I have been working in emergency management since 1997, although I think my disaster career started much earlier than that. My brother Owen and I used to build lego towns, only for earthquakes or floods, or plane crashes to befall them, and we would have to rebuild them. Ten years as a nurse, saw me deal with people’s personal catastrophes, particularly working in accident and Emergency, neurosurgery and cancer. Working in cancer developed my sensitivities in dealing with death.
I have worked with Red Cross (an amazing organisation) twice, and until 2007, I was the State Recovery Manager in the Department of Human Services in Victoria. When i would describe this role to people, i would say “Have you seen Pulp Fiction” People would usually look strangely at me “You know when they call in Mr Wolff?. Well that’s me, the cleaner. i fix things up. I really cut my teeth on the Bali Bombings, and ended up coordinating recovery support for a range of major and minor disasters, including the Bali Bombings, Drought, Alpine Bushfires in 2003 and 2006 and Grampians Fires in 2006. I also oversaw the first major review of the State Emergency Recovery Plan in 15 years. The team I had there was extraordinary, a combination of the Dirty Dozen, MAverick and One who flew over Cuckoos Nest. Yet there was a no better bunch that I would rather be in the trenches with. We did some amazing things.
Until January 2006, I chaired the Disaster Recovery Sub-committee of the Community Services Ministers Advisory Council which was the peak recovery body for Australia. I was out of the room when the decision was made, dealing with floods.
I was fortunate enough to represent Australia at the United Nations International Recovery Platform meeting in Kobe, Japan, and was part of the Australian Government Forward Assessment Team sent to Washington in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I also attended the Australia 2020 summit in April 2008, the only emergency manager selected as part of the 1000 delegates.
Returning to Red Cross in 2007, I have been reshaping the way we approach household preparedness in this country. Again, i work with an extraordinary group of people, all committed, caring, smart, practical, supportive and a little bit mad. Thomas Pynchon could write the story of our team. Again, no better people to have around you when the custard is boiling over. There is a theme developing here.
In the aftermath of the Black Saturday Bushfires, I was privileged to volunteer to co-facilitate a Bereavement Support Group, which ran for three years after the fires. This privilege also extended to the small community of Strathewen, which was severely affected by the bushfires, where I helped plan their bushfire memorial, which was dedicated in September 2012. In 2010-11, I was part of a writing team that re-wrote the Australian Emergency Management Institute’s Community Recovery Manual. I have also had an article published on disaster memorials. I am an Honorary Fellow of the School of Population Health at University of Melbourne, part of a research team researching the effects of the Black Saturday Bushfires. I was also fortunate enough to participate in the UN’s Third World Disaster Risk Reduction Conference in Sendai, Japan.
My previous lives include being a Registered Nurse, an Environmental Consultant, a Community Transport Coordinator, a Kitchen Hand, and a paper boy. When not pondering the blue skies of emergency management, I can be found on weekends trying to recapture past football glories with a bunch of other 40/50/60 year olds who should know better, reading/cooking/listening to obscure music and generally preventing myself from being outwitted by my two daughters Emily and Amy, and Archie the wonder dog. I am kept sane by my creative and eminently sensible wife, Hanna. Most recently I’ve had to fess up that I haven’t been coping with a perfect storm of events around me, disrupting the supportive structures I have in place. But I’m taking the right steps to manage that. You cannot sustain this work without a supportive home life and supportive circle of friends. I am most fortunate to have both.