The NSW Bushfire Clean-up Program, jointly funded by the Federal and State governments, was an important step in enabling property owners to rebuild following the devastating fire season of 2019/20. WSP was engaged as a subcontractor to Laing O’Rourke, for NSW Public Works Advisory (PWA).
The Bushfire Clean Up Program was unlike any challenge ever encountered before by the NSW Government. Working in partnership with Laing O’Rourke, the NSW Government and local authorities and partners, in 200 short days we were able to:
- Clear more than 3,500 properties across NSW of bushfire debris, including hazardous material such as asbestos
- Review 5,900 registrations from property owners for assistance
- Meet and complete in-person property assessments with more than 4000 property owners.
From the outset, we set ourselves the benchmark of providing a service that was personal and compassionate. Our decision-making was driven by what was best for the community and we achieved this by embedding our team within the local community, using their local networks and learning what was important to their recovery.
Our role included:
- Preparing an over-arching communications and engagement strategy that ensured consistent messaging and service across the state.
- Establishing and managing an in-house 24/7 call centre. The team received more than 4000 phone calls and sent more than 30,000 emails over the life of the program.
- Establishing a consistent contact for every resident. Having a regular, single point-of-contact offered residents a feeling of security and continuity during a period of uncertainty.
- Walking through affected sites with property owners to determine the scope of works required in the clean-up and providing them with tailored support to make tough decisions such as what to keep, and what to have removed.
- Working alongside the Laing O’Rourke construction supervisors, project managers and contractors to schedule clean-ups and provide comprehensive briefings on each site and any sensitivities on the property.
- Supporting property owners throughout the clean-up process, including being present onsite throughout the works to provide them with support where required.
- Facilitating property owner sign-off to confirm agreed works had been completed.
- Working with third-party service providers and local and state-government agencies to contact bushfire-affected residents who may not have registered for the Clean-Up Program. This task was imperative to ensuring that no one missed out on receiving assistance.
- Assisting with the response to media enquiries and requests for information from government stakeholders such as local Members of Parliament and other government agencies at the Federal, State and Local level.
- Development and implementation of a complaints handling process which ensured affected residents had multiple escalation points.
- Undertaking thorough handovers with local Councils at the end of the project so that local recovery staff were aware of any ongoing issues within the community, and of any vulnerable residents who had not yet come forward for assistance.
In recognition of the efficient and sensitive work undertaken, the Bushfire Clean Up Program was awarded the 2020 Premier’s Award for Recovery and Resilience.
Adapting to the emergence of COVID-19
A month after commencing the Bushfire Clean-Up Program, the emergence of COVID-19 restrictions was seen across NSW. While the program was considered an essential service and allowed to continue, our team worked quickly to ensure the safety of affected residents, local communities and our colleagues.
- Relocating staff to regional areas for the remainder of the project to reduce the spread from metropolitan locations
- Reducing the number of staff in vehicles at any one time
- Undertaking property inspections using Facetime, WhatsApp and photos to minimise contact with team members
- Undertaking pre-inspection phone calls to enquire as to the health of residents before visiting their properties and reminding them of precautions such as no handshaking and standing 1.5m apart
- Offering residents a new pen and hand sanitiser every time paperwork required signing
- Adjusting the format of meetings to be in line with evolving health advice
- Hosting and attending community meetings and drop-in sessions virtually using Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
By implementing these precautions which were appropriate at the time, our team was able to continue offering tailored support and aid in recovery across NSW.