• In Victoria, the Department of Health & Human Services oversees health emergencies.
  • The Victoria State Emergency Service (SES) responds to natural emergencies caused by floods, storms, tsunamis and earthquakes. Call 132 500.
  • The Country Fire Authority (CFA) responds to fires. Call triple zero (000).
  • Large-scale diseases, including widespread flu, can need an emergency response.
  • If you become aware of a chemical, biological or radiological emergency, call triple zero (000) immediately.
  • Emotional reactions are a normal response to the distress associated with an emergency. During large-scale emergencies, local councils can provide help for emotional issues.
  • Financial help for people affected by an emergency is sometimes available through both the Victorian and Commonwealth governments.

An emergency can strike at any time and without warning. Emergencies include natural disasters (such as floods, bushfires or heatwaves), communicable diseases (such as pandemic influenza) or a chemical, biological and radioactive (CBR) emergency. Emergency Management Victoria coordinates Victoria’s response to these emergencies, which can cause major shortfalls in the power and energy supply and increased pressure on our health system. 

Natural emergencies

A natural disaster is an event beyond human control and includes fires, floods, heatwaves, earthquakes, lightning strikes, storms or tsunamis. When emergencies occur after a natural disaster, people mobilise quickly to help those affected. A range of government agencies, local councils and community groups have emergency response procedures to rescue people, treat those who are injured and control the immediate consequences of the emergency. In Victoria, the Victoria State Emergency Service (SES) responds to emergencies caused by floods, storms, tsunamis and earthquakes. Call 132 500. The Country Fire Authority (CFA) responds to fires in regional areas. Call triple zero (000). 

Communicable diseases

Communicable diseases are spread from one person to another or from an animal to a person. The spread of a communicable disease usually happens via airborne viruses or bacteria (for example, by coughs and sneezes), but disease can also spread through contact with blood or other bodily fluid. Pandemic influenza and large-scale vector-borne diseases, food-related illness and water-borne diseases may need an emergency response. 

Pandemic influenza 

Influenza is commonly known as the flu. An influenza pandemic occurs when a highly infectious, new strain of flu emerges for which humans have little or no immunity. During a pandemic, the virus spreads rapidly around the world, causing high rates of illness and death resulting in severe social and economic disruption.

The Victorian Government has plans in place for responding to pandemic influenza in Victoria.

Vector-borne diseases

Vector-borne diseases occur when vectors (living organisms, such as mosquitoes) transmit infectious diseases between humans or from animals to humans. Vector-borne diseases can be spread by mosquitoes, ticks, flies, sandflies, fleas, triatomine bugs and some freshwater aquatic snails.

Examples of vector-borne diseases include:

  • Ross River virus
  • Barmah Forest virus
  • malaria
  • dengue virus
  • Murray Valley encephalitis
  • Chikungunya virus
  • Japanese encephalitis.

Both Ross River virus, Barmah Forest virus and Murray Valley encephalitis can require an emergency response.

For immediate medical advice, phone NURSE-ON-CALL 24 hours a day on 1300 60 60 24, or visit your local doctor. If the symptoms are severe, visit a hospital emergency department or call for an ambulance via triple zero (000).

Food-related illness and water-borne diseases

The most frequent causes of food or water-borne illnesses are various bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Disease can be spread through:

• raw or undercooked poultry

• raw or undercooked meat

• raw or lightly cooked fish, shellfish or other seafood

• raw milk

• food contaminated by faecal matter

• foods contaminated by infected food handlers

• untreated water

• untreated water contaminated by human faeces.

Examples of food- or water-borne disease include:

• E. coli

• salmonella

• listeria

• hepatitis

• viral gastroenteritis

• giardia.

For immediate medical advice, phone NURSE-ON-CALL 24 hours a day on 1300 60 60 24, or visit your local doctor. If the symptoms are severe, visit a hospital emergency department or call for an ambulance via triple zero (000). 

Chemical, biological and radiological emergencies

The Department of Health & Human Services is involved in responses to chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) emergencies in conjunction with other agencies. The department is prepared to quickly assess the potential health impacts of CBR emergencies so that appropriate action can be taken to protect the health of Victorians.

In an emergency, always call triple zero (000).

Chemical emergencies

A chemical emergency can happen anywhere as the result of a fire, explosion or a chemical spill, or from a road or train accident. Chemical emergencies may also be the result of a terrorist attack.

If you become aware of a chemical emergency, call triple zero (000) immediately.

Biological emergencies

The deliberate release of harmful biological agents such as viruses (for example, anthrax and smallpox), bacteria, fungi and toxins has the potential to cause significant damage to human health, the environment and the Australian economy.

If you become aware of a biological emergency, call triple zero (000) immediately.

Radiological emergencies

Australia does not have a nuclear power industry, so radiation emergency planning in Victoria and Australia deals with a range of low-probability events such as:

• a medical radiation accident

• an accidental radioactive release from a visiting nuclear-powered warship

• widespread contamination occurring from the re-entry of radioactive space debris

• an uncontrolled radioactive source

• the malicious use of radioactive material such as a nuclear weapon.

If you become aware of any radiological emergency, call triple zero (000) immediately. [

Victoria’s emergency system

Emergency management arrangements involve the plans, structures and resources that bring together the activities of government, communities and voluntary and private organisations (for example, the State Emergency Service and Country Fire Authority) in a comprehensive and coordinated way. This is to ensure an integrated emergency response from public hospitals, community health centres and the broader health sector during a disaster or emergency.

Planning for an emergency

The Australian Red Cross recommends a four-step emergency planning process to help you prepare for a disaster or emergency:

Step 1: Get in the know

Understand the risks you face, how your life might be disrupted and who can help - before disaster strikes.

Step 2: Get connected

Connect with your community so you can help each other in an emergency and during the recovery journey afterwards.

Step 3: Get organised

Think through what might happen during and after an emergency and take action to protect the important things in your life.

Step 4: Get packing

Identify and pack things that might help you survive in an emergency and get you back on your feet quickly.

You can download the Red Cross RediPlan to help you prepare for an emergency.

Mental health and social support

Disasters and emergencies can impact a person’s mental and social wellbeing. Impacts may be mild or severe, short-or long-term and will change over time.

For some people, the impact of a disaster or emergency may not be seen until many years after the event. Research shows that between 5-40 per cent of people involved in an emergency are at risk of getting a serious and long-term mental health problem.

Mental health and social support can ease the emotional, spiritual, cultural, psychological and social impacts of an emergency, as individuals and communities try to return to their day-to-day lives. The support offered can include personal support, mental health first aid, emotional and spiritual care, outreach, case support and case management, counselling, mental health services, community information sessions and community engagement.

The Department of Health & Human Services can support local councils to provide mental health and social support to individuals and communities in an emergency.

Accommodation after an emergency

Many people affected by a disaster or emergency make their own accommodation arrangements with family and friends. There are also government and community services available for people who require further support in finding permanent housing.

Under the State emergency relief and recovery plan, local councils are responsible for supporting people affected by an emergency to find temporary housing. This support may include making arrangements for emergency shelter, emergency accommodation and interim accommodation.

If requested by local councils, the Department of Health & Human Services helps find emergency housing for individuals and families. The department will then work with household members to assess their needs and identify the best option for their ongoing housing arrangements.

The department also works with other agencies to support the ongoing recovery of people and communities after an emergency.

Emergency financial assistance

The department administers the Victorian Government’s Personal Hardship Assistance Program. Payments through this program are provided to reduce personal hardship following an emergency, by helping to meet immediate essential health, safety and wellbeing needs.

Further details about the financial assistance program are available on the department’s website.

Details about emergency family assistance will be published during events on the Emergency Relief and Recovery Victoria website. The website also provides factsheets in 20 community languages.

The Commonwealth Government provides one-off payments called a ‘crisis payment’ to help people who are experiencing difficult or extreme circumstances.

These circumstances include being:

• a victim of family violence

• affected by a natural disaster or emergency

• released from prison or psychiatric confinement, or

• in Australia for the first time on a refugee or humanitarian visa.

For more information about the crisis payment, visit the Department of Human Services website

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Last updated: September 2015

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