situation Officer and Resources Officer
  • Public Information: Warnings and Advice Officer (or Public Information Officer)
  • Logistics: Logistics Officer.35

Specialist roles such as Aircraft Officers can be centrally based in the Regional Control Centre rather than in the core Incident Management Team.36

A base Incident Management Team is staffed by an Incident Controller (Level 2 or Level 3),
an Operations Officer, a Radio Operator or Administration, and a Warnings and Advice Officer
(or Public Information Officer).37

Levels of resources may exceed or fall under the levels described for readiness in Standard Operating Procedure J2.03 with the prior approval of the State Controller.38

Fire risk identification

The Phoenix Rapidfire modelling system is a tool used extensively in Victoria to assist with emergency response planning. It was developed as a research tool by the University of Melbourne in 2006 and gained recognition in international journals from as early as 2008 (Tolhurst, Chong, & Strandgard, 2006; Tolhurst, Shields, & Chong, 2008). Phoenix Rapidfire modelling is used operationally during emergencies through an agreement between DEPI, the University of Melbourne and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre (DEPI, 2013, p. 8).

Phoenix Rapidfire models simulate the potential spread of a fire. The model can predict where the fire will spread, the potential assets that might be affected by the spread of the fire and where spotting may occur.39 A depiction of a Phoenix Rapidfire model is shown in Figure 2.19 below.

Figure 2.19 Phoenix Rapidfire modelling40

Figure 2.19 is a Phoenix Rapidfire model that was produced during the public hearings which shows both the predicted fire behaviour (in orange, yellow and red) as well as the actual extent of the Driffield fire (in brown) on 9 February 2014.

To develop the Phoenix Rapidfire models, information and assumptions about fire behaviour are entered into the software program. Relevant information and assumptions include the point of origin of the fire, the time of ignition, weather predictions (expected temperature, wind speed, wind direction, cloud cover and atmospheric conditions) and the vegetation in the landscape that may fuel the fire. The type of fire fuel is predicted based on best available information from aerial photography and other records. The model assumes that no fire suppression will occur.41

Phoenix Rapidfire modelling is limited by the accuracy of the information inputs, including:

  • fuel types
  • wind reduction factors
  • fire history
  • topography
  • assets and values
  • road proximity
  • fuel disruptions
  • weather
  • suppression resources
  • grassland curing.42

Mr Jaymie Norris, Acting Manager of the Strategic Bushfire Risk Assessment Unit of DEPI, gave evidence to the Board that the Phoenix Rapidfire modelling system is less realistic when areas of significant assets, for example cities, power stations and water treatment plants, are located in the fire landscape. Where there is an uneven distribution of dense forest and grassland, the simple fire suppression algorithm is also less likely to be realistic.43

Fire fuel cannot be measured in all forested areas, therefore assumptions are made about the fuel load, using information such as, the number of years since the last fire in that forest. This information can then be used to estimate how much leaf litter and debris has accumulated on the forest floor.44


The State engages with support agencies and relevant community members in planning and managing an emergency in circumstances where agency support and community involvement is considered necessary. In such circumstances, an Incident Emergency Management Team is formed. The Incident Emergency Management Team brings together representatives from each of the lines of control (command, control and coordination) at incident level (see Figure 2.18 above). In addition, community members and other relevant entities can be included. The Incident Emergency Management Team is a forum for informing the Incident Controller about the likely impacts and consequences of an emergency, and enables all members to contribute to the development of the overall incident strategy.45

An Incident Emergency Management Team was formed to respond to the fire conditions in the days leading up to the Hazelwood mine fire. Members of the Incident Emergency Management Team included representatives from various support agencies and local government. SP AusNet, Hancock Victorian Plantations Pty Ltd, Gippsland Water and Central Gippsland Essential Industries Group Inc. were also members.46

The Central Gippsland Essential Industries Group (CGEIG) is a regional industry group comprising Latrobe Valley electricity generators, electricity suppliers, oil and gas suppliers, paper producers and major suppliers. GDF Suez is a member of the CGEIG.47 Operating since the 1990s, the CGEIG provides a network for information flow to support members in the event of an emergency. According to its website, the CGEIG ‘provides a single point contact between Emergency Services Agencies and Key Industries during major events’.48 The ‘Central Gippsland Essential Industries Group Mutual Aid Guidelines December 2010’ outlines the support members of the CGEIG can provide to each other in the event of an emergency.49

Mr Lawrence Jeremiah, Incident Controller on 9 February 2014, indicated that the CGEIG relationship was of assistance when he was the Deputy Incident Controller during the Churchill fire in 2009.50