Tamworth agencies unite to tackle COVID-19 crisis
An unprecedented pandemic - a phrase commonly used to describe the spread of coronavirus throughout the world. A crisis that Tamworth has not escaped, so who here on a local level is responsible for enforcing the new laws, procedures, dispensing resources and coordinating responses? That responsibility falls to the local Emergency Management Committee which coordinates the various emergency response agencies across the Tamworth region. It includes representatives from Oxley Police District, NSW Fire and Rescue, the Rural Fire Service, NSW Ambulance, NSW Health, Essential Energy and Tamworth Regional Council. Murray Russell, the Local Emergency Management Officer, said for Tamworth and regional NSW, crises that might spring to mind include major crashes, bushfire, or floods. He added the group ensures resources get to where they are needed, and everyone is on the same page. In each emergency, one agency will take the lead. During the horrific bushfire season of 2019 and 2020, the RFS was in charge. However, what happens when it is a pandemic, and have the committee planned for something like COVID-19? "Believe it or not, a pandemic is something that that has been discussed," Mr Russell said. "Not one quite as significant as this but, these sorts of things have happened from time to time in the past, and it is things like SARS and Ebola that have put this type of event on the radar for the Emergency Management Agencies. "And certainly NSW Health - as the lead agency - has had significant planning already in place to manage this." Mr Russell said while they are prepared to handle a crisis, the word "unprecedented" is undoubtedly accurate. "It's certainly not a conventional response in terms of this one because if you imagine an emergency, like a flood, we tend to get an event like a storm that six hours later we know there's going to be a flood that's going to happen," he explained. "And all the various agencies can kind of kick into gear with their plans that they had in place. "Whereas this one's a bit unusual. We don't know how significant it's going to be and we don't know when it's going to build to that level.
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"It is certainly unprecedented in that we've never seen anything like this particular incident, but it is essentially just another emergency, so a lot of the mechanisms for the management are already in place." In most situations, the committee turns into operational mode when a crisis reaches the peak. It would be continuously active, and in some cases, a control centre would be opened. The committee doesn't save meetings for when an emergency is underway. It meets multiple times a year to formulate strategies and actions for potential issues. But right now, due to COVID-19, Tamworth's Emergency Management Committee is semi-operational. "NSW Health is putting in some significant planning in terms of how they might respond if things were to escalate in our region and so, as a result, we're now in regular contact with that group," Mr Russell said. "We've had a number of meetings over the last couple of weeks. "There's a quite significant interaction between the health and the police department because the police are trying to help manage what is happening outside of the hospital in terms of self-isolation breaches." For the Tamworth local government area, it has been more than a week since there was an increase in the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus. And while that's a "positive outcome", Mr Russell said the spread of the virus is something that can escalate rapidly. "The community has embraced those [necessary] actions and have all played their part," he said. "It has certainly seen those numbers stay down, and we'd love to see it continue to keep up that way so that the health facilities can coast right across the winter, over the coming months. "It's going to be a real challenge to some extent where people see those numbers stay low and they start to think that it's all solved. "At the end of the day the virus still exists, and all of the people in Australia still don't have an immunity to it so, if we return to our life, then the spread will start to take hold again."