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Threadbo Landslide 1997

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    Thredbo landslide 1997 Introduction The Thredbo landslide shook the small community of Thredbo, both physically in the shaking of the ground during the landslide, and emotionally in the death of 18 skiers. This analysis will give outline of the event that occurred followed by the potential for injury or further disaster.

    The actual rescue efforts will then be discussed followed by potential for change and an analysis of how it was carried out. Proceeding this the efforts by various government agencies will be discussed in terms of their involvement and what they may have done differently. Incident description This incident was beyond the resources of the local community and people were coordinated from all over Australia to give relief.

    These organisations included; NSW Police services, Australian Federal Police, NSW Fire Brigade, ACT Fire Brigade, Victorian Fire and Rescue, Queensland Fire and rescue, Western Australian Fire and rescue, Tasmanian Fire and rescue, NSW Rural fire services, NSW Ambulance service, ACT Ambulance service, NSW State emergency services, Volunteer rescue association, Emergence services ACT, Salvation Army, HMAS Albatross, Mines rescue board NSW, Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority, National Parks and Wildlife and Doctors from all over the country.

    At any one time there were almost 1600 people working on the site at Thredbo. The Thredbo landslide carried with it about 1000 tonnes of earth, rock and trees which slipped rapidly down a steep slope, shearing the Carinya lodge off its foundations and slamming into the Bimadeen lodge. Both multilevel lodges were crushed along with cars in the 400m long landslide. While the landslide was quite small compared to others, having only 1300m of cubic volume, varying from 30 metres to 90 meters in span, it had a devastating effect on the small community of Thredbo.

    Potential presentation of disaster It was twenty four hours before a geotechnican declared the site as safe enough for the top level of rubble to be removed and mixed with the subzero temperatures of the Australian ski fields in ski season give potential to a large array of environment injuries. These are the more common injuries expected to be seen in a natural disaster such as this, however there are other factors involved in the potential treatment of patients such as the ones in this scenario.

    Even after the site was deemed safe by a geotechnician it would be some time before all the necessary resources became available for use. Firstly the site must be stabilised to ensure the rescuers safety from another landslide or other environmental factors such as ensuring their hydration and they are dressed appropriately for the conditions, for example, the Queensland ambulance service was involved in the retrieval of trapped person and they may not be dressed appropriately due to the significantly warmer climate.

    Other potential hazards which may present in a situation such as this one include families of the trapped victims. These family members may be involved in the rescue operations but because of their emotional attachment may be more incline to partake in risk taking strategies to speed rescue efforts, however there may be potential for injury to the greater masses. Actual Presentation of disaster The recovery (the process of returning an effected community to its proper level of functioning after an emergency) of victims in the Thredbo disaster was flawed for many reasons.

    According to Keith Dawe (1999) the local management system in the snowy mountains had no visible management system and there were no guidelines on a regional or state level as to who commands an operation of this magnitude. Unplanned recovery had began immediately after the landslide with minimal safety equipment or procedures put in place and luckily no further injuries came as a result. Reports claim that calls which were received by the fire brigade of NSW immediately implemented a rescue plan through their Major Incident Coordination Centre (MICC).

    The MICC dispatched highly trained rescue staff and technical search and rescue equipment. The emergency operation centre was set up at the Jindabyne information centre with was 20 km away. This emergency was managed by NSW Police and several different action plans were put into place. For safety reasons the operational commander stated that the rescue efforts could not begin till sunrise at 6 am, over 6 hours from the occurrence of the landslide.

    The medical staff at the Canberra hospital was notified of this emergency at 12:30am on the 31stof July 2007, roughly an hour after the occurrence of the landslide. After this initial contact by the south eastern NSW emergency services it took an additional 3 and a half hours for a emergency medical team to be dispatched from the Canberra hospital, however it is apparent that it wasn’t the fault of the hospital for the staff leaving so soon after, on the ground at Thredbo the decision had been made that search and rescue efforts would not commence till 6am.

    The only survivor of the Thredbo landslide was a man named Sturt Diver. He was discovered by NSW fire brigade at 5. 50am on the 2nd or July, over 50 hours after the initial landslide. He was entombed beneath 3 slabs of concrete and superhumanly unharmed other than having hypothermia. After stopping to plan the rescue the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team decided to use two lines of attack to rescue to sole survivor. One of the drilling teams would come from the east slowly drilling through the debriss while the other would start to drill from beneath the trapped survivor.

    During this rescue a paramedic would enter a tunnel to get as close as possible to monitor sturts’ condition for 5 minutes then return to the surface and allow another paramedic to enter to ensure that no one else became trapped or injured due to environmental conditions. The emergency management of the Thredbo landslides had some potentially fatal flaws, however given the circumstances they were unavoidable. Flaws identified were the response time by state wide emergency services crews, a lack of disaster management planning and resources.

    The response time, while unavoidable due to travel times, significantly decreased any chances of survival. Not only was it the response time of the emergency services workers but also the time it took to get a geotechnician on site to assess the safety of the ground being dug into. Unfortunately this could also not be avoided as the geotechnician had to wait till sunrise to assess the land accurately and thoroughly to ensure that there was no change of a further land slide.

    The lack of an emergency management in the local area was a hindrance in this situation as it wasted valuable time determining what channels to proceed through and designating a chain of command. There are also positives which should be mentioned in regards to the way the search and rescue efforts were carried out. The above points can also be seen in a positive light. The initial assessment by emergency services worked aimed to preserve the lives to those involved in the rescue operation by ensuring that the scene was safe for the emergency services workers to enter.

    This decreased the risk of anyone unnecessarily being injured to potentially being killed. While there was no local disaster plan in action the state and federal teirs of government acted effectively and efficiently to control the scene by allocating the resources necessary and designating a chain of command. The quick response time by national emergency services was commendable with fire services coming from as far as Western Australia to give aid. While there were not many publications released about the involvement of the Ambulance Service of New South Wales, the coroner’s report outlines their involvement.

    The Goulbourn ambulance station was alerted to the situation immediately after a triple zero call was made to the police. The senior constable on route gave information to ambulance officers about the situation with initial reports claiming there may be up to 100 people trapped. The Ambulance officers then attempted to search the surface debris in hope that someone may only be trapped just under the surface, unfortunately it was too dangerous to attempt to move too far into the wreckage so the ambulance officers abandoned their initial search.

    Although this was a mass casualty emergency it was impossible for the ambulance workers to reach the casualties without assistance from other emergency services and despite their efforts in vain to preserve lives they were unsuccessful in the early stages of the event. The findings in the coroner’s report confirm that the ambulance service, while their actions were commendable, were unable to do anything in the short term to preserve life. However the work carried out by the ambulance service, whilst at great risk to them once entering the rubble to support the sole survivor was outstanding.

    Due to the circumstances surrounding this disaster it is difficult to comment on improvements to be made by the ambulance service as it is not in their scope of practice to remove rubble from a disaster site. During the rescue operation i would recommend ambulance officers are on site to support other rescuers that may receive injuries or survivors found. While widely unknown the Urban Search and Rescue team was developed in 1995 in the need for a multi-agency response team in the event of a major disaster.

    It is currently defined as ‘a specialist technical rescue capability for the location and rescue of entrapped people following a structural collapse’. Although it involves police fire and ambulance service workers, it is an entity within itself therefore the efforts of these workers in the Thredbo landslide are relevant to further assessment. The concept of Urban Search and rescue and collaboration of resources was still a fairly new idea when the Thredbo landslide occurred, however from reports observed the USAR provided critical resources and technologies to aid in finding the sole survivor or this natural disaster.

    From the information gathered which was quite difficult to find, it can be determined that the USAR were promptly on the scene before rescue efforts commence at daybreak. The USAR provided essential resources to allow for rescue staff to undergo an adequate search effort in the conditions and timeframe provided, however they were still unsuccessful in finding the majority of patients in time to preserve life. Much like the Ambulance Service of New South Wales there are no recommendations that can be made for this to have been more effective under the given circumstances.

    New South Wales Fire Brigade Response The fire Brigades involvement, much like most organisations, was not largely publicised which made it difficult to establish a timeline or order of events. From a collaboration of other articles the Fire brigade of New South Wales aided in providing search and rescue staff and supporting loose debris and ensuring structural integrity. The local Fire Brigade coming from Jindabyne set up a base of operation and closed roads while evacuating the surrounding cabins.

    In a motion forwarded by Mr Bob Carr to the senate, the members of the New South Wales Fire Brigade were commended for their efforts in controlling the scene. Conclusion The conclusion that can be drawn from this disaster is the need for planning and a designation of inter-agency roles. However why this was a national tragedy it can be seen as an outstanding effort by the nations emergency service workers, while there was not set guidelines for management the vast majority pooled their resources for the greater good.

    Ultimately this disaster was preventable; however it is not as a result of fore planning by the emergency services agencies within Australia. The disaster management of the inter-agency collaboration was effective in the preservation and safety of emergency services workers and the services conducted the rescue in a professional manner to the best of their ability with the resources and technology they had at hand. This is a good example of an emergency management situation, despite the unavoidable lives lost at the time. References

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    Threadbo Landslide 1997. (2018, Jan 25). Retrieved from

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