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Natural disasters focus of major international conference

Natural disasters the focus of a major international conference in Wellington

Almost 900 people from Australasian and Pacific fire and emergency services will meet in Wellington next week to discuss the latest in disaster-related research and experience.

The annual AFAC (Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council) and Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre conference is held in New Zealand once every eight years.

The theme for this year’s conference is After Disaster Strikes – Learning from Adversity.

There is no shortage of disasters to learn from. Last summer, Australia experienced some of its most extreme heat waves. New Zealand is still coping with the devastating Canterbury earthquakes, while several Pacific neighbours are still recovering from cyclones and tsunami.

The New Zealand Fire Service Chief Executive & National Commander Paul Baxter says “Climate change poses a growing challenge for fire and emergency services. Extreme weather events have become more frequent over the past 50 years and are predicted to become even more extreme.

“Over the past 20 years, our own response figures show increasing demand for our services at wind, rain and flood events.”

How well fire, rescue and emergency services are able to respond to extreme heat waves, floods and wind storms will depend on how prepared they, and wider society, are to mitigate loss, respond to disaster and help with the recovery.

“Communities need to develop resilience and self-help strategies.

“The Fire Service is putting increased emphasis on developing leadership and excellence in incident management. Over the next few years, all executive officers and frontline officers will be taken through enhanced incident command and leadership courses, and many of our senior staff will be exposed to international incident experience and training.

“We are working more closely with emergency service partners to ensure our combined multi-agency response to disaster is integrated and well-practiced.

“By 2020, we want to be in a position where our response and risk management are consistent across the country, and that we have the ability to adapt to changing demands and circumstances.”

The AFAC conference is a vital element in the preparation of fire and emergency services for the future, he said.

Note: The conference is being held at Shed 6 and TSB Arena, 2-5 September. Details of the programme are here


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