Melbourne Water commends women in emergencies

Women bring unique skills and strengths to emergency management. This is evident at Melbourne Water where a diverse range of roles support the community in challenging times including flooding, storm events, bushfires and water supply or sewerage issues.

Women bring unique skills and strengths to emergency management. This is evident at Melbourne Water, where a diverse range of roles support the community in challenging times, including flooding, storm events, bushfires and water supply or sewerage issues.

To mark Australasian Women in Emergencies Day, we thank all our female employees who carry out integral work before, during or after an emergency. We celebrate their expertise, experience, decision making and insight.

Here are just two inspiring stories…

Apanie Wood, Lower Yarra Area Manager, Waterways and Catchment Operations 

What do Australasian Women in Emergencies Day mean to you? 

It’s great to see women being recognised as playing an essential role in emergency management. As an industry that men have traditionally dominated, I believe women bring unique perspectives, skills and experiences to emergency management. It creates a more effective and impactful emergency management industry.

What does your role involve?

I am a Waterways and Catchments Area Manager. My team is responsible for responding to large and small pollution events that enter the rivers and creeks throughout greater Melbourne. As an Agency Commander, I manage all Melbourne Water personnel, equipment and resources to support large pollution events’ response and recovery stages, often alongside other emergency services such as Fire Rescue Victoria and EPA Victoria.

What skills are needed?  

There are a bunch of general skills which are fundamental to being an effective emergency management leader;

  • Remaining calm and level-headed in stressful environments is very important and can sometimes be tough to achieve!
  • Being able to communicate clearly to a broad range of people; community groups, agency staff, Councillors and residents.
  • Strong leadership and management. I need to organise resources and people to respond as a team effectively.

A solid technical understanding of Melbourne Water drainage and waterways assets and infrastructure is essential in my role, along with understanding our internal structures and processes to get things done at short notice. In-depth knowledge of waterways’ ecological, social, and cultural values is also extremely helpful!

What attracted you to working in this field?

I have a technical background in waterways and wetland science and management. It brought me to the waterways and catchments team at Melbourne Water in 2016. Working for years in urban waterways provided me with many opportunities to be involved in waterways pollution response activities, often within interagency settings. I enjoyed the high-pressure environment. It pushed me to make quick decisions in an environment of high consequence. Working with my team ensures we support one another within a stressful setting to protect waterways from harm is very satisfying.

Can you give an example of an emergency you have been involved in?

I was the Agency Controller for a pollution spill on Cherry Creek a few years ago. I worked with my team to coordinate the operational field response. The team created earth bunds within the waterway to contain the pollution and then used vacuum trucks to remove most of the contaminated water from the creek. I learned a lot about communication and the importance of establishing and maintaining clear command lines. There were so many things going on all at once. Until the communication channels were established, I felt like I was drowning in information and unable to think and make decisions effectively.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

It can be daunting to step into emergency management teams. As a new team member, there is a lot at stake, and everyone else knows exactly what they are doing. It’s essential in this situation not to listen to the little voice in your head telling you that you are an imposter and don’t belong. It would help if you remembered that everyone is new to this at some point. You’ve been invited into the Incident Management Team for a reason, so focus on applying your skills and strengths to the role, and you will be amazed by what you can do.

Ellie Pobjoy, Communications and Engagement Lead, Customer & Strategy 

What do Australasian Women in Emergencies Day mean to you?

It’s an opportunity to recognise and celebrate women in leadership roles for incident and emergency management and disaster resilience. Having previously worked in highly male-dominated organisations as a first responder and in engineering organisations, it is a privilege to be recognised as a woman employed in a role that can continue to support emergency and incident response. This celebratory day helps to recognise and value the unique approach we, as women, can offer to emergency and incident response.

What does your role involve?

I am the Communications and Engagement Lead at Melbourne Water, where I provide engagement and communications support for developing Melbourne Water strategies, plans and new initiatives. As part of this role, I work closely in Melbourne Water’s Emergency Management Framework to support emergency and incident response. This includes being part of an incident team and delivering communications, liaison with key stakeholders and coordinating additional supporting communications roles, including government relations, media and on-ground communications and engagement advisors.

Having the ability to respond quickly in emergencies involves ongoing preparation. This includes training Communications and Engagement staff, developing templates and communication toolkits and maintaining an on-call roster for incidents outside business hours.

There is also work to do after an incident. Debriefing and reviewing our processes is a vital component of ongoing development. It helps us apply lessons learned to guide further preparation and preparedness for future emergencies.

What skills are needed?

Working in a dynamic and fast-paced environment during incident response can be a challenging and stressful experience. Interpersonal skills, including a calm demeanour, patience and confidence in decision-making, are crucial to leading communications support during an incident.

Can you outline an emergency you have been involved with?

I have worked as both a first responder in emergencies and additionally supporting Melbourne Water’s Emergency Management Framework over the past few years. One of my biggest learnings is the importance of communication skills, leadership, and empathy.

Practical communication skills can help de-escalate situations and build rapport with customers and the community. It also helps to establish good working relationships for future emergency response. This helps the incident responding team as you move into a recovery phase. Additionally, reacting calmly allows you to think through risk-based consequences methodically. This is critical when responding to an emergency using a considered decision-making process.

I enjoy helping and supporting the community and individuals in emergencies. Considering innovative ways and responding in a fast-paced environment, engaging with people and ensuring we have a diverse, representative view of a community is extremely rewarding.

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