New conference format drives interaction

By: Ilana Koegelenberg – Assistant Editor

Last year things were done a little bit differently at the SAESI 2015 conference, where each of the sessions were followed by breakaway groups, culminating in a final outcomes ‘game plan’On Thursday and Friday, 5-6 November 2015, the Black Eagle conference venue at Nasrec, Johannesburg sat full of industry delegates who came from all over the country (some even from beyond our borders) to discuss the three pillars identified for building resilient communities. The proceedings were well attended and everyone had their turn to contribute to the conversation.“The traditional way where speakers are presenting after one another with delegates only allowed a few minutes for questions afterwards, is not conducive to achieving any objective,” explained Moshema Mosia, City of Ekurhuleni’s head of Disaster and Emergency Management Services (EMS) and conference speaker. The topical theme around which the conference were structured, was a very relevant issue. “The theme of the conference, ‘Building resilient communities’, constitutes an emerging trend in the industry and is something currently on the dashboard of the industry worldwide.”Risk management
The first pillar the delegate team ‘tackled’ was ‘risk management’. Schalk Lubbe got the conversation started with his presentation, suggesting a National Plan for Risk Management that is supported by all industry role players and partners.

During the breakaway sessions, delegates were divided into two groups – one led by Marius Atterbury, Eskom’s senior fire and emergency risk management advisor, and the other by Peter May, senior advisor of fire risk and emergency management for Eskom Holdings, to discuss the topic at hand. Both groups agreed that a national risk management plan was definitely a good idea and worth working towards. “Informal settlements are here to stay and this risk requires an intervention to mitigate the loss of life,” – just one of the comments from the breakaway session.

The session groups also looked at whose responsibility it would be to make such a plan happen and the conclusion? “We are all responsible for making this work!”

Various other great suggestions came from the sessions as the leaders (Atterbury and May) left no stone unturned in making sure everyone got to have their say (even the ones that were sometimes unwilling). From training on building materials to teach informal settlements how to mitigate the risk of fires, to suggestions of an early alarm system and better spacing between structures – delegates had a lot of ideas.

In the end, the groups agreed that although a National Management Plan should be developed and cascaded down throughout the municipalities, they shouldn’t have to wait for an official plan to get started!

The second pillar was investigated on 5 November, with Paul Motsepe, the West Rand District Municipality’s PIER officer, leading the way with his presentation on the Public Information Education and Relations (PIER) Working Group. He investigated the four pillars of proactive approach for community education individually (Public, Information, Education and Relation). Motsepe also looked at key tasks that have to be undertaken to up education in the industry.

In the education breakaway session, groups had to discuss the current state of education. Both groups agreed that the education initiative is not currently community-driven and led, but driven and led by the respective local authorities, specifically the PIER group. However, there is a need for respectful consultation and inclusivity. Delegates stressed the importance of communities being addressed in ways that respects their beliefs and cultures. There is a problem with delivering what is thought to be needed versus what is actually needed.

It was noted that the PIER programme is not utilised throughout the country and therefor a mandate should be instituted from national government to ensure that the programme remains relevant as the vehicle to assist in the reduction or elimination of the identified risks. Currently there is a lack of sustainability.

Groups suggested that partnerships between all relevant stakeholders are vital for programmes such as PIER to succeed and that inter-departmental communication must be improved and resources distributed better to enhance education throughout.

Security and resilience
On the second day of the conference (Friday, 6 November), a noticeable amount of delegates have ‘disappeared’ but the remaining group took on the final pillar of ‘security and resilience’ with the same amount of vigour as the day before, determined to come up with a viable strategy.

The session was kicked off by Mosia, presenting a talk on ‘International Standardisation in Security and Resilience’. He looked at the role of standards and stressed the importance clarity in standards.

A breakaway session followed to look at who should all be involved in the making of standards and how these can be used to further security and resilience nationally. Both groups agreed that SAESI could be playing a more prominent role (many suggested a leading role) with regards to making EMS standards and a problem was identified with municipalities not doing what SAESI suggests.

Conference outcomes
The following three broad outcomes were identified at the conclusion of the conference on 6 November:

  • There is a definite need for a National Fire Risk Management Plan;
  • PIER is an essential aspect; and
  • SAESI should have an increased presence in standardisation.

“I believe these outcomes are achievable and that SAESI should establish a 2015 conference workgroup to work through the feedback submitted and develop an action list with responsible people and target dates,” suggested May. “Regular feedback should be given to the delegates on progress made as per the action list with consolidated feedback on all the issues raised prior to the 2017 Conference.”

An overwhelming positive response
The new format of breakaway sessions were well-received and participation was at an all-time high. “The breakaway sessions brought about deeper discussions and analysis of the topics to come out with what the conference resolves upon under specific topics,” said Mosia. “This newly-introduced process added value to the delegates who are the experts in the field on all the topics. They became participants on the paper being presented rather than being recipients. They set their own course!”

“The conference topics was relevant and seemed to have found a lasting impression in the minds of the delegates that attended the various topical speakers and breakaway sessions,” agreed May. “The new approach for the conference was well-received and attended, the delegates actively participated in the various breakaway sessions and it offered each delegate the opportunity to have their voice heard. The atmosphere created was conducive for constructive discussion irrespective of rank with specific resolutions flowing from these sessions.”

And the delegates? What did they think? “I saw a well-organised event with a lot of information to absorb,” commented Mandla Kunene, fire officer of Engen for Health, Safety, Environment and Quality.

“I’m of the opinion that this year’s format was very balanced, entertaining and informative,” agreed Angelo Aplon, Station Commander at Overstrand Fire & Rescue. “The presentations were brilliant, and the presenters experts in their fields. This was my first year, and I would like to see a greater representation of all the role players in the industry.”

For a full gallery of conference and other memorable moments visit Fire Online.

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