Volume 19 Issue 1, 2004

Legal issues in Emergency Management: Lessons from the last decade

Catherine Dunlop

Archived Article


This paper was delivered at the Safer Sustainable Communities Australian Disaster Conference in September 2003. It addresses the significant changes and understanding about the law that applies to emergency management during the last ten years. A decade ago emergency service organisations (“ESOs”) were rarely sued, rarely questioned and rarely thought to be affected by legislation such as Occupational Health and Safety Acts. Today the situation is infinitely more complicated. On the one hand there is a move to codify and simplify the law of negligence, which will probably reduce the potential liability for ESOs attending emergencies. However, as discussed below, changes in both the law and in community expectations have increased the legal responsibilities, liabilities and the legal scrutiny of ESOs. These changes reflect the themes of the Safer Communities conference. First it can be said that community safety is everybody's business: even the lawyers and the courts. Secondly these changes can be said to affect or even threaten the sustainability of ESOs, particularly those that are reliant on volunteers.