Celebrating Australasian Women in Emergencies Day

Left: Lee Manning, Veterinary Officer and SES Volunteer. Right: Lana Russell, Manager Preparedness, Surveillance and Response

Today, on Australasian Women in Emergencies Day, we're honouring the valuable contribution of women in emergency management and disaster resilience.  

Across Agriculture Victoria, women perform integral roles in our emergency preparedness and management work year-round, but a day like this offers an opportunity to step back and acknowledge their incredible contributions.

Women bring unique skills and experience to their roles, helping build a stronger and more resilient sector and communities.

This Australasian Women in Emergencies Day we're spotlighting the work of Agriculture Victoria’s Lee Manning and Lana Russell in helping communities to prepare, respond and recover from emergencies.

Lee Manning, Veterinary Officer and SES Volunteer

Agriculture Victoria's Lee Manning understands the importance of emergency preparedness and volunteer-led work in regional communities.

After beginning her career as a private veterinarian in a large animal practice, Lee made the move to Agriculture Victoria 15 years ago and started working in animal welfare during bushfires.

Today, she wears many hats as a veterinary officer, regional agency commander, SES volunteer, president of the Benalla Hockey Club, and mum.

As a Veterinary Officer, Lee has led local workshops to help horse owners develop their fire plan before bushfire season.

“Horse owners are a high-risk community during emergencies due to their close attachment to their animals,” she said.

“They need to prepare early, and we have an important role in giving people the knowledge to plan and make their own decisions. It's a bit late when they've got smoke on the hill."

Through her work with the SES and Agriculture Victoria over the last decade and a half, Lee has developed a deep understanding of partner agency structures and built strong connections with her colleagues, which she said has been vital to a successful emergency response.

“When you're working in rural communities you get to know people and other leaders in emergency services, you build trust and relationships and then when you encounter them when you're wearing different hats things just work really well,” she said.

"It's the can-do attitude of everybody working together, the team bond you get when working with people in that environment."

"In natural disasters like fires, when there's a problem, everyone bands together and works out a left-field solution, you get an amazing sense of achievement."

Lee said Australia has a strong culture of volunteering, but we need to support our volunteers and encourage people to get out and help out.

She said the opportunities to help the community and work with good people were a big part of why she continues volunteering her time and skills.

"It re-energises me. This is actually my ‘me time’, helping the community; I just happen to do it in my paid job as well."

"There are plenty of leadership opportunities, particularly in incident management. There's something for everyone if you're interested."

Lana Russell, Manager Preparedness, Surveillance and Response

Two weeks after Lana Russell began work with Agriculture Victoria in 2008, she found herself deployed to her first emergency response. It was for Mexican feather grass, a State Prohibited Weed that had been inadvertently sold by a number of retail chain stores throughout Victoria.

She’d not long graduated from university with a degree in botany and horticulture. Fourteen years later, with many more emergency responses behind her, Lana now works full time as Manager Preparedness, Surveillance and Response reporting to Victoria’s Chief Plant Health Officer (CPHO) – and is regularly deployed to lead emergency responses.

She says Agriculture Victoria has equal if not greater representation of women in emergency response roles, with many women working in senior leadership roles, including CPHO Rosa Crnov.

A passionate advocate for the increased participation of women, she believes remote participation is no hindrance to working on an emergency response.

“With increased flexibility so that people can still meet family and caring responsibilities, there are roles that can be done remotely and don’t need to be done full time. You can still make a really valuable contribution to an emergency response.”

In her ’day job’ she has significant involvement in emergency preparedness in training and mentoring staff and developing systems and processes and providing technical advice to the CPHO for responses or national preparedness activities.

“Victoria is a real leader in plant biosecurity preparedness, driving a lot of improvements and policy direction. And one of the major challenges is increasing an awareness of plant biosecurity in metropolitan areas.”

Her most recent emergency deployment was as State Controller Biosecurity for Agriculture Victoria’s Varroa mite response, following its detection in NSW.

Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) is a serious, exotic parasite of adult European honeybees and their brood, and if it had been detected in Victoria weeks out from almond pollination it would’ve jeopardised this year’s almond crop.

“Five weeks out from almond pollination, when Varroa mite hadn’t been detected in Victoria, we needed to undertake significant planning to determine how pollination could proceed in a safe manner and prevent Varroa mite being brought into the state with beekeepers bringing their hives to almonds.”

An Incident Management Team was set up with a remote State Biosecurity Coordination Centre, and a Local Control Centre established at Irymple, incorporating the deployment of 345 staff from the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions and other emergency response agencies over the 102 days of the response. The response completed strategic planning, risk assessments, communication with industry and recreational beekeepers, issued and undertook compliance verification of permits and monitored hives coming into the region for almond pollination.

“The really positive outcome is that almond pollination proceeded and we’re confident that we don’t have Varroa mite in our state. This comes from all the surveillance activities we’ve undertaken in the past three months.

“And we’ve really boosted the awareness of plant biosecurity in the wider community by using the Vic Emergency App for the first time to notify the public of movement restrictions we had in place for beehives.

“Emergency responses can be a challenging space to work in, but that’s what I love about it. I love to be challenged and to solve problems.”

For more information visit Australasian Women in Emergencies Network.