As noted previously the Exercise was primarily designed as a capability development/training exercise focused on the practical use and functional implementation of Commonwealth and State maritime incident and emergency management arrangements in response to a major incident. The two phases addressed multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional interoperability and the ability to manage complex incidents with multiple consequences and a focus on recovery.
In accordance with ‘best-practice lessons management’ the evaluation team has identified only those insights that appear systemic or identify areas of significant concern including some that have been raised in previous exercises or addressed by recommendations from previous Exercise Steering Committees such as those related to skills maintenance. In such cases an alternative recommendation has been provided.
All agencies involved in the exercise worked together to further develop the South Australian and National response capability. The insights listed below should be considered only with the view to further enhancing these capabilities.
National Plan policies and guidance
As part of the capability development component of the exercise an incident management technical advisor was assigned to the leadership, planning, operations and logistics sections. A mentor was also provided to the Environmental Science Coordinator for development purposes. The advisory team performed their function in accordance with the National Plan Policy NP-POL-001 (Role of Technical Advisors).
There were several observations from both the evaluation teams and from participants that the assistance provided by the advisory team was well received and effective in providing advice that was useful to the conduct of the response. It was observed that some advisors ‘blurred’ the line between mentoring, advising and leading. It was observed from more than one source that the advisory role might better be performed by personnel who had received training in mentoring and coaching as well as being a subject matter expert in a particular area of response.
'The role of advisor is an important and useful innovation. People in this role need guidance and skills to act as mentor, trainer and coach at the appropriate time.'
On day one of the functional exercise the common operating picture was not delivered effectively or widely understood. This changed significantly after an overnight evaluation process and several evaluators and participants noted the significant difference between the two days of the exercise. This was largely due
to the process followed by the situational awareness officer on the second day. There is no guidance documentation or Aide-memoire to assist in the development of situational awareness displays. For a low frequency event to be managed by part-time responders an Aide-memoire or guidance document may provide a solution to this recurring issue.
Considerations for recovery
Initial planning conducted by the IMT was largely short term and reactive. This is consistent with previous incidents and exercises. Recovery planning was not considered as part of the strategies that were initially developed. Despite the participation of recovery agencies in the proceeding discussion exercise and sessions on socio-economic impacts it may be that recovery aspects were determined as a lesser priority in the period of initial response. No matter the underlying factors the inclusion of recovery experts in the initial response may hasten the return to normality of affected communities.
Community information, media and public engagement are essential pre-requisites for a successful recovery operation. Whilst a comprehensive community engagement, public information and media response was out of scope for this exercise several observations were made in relation to this matter. Our analysis is unable to determine if these observations were the result of exercise artificialities or genuine identification of areas for improvement. We note that it is often difficult to effectively simulate media and community interest in an oil spill response and to spare media and engagement personnel on a scale that would be appropriate for a major response. Large scale media engagement is therefore either left out of scope for National Plan exercises or simulated unrealistically. We note that the public information function was either out of scope, or lightly engaged, for Exercises Northerly, Westwind, and Constant Bearing.
The Zone Emergency Support Team (ZEST) is a subset of the State Emergency management arrangements and activated on a geographic zone. The ZEST appeared to be under-utilised on day one of the functional exercise. This may be due to the fact that this was the first time the ZEST concept had been established and co-located with an IMT of this size and for this type of emergency. This improved on day two of the functional exercise as the ZEST’s role was better understood and personnel engaged.
Training and skills maintenance
Approximately one hundred participants took part in the training and familiarisation sessions held on the morning of 5 December. Participants received information and insights on Australian and International oil spill arrangements, Spill prevention, spill causes, oil behaviour and fate. Other sessions included environmental and socio economic issues and concluded with an introduction to spill response strategies. Many respondents in their feedback commented on the fact that they had not trained specifically in oil spill response. It is noted however that during 2017, South Australia had further undertaken incident management training capability development for both DPTI and the wider State emergency sector and that this exercise included IMT personnel and skills from the wider emergency sector.
'Have everyone who will be involved receive incident management training. I have never received any training in this so was a bit lost in the environment and didn’t always understand what was going on.'
Feedback from participants and observers indicated that the training and familiarisation session was very valuable in setting the context of the consequences of a large scale maritime emergency with most responders indicating they had increased their knowledge of oil spill consequences and response techniques.
'I enjoyed the exercise. I learned a lot and will be more confident/competent next time. Some currency training at a state or national level for each function would be helpful.'
Several evaluators observed that assistance tools, such as the AMSA Oil Pollution Aide-Memoire and National Plan Guidance Documents were not utilized by the IMT. Whilst training was seen as an important issue for many first time oil spill responders from South Australia it was noted that there was several responders from other jurisdictions including National Response Team and Core Group members.
The observations and findings regarding the use of available assistance tools applies equally to those personnel. Previous exercises have made recommendations regarding skills maintenance and the NPSCC has been provided with information on the limits of skills retention. Primarily, the research indicates that training not reinforced with 12 months is mostly forgotten.