SAVEM is a Tier 2 Response and Recovery agency, deploying into all hazards emergencies in South Australia in order to assess, rescue, triage, treat, shelter and return to owner, habitat or suitable long-term care, animals of all species. At the 2019-2020 Cudlee Creek (Adelaide Hills) and Kangaroo Island fires, SAVEM’s focus is on wildlife.
The way humans treat other sentient species is a reflection of our humanity. Australia is a nation of animal lovers, with over 63% of Australians households owning at least one companion animal. Thousands more are owned by primary producers. The bond between humans and animals, owned or otherwise, is intricately connected to human health and well-being, and is integral to providing livelihoods and recreational endeavours. Australian wildlife is particularly important, from enriching the lives of individuals and local communities through to captivating international audiences and attracting academic research from across the globe. SAVEM understands the complexity and significance of these connections, and therefore contributes positively to human and animal health in bushfire, or other hazard-impacted communities.
SAVEM was founded in 2009 after the Black Saturday fires of February that year. We are operationally proactive and practical – a ‘doing’ agency. We train according to established models and systems of Emergency Management (EM), and stand in good stead with other Emergency Services because of our knowledge and practise of the “rules of engagement”. We follow the directives of the Control Agency and Incident Command at all times, and hence have established a credible and respected reputation. Consequently, SAVEM is rapidly deployed by the Control Agency (the South Australian Country Fire Service – the CFS – for bushfire) as soon as it safe to do so. Our early presence on a fireground enables animal welfare needs to be actioned by fireground-trained veterinary professionals and is reassuring for affected communities.
However, as evidenced by the 2019/2020 bushfire season so far, natural hazard emergencies are highly likely to increase in frequency, size and intensity. It is therefore essential to continually and dynamically increase our capacity in resource and capability terms to be able to deploy effectively. Our ability to respond has been assisted recently by the acquisition of a third 4WD vehicle and the SAVEM “Tent” – a 6m x 9m inflatable structure (Air Shelter, Covertex, New Zealand) transported in its own trailer, and capable of being extended with “zip in” additional modules. The next addition to SAVEM’s fleet and equipment which will make an exponential difference to our response is a mobile command centre. This vehicle will be similar to the unit operated by NSW Fire and Rescue. It is built in Australia on a cab-chassis truck body. This vehicle will allow us to be almost entirely self-sufficient in the field. The Command vehicle will be capable of providing our own communications, run our Incident Management Team, provide refrigerated pharmacy and stores, sleeping accommodation, bathroom facilities and security for our teams. Coupled with our inflatable field hospital SAVEM would be in a position to provide world’s best practice veterinary emergency management on site in the shortest possible time.
SAVEM is 100% volunteer, and this is part of our effectiveness. We are focused on achieving outcomes, not on fund-raising or promotions. Our volunteers are involved because they choose to be. As we continue to evolve we intend to retain this core principle, expecting never to have a CEO or CFO, or to be represented by staff at meetings. We are always eager to share our experience and knowledge with other legitimate agencies in the EM sector. Our 2020 training programs will be supplemented by the deployment experience of current participants, as documented in our debriefing process and After Action Reviews. With this new knowledge we will review and expand our Standard Operating Procedures, training and policy manuals.
The Kangaroo Island fire ground is our sixteenth Activation. Our aim is for continuous improvement. Each event is unique with different primacy issues, and we learn more every time. “Black swan” events and “wicked” problems will always be challenging, but these also present unlimited opportunities for problem-solving and innovation in the “new reality” of natural hazard events.
Dr Rachel Westcott PhD BVMS(Hons) BSc DipAppSc