Hazelwood mine fire: lessons in health crisis management

The inquiry into Victoria’s disastrous Hazelwood mine fire commended and criticised the work of authorities. There’s lessons in crisis management and health administration.

Over the 45 days it burned, the Hazelwood mine fire blanketed neighbouring Morwell with smoke and ash. The effects on the health of nearby residents are likely to be felt for decades to come.

The response to this crisis was led by the Victorian Department of Health, which worked with the state Environmental Protection Agency to monitor air quality and inform Morwell residents of the danger, as well as providing emergency healthcare with support from the Victorian Department of Human Services.

The board of inquiry commended the EPA for its commitment to scientific rigour in handling a vast quantity of complex air quality data in a short period of time. It also noted the resourcefulness of its staff in overcoming equipment difficulties and scrambling to find the gear they needed wherever they could.

The EPA was also praised for the air monitoring it performed at the local Bowling Club starting on February 20 — 11 days after the fire started — and for seeking independent peer reviews of its response to the Hazelwood mine fire. However, the board reports:

FREE membership to The Mandarin

Receive unlimited access, get all the latest public sector news and features, plus The Juice, our daily news update sent direct to your inbox.

The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.