Port of Portland Emergency

The Port of Portland emergency was first reported to the Country Fire Authority (CFA) on Saturday 18 February 2012 and involved liquid pitch (tar) leaking from a 4000 tonne storage tank.

This was a significant incident which impacted the community and involved a range of emergency services agencies and partners during the response and the recovery phase.

In March 2012, the Fire Services Commissioner conducted a review of the Port of Portland emergency under the powers of Section 10 of the Fire Services Commissioner Act 2010.

The review comprised a meeting on the 26th March 2012 of representatives of the key agencies involved in the emergency.

The review focused on the effectiveness of the Victorian emergency management arrangements in providing a framework for the management of the emergency.

It identified a number of issues, which the Fire Services Commissioner presented to the Central Government Response Committee on June 12 2012.

A number of systemic issues were referred for consideration as part of the revision of the State emergency management arrangements including:

  • Formalising the role of a strategic assessment group, during significant incidents, in providing information to controllers on the potential broader consequences of the incident and suggesting options to mitigate these risks;
  • Clarifying the arrangements for restoration and rehabilitation activities (site remediation) following emergencies;
  • Clarifying that agencies and personnel deployed as support resources during emergencies work under the direction of the control agency and do not concurrently perform their normal functions;
  • A preference for the Municipal Emergency Response Officer and the Incident EMT to operate from the Incident Control Centre, rather than a Municipal Emergency Coordination Centre; and
  • A process for information to be collected on the economic impact, including ‘brand’ impact, of an emergency on an area.

The review participants made a number of suggestions to improve emergency management practice, which were provided to State Emergency Management Team representatives.

Suggestions included:

  • During significant or complex emergencies, the State EMT should include a government liaison officer to assess the impact of the emergency on critical industry at the state, national and/or international level.
  • During significant or complex emergencies, incident managers should establish and maintain contact with the Chief Executive Officer of the local council as early as possible, including them in decision-making forums to ensure consideration of local factors.
  • Early in an emergency, Incident managers should provide local businesses with information so businesses can plan and subsequently reduce the economic impact of the emergency.  The review participants noted that many businesses did not have local telephone numbers, particularly after hours, and the emergency alert system was ineffective in this situation.  Local councils could assist in this situation through contacting local business owners through their business networks.
  • Distributing warnings and alerts using a multi-faceted approach, including door knocks, as not all people in rural communities, particularly the elderly and vulnerable, had access to computers.
  • Incident managers could benefit from guidance on the guidelines for identification of vulnerable people and the FSC has referred this issue to the Department of Human Services.
  • Agencies should ensure their representatives attended community meetings and were sufficiently senior and authorised to make decisions.
  • During an industrial emergency, EMTs at all levels should invite input from relevant industry representatives, to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the risks and consequences involved.
  • When establishing roadblocks during emergencies, incident management should establish criteria for entry in order to expedite the process.

The Fire Services Commissioner and the Director Health and Human Services Emergency Management also jointly proposed that the State Emergency Response Planning Committee establish a multi-agency working group to provide advice on the arrangements for the management of site remediation works following an emergency of this type.

For more information download the Operational Review – Port of Portland Emergency (PDF 163kb)