The Emergencies Act 2004 (ACT) provides for the appointment of an emergency controller, a declared ‘state of alert’ (s 151) and a declared ‘state of emergency’ (s 156).
Appointment of emergency controller – no state of emergency
Pursuant to the Emergencies Act 2004 (ACT) s 150A, the Acting Chief Minister has appointed the Commissioner of the Emergency Services Agency (ESA), Georgeina Whelan as the Territory Emergency Controller. This appointment is made even though there is, as yet, no declared state of emergency.
As the Emergency Controller, Ms Whelan is to
(a) to manage the response to, and the recovery from, the emergency by ensuring that entities dealing with the emergency are appropriately deployed;
(b) to coordinate the disposition of other resources to manage the emergency;
(c) to advise the Minister and the Chief Minister about the emergency;
(d) to advise the community on anything relating to the emergency that the emergency controller considers appropriate; [and]
(e) any other function given to the emergency controller under this Act or another territory law.
In this role she can exercise emergency powers (s 150C) including commandeering private assets and performing all the emergency management functions of the chief officers of the ACT emergency services (Fire and Rescue, Rural Fire Service, SES and ACT Ambulance).
State of Alert
A state of alert has also been declared for the ACT. The declaration by Mick Gentleman MLA, Minister for Police and Emergency Service says:
Pursuant to s 151 of the Emergencies Act 2004 being satisfied an emergency is likely to happen and the Acting Chief Minister has not declared a state of emergency exists in relation to the emergency I DECLARE that a state of alert exists in the whole of the Australian Capital Territory
A state of alert is made in the absence of a declared state of emergency and comes to an end if a state of emergency is declared. As the name suggests, a state of alert is intended to warn the community of risk. It does not give anyone emergency powers or authority. During the period of a state of alert ‘… the Minister must give the community regular situation reports, and other reports, in accordance with the community communication and information plan’ (s 154).
State of Emergency
A state of emergency is declared by the Chief Minister. If a state of emergency is declared (s 159) ‘The Chief Minister must appoint a person to be the emergency controller for a declared state of emergency.’ Unlike other jurisdictions the person who takes on the role of emergency controller is not pre-defined. That is in many jurisdictions the state controller is an office holder, for example the Commissioner of Police. In the ACT the Chief Minister can appoint whoever is the most appropriate person given the nature of the emergency.
An emergency controller appointed under s 150 is taken to be the emergency controller unless another person is appointed to that role (s 159(2) and (3)).
The emergency controller is ‘required to manage the response to, and the recovery from, the emergency by ensuring that entities dealing with the emergency are appropriately deployed’ (s 160). The emergency controller may exercise various emergency powers (s 160A). Interestingly s 167 says:
During an emergency for which an emergency controller is appointed, a person must not deploy Territory resources outside the ACT, in relation to an emergency outside the ACT, without the approval of the emergency controller.
In other words if, for example, a state of emergency were declared the Chief Officer – Rural Fire Service could not deploy ACT resources to assist in NSW without the emergency controller’s approval.