Resilience Community of Practice – Bushfire Preparedness and Lessons Learnt

Preparing networks for extreme weather to keep customers and communities safe

After three years of La Niña rains suppressed bushfire activity, this spring and summer may be the most active fire season in four years. What does it mean to prepare well, and what have we learnt from previous bushfire responses?

In the November Resilience Community of Practice, we heard from Paul Erwin, Head of Customer Service at SA Power Networks regarding the work SA Power Networks (SAPN) is doing to prepare for the season ahead, including working with critical partners like the SA Country Fire Service.

The impacts of extreme weather on communities + energy networks

When it comes to extreme weather, energy network providers need to prepare for a range of scenarios to ensure customers and communities stay safe and connected to power.

Paul explains that there are various scenarios that need to be considered, especially when the hotter months are among us. Some of these extreme weather events include:

  • Extended heatwaves with hot nights result in high levels of energy demand and equipment gets little chance to cool
  • Bushfires that can cause significant damage and outages
  • Lightning strikes impact infrastructure and cause outages
  • High winds can bring down trees and tree limbs or propel airborne debris and cause significant damage.

These impacts are common challenges faced by all energy providers. Paul goes on the explain that,

“[Networks] can be damaged by a fire, it can be damaged by smoke from a fire that can trip it off and it’s vulnerable during storms to the impact of things like trees or wind blowing debris and other impacts like lightning strikes during a storm.

So, for those of you that are network providers, this is nothing unusual to you, but it’s something that’s important that you can relate in your communications to customers about why they’re experiencing a number of outages that they may experience throughout their lifetime connected to the network.”

Preparing for extreme weather conditions, including bushfire season, is critical to ensure customers, communities and equipment all stay safe.

Proactive measures and planning for extreme weather

At SAPN, Paul explains the sophisticated approach they take to minimising risks to customers and equipment, as well as the steps in preparing for the impacts of extreme weather events including bushfires and storms.

“We have what we believe is a sophisticated approach to minimising those risks to the best that we possibly can. Understanding we’re still going to bear some of those problems; we prepare for summer and extreme weather events well and truly in advance.”

SAPN use various tools and methods, such as daily monitoring of weather, twice-weekly briefings with meteorologists, and specific response levels (Fire Danger Level, Emergency Response Level and Minimum State Demand) to manage and mitigate potential risks.

The ‘weather and network impacts monitoring workflow’ below illustrates the extensive planning, communication and response in the case of an extreme event.

Bushfire seasonal preparations

When it comes to having an electricity network that’s primarily above ground, careful consideration is essential to minimise risks of the equipment starting fires.

Paul explains that when the bushfire season does start, asset inspectors continually assess the asset and look at whether there needs to be greater attention brought to certain areas. This includes the use of drones, helicopters and ground patrols.

We also heard the additional extensive bushfire seasonal preparation that SAPN completes ahead of the season, including:

  • Rectifying any identified bushfire and supply risk defects and ensuring key network projects completed prior to summer
  • Tree trimming
  • Training operational personnel/emergency management exercises
  • Ensuring emergency spare parts in stock
  • Preparing call centre and social media messaging
  • Writing to Life Support Customers, MP’s.

Emergency disconnections during bushfire season

When conditions are deteriorating and not looking to improve, in severe cases, emergency disconnections may be required. Paul explained the degree to which SAPN go to on a fire danger day in getting ready to proactively conduct an emergency disconnection to keep communities safe.

This response follows a Disconnection Procedure Flowchart (pictured below), where Paul explained the steps that are followed, including:

  • Continually assessing and monitoring reports, network activity, damage reports, weather reports and more
  • If a situation is verified to the appropriate Fire Danger Level which requires disconnection, a specialist group is formed called the Disconnection Order Group
  • The Disconnection Order group has various different components across the business, all the way from where Paul sits, in the customer and community space, through to network field services, logistics and more
  • They report directly to an Operations Director where they will make a recommendation after discussing with the CFS whether to disconnect and then seek authorised approval. This approval must come from SAPN’s CEO.

Keeping the community informed at every stage

SAPN engages in proactive communication with customers when forecasts indicate significant Emergency Response Level or Fire Danger Level conditions. This includes reaching out to Life Support Customers, MPs, nursing homes and other major customers, to inform them of preparations for extreme weather events.

Paul went on to explain that social media is a critical platform to spread messages during events, especially since the statewide blackout South Australia experienced in 2016. During this event, they saw an increase in Facebook followers who helped share posts and pictures. Social media continues to remain engaging with their community since.

They also utilise SMS as Paul explains “We’ve got automated systems that just immediately send out SMS messages to customers soon as we know a part of the network is off, either that we can see it remotely or that customers call us about it.”

This two-way communication with their customers is essential to see a full picture of what’s happening on the ground and let their customers that they are listening and acting to ensure they remain safe.

In major events, SAPN deliver targeted, bespoke messaging to localised groups of customers regarding restoration times.

During bushfires, communications can be quite different to usual. Paul states that, “we sort of broke that up where we twice a day we’ll go out to customers in the middle of the day at the end of the day to say this is how far we’ve got with our reconnections and your area is coming up next in the following day and again that that gathers kudos from customers.”

Paul highlights the importance of communicating to customers and communities, stating that “We do as much as we can to make sure that we are preparing and informing the community [about] what we’re doing to prepare … and advising them on what they need to do when there is a bushfire.”

Session resources 

About the speaker

Head of Customer Service at SA Power Networks, Paul Erwin has three decades of experience in the energy sector and wealth of knowledge on driving better customer outcomes in the energy sector.

He’s a seasoned member of SAPNs emergency response team, having been involved in numerous incident responses, including for bushfires, floods events and severe storms. Paul is passionate about better protections for customers in vulnerable circumstances and ensuring businesses put their efforts toward the actions that matter most to customers.

In his time at SAPN, Paul has managed teams across customer, community and retailer relations. He also has an M.B.A and Graduate Certificate in Business Administration from the University of South Australia, and is Graduate of the University of Adelaide’s Professional Management program.

About this event

This event is part of the Energy Charter’s Resilience Community of Practice dedicated to helping customers and communities better prepare, respond and recover from disaster events.

Every second month, the Energy Charter host a Community of Practice, including expert-led discussions building on the topics covered in the Energy Charter’s Disaster Response Playbook. Learn more about the Resilience Community of Practice.

November 2023 News Update

In the November 2023 News Update, CEO Council Chair, Guy Chalkley shares share strategic highlights from the annual Energy Charter Disclosures as well as future priorities for collaboration for customers and communities for the year ahead. 

We also provide an update to the #BetterTogether Evaluating Transmission Undergrounding initiative with the survey now live to help understand community perspectives on decision-making about new transmission lines. 

You can also register for the CEO Forum in December: Charting a Better Energy Future as well as find a list of all other upcoming events.

Resilience Community of Practice – Preparedness, Disruptions and Impact

Community of Practice – Resilience

Compelling narratives to showcase the power of resilience in action

In September, the Resilience Community of Practice explored how forward-thinking organisations:

  • Proactively prepare for disruptive events
  • The challenges of around real disruptions and how they can be overcome
  • The critical role that resilience and preparedness play in mitigating customer impacts.

Speaker Fiona Dunk, Group Manager, Business Resilience for Signatory Jemena unravelled the compelling narratives to showcase the power of resilience in action.

As a starting point, Fiona pointed to the preparedness as the foundation of proactive Resilience noting that,

“In the face of uncertainty, preparedness is the compass that guides us through the storm.”

She highlighted that preparing well is the ability to recognise precedence, have strong situational awareness and foresight,

“We can’t rely on the playbook from last year – we need to prepare for this year.”

Preparedness is also about never loosing site of the opportunity to capture and implement lessons learnt. Every disruptive event offers an opportunity to learn and improve.

Resilience blog Oct 2023 - Learn from experience

Regardless of the type of disruption, Fiona encourages a focus on community-centred resilience to achieve better outcomes for those impacted.

In simple terms, this means:

  • Providing empathetic and proactive customer service during disruptions to maintain trust
  • Rallying communities to support each other to minimise hardship during disruptions
  • Prioritise the needs of vulnerable customers during disruptions through outreach and assistance.

Part of this respecting and empowering your connections,

“Communities have vast resources and capacity to empower their people and respond to emergencies when you enable collective action. Provide the space and respect local partners.”

Key takeaways

  • Preparedness is the foundation
  • Disruptions are inevitable
  • Community-centric focus matters
  • Learn lessons for the future
  • We are always, #BetterTogether.

Participant reflections

Following the presentation participants reflected on the below question and encouraged others to do the same with colleagues:

  • Where are you getting your foresight for this year’s risks and what are you putting in place to share and prepare?
  • Supporting responder mental health through disaster is essential, how are you preparing to manage fatigue in teams, especially considering cumulative and compounding events are becoming more frequent?
  • Coming into a potentially very difficult year weather-wise, how are you working with your Board and Leadership to drive Resilience outcomes now. What do you have in place to track customer and community outcomes?
  • What do your simulations/preparedness events look like and how can you bring in other parties to ensure preparedness at a collaborative level?
  • In the context of resilience, what do you do in practice to create psychologically safe spaces for teams and communities?
  • How do you hear from communities on what they need from you? How are you brining these voices into your decision making now and in-disaster? 

Session resources 

About our speaker

Fiona Dunk has more than 30 years of experience in Crisis & Emergency Management, Security and Resilience most recently as the Group Manager, Business Resilience for Jemena.

Fiona holds a Masters Degree in Business Technology from the University of New South Wales and has held roles in the Royal Australian Navy, Marine Safety Management, Port Emergency & Security Management, Crisis/Emergency management Consultancy and Project Management. 

About this event

This event is part of the Energy Charter’s Resilience Community of Practice dedicated to helping customers and communities better prepare, respond and recover from disaster events. 

Every second month, the Energy Charter host a Community of Practice, including expert-led discussions building on the topics covered in the Energy Charter’s Disaster Response Playbook:

  1. Communication and Education – where do communities get information, how is it delivered and who needs to know? This includes sharing learnings on successful communication and education campaigns as an essential aspect of disaster preparedness, response and recovery.
  2. Coordination and Collaboration – what are the opportunities to better work together across the energy sector and within the broader eco-system? This includes better practice case studies on successful collaboration.
  3. Planning and Preparedness – what is our role in building community and individual capacity to plan and prepare for a disaster? This includes opportunities to build resilience ownership and literacy within communities, so they can better respond in a disaster.
  4. Learning loops – It’s essential to share back to enable continuous improvement. This includes sharing insights from recent disaster events and building a resilience learning library.
Learn more on the dedicated Resilience Community of Practice page here.

Register for the Energy Charter CEO Forum – Charting a Better Energy Future!

Join our panel of Energy Charter CEOs from across the nation on 6 December 2023 for our CEO Forum: Charting a Better Energy Future, hosted by Cath Smith, Chair of the End-User Consultative Group for the release of the Energy Charter Annual Disclosure 2023.

About the CEO Forum

Together we will review and reflect on the collective achievements for customers and communities through the #BetterTogether initiatives in response to our priority areas: cost-of-living crisis and energy transition.

We’ll also dive into the critical role of authentic accountability and transparency in enabling continuous improvement, as well as focus on the future opportunities to continue building towards creating a better energy future for all Australians.

We look forward to your engagement and participation in this CEO Forum to help shape better outcomes for customers and communities today, and into the future, as we transition to a more sustainable, reliable and affordable energy future.

Introducing the host + panellists

Community of Practice – Stories from the frontline of the cost-of-living crunch

Stories from the frontline of the cost-of-living crunch

In our October Know Your Customers + Communities – Community of Practice, we heard firsthand from financial counsellors across Australia about how customers are managing the cost-of-living crisis specifically their energy and water bills.

Firsthand insights into the cost-of-living crisis with Financial Counselling Australia (FCA)

Leading the discussion was Fiona Guthrie, the CEO of Financial Counselling Australia (FCA), the national voice for the financial counselling profession in Australia.

To gain insights into cost-of-living crisis across the country, the panelists included:

  • From NSW: Vanessa Emergy, Financial Counsellor and Team Leader at Wesley Mission NSW, who represents FCA on the Australian Energy Regulator Consumer Consultative Group
  • From QLD: Rose McGrath, Financial Counsellor at YFS QLD
  • From Tasmania: Danielle Slade, Financial Counsellor at Anglicare TAS and President of the Financial Counsellors Association Tasmania
  • From Victoria: Andrea Osborne, Financial Counsellor at Uniting VIC as well as participates in the Utilities Working Group for FCA.

What does a Financial Counsellor do?

Financial counselling is a free service run by not-for-profits, offering information, options and support in regard to debts. 

One of the key benefits of a financial counsellor is they can provide information on benefits, concessions and entitlements including “concessions regarding energy, which is particularly important these days because a lot of people don’t know what they’re entitled to.”

A lot of financial counsellors are also trained in counselling and can offer emotional support.

“We provide information so customers can make informed choices and decisions and have ownership of their own situation. We don’t want to be telling them what they have to do, we want to give them the information so they can make decisions for themselves. It’s really important that they have control of their situation.”

To learn more, watch the short video where Andrea Osborne explains the wide range of services a financial counsellor can provide.

What are customers experiencing when it comes to energy and water costs?

Taking the time to listen to what financial counsellors are learning from their casework can offer valuable insight into the financial challenges people are facing. Below, the panel explores what they’re seeing firsthand when it comes to why customers are not able to pay their energy and water bills.

The gap between energy and other life essentials

Danielle Slade, who works for the National Debt Helpline 5 days a week, explains that “the biggest thing we’ve seen is extraordinarily large debts,” where in some cases, people can barely cover their current usage let alone also contribute towards old energy bills.

Danielle continued on to provide insight into the essentials that help create a comfortable life, including:

  1. Rent or housing
  2. Food
  3. Transport
  4. Medications
  5. Telecommunications
  6. Power

“I say power last because [in the eyes of the customer], that’s the only bill this fortnight that I can skip if I just don’t have enough money. If I don’t pay my rent, I get evicted. I have to eat. I can’t walk my children to school if it takes us 2 hours to get there. I can’t not take medication. So, the only thing that’s left that I can skip this fortnight is power. So, a lot of people leave it to that 3 month bill and then we get a debt that’s just so unmanageable.”

The link to housing and water costs

There has also been recent casework where customers are struggling to pay their water bills.

Rose McGrath explained, “For renters, they pay the landlords directly. They don’t have a direct billing relationship with the water company or with the council. So, water arrears are very much tied up with rent arrears and because rents have increased so much, people are really struggling to pay their water and rent. As a result, partly, they are being evicted for non-payment of their water.”

Rose goes on to explain that in some cases, there is such high demand for rental subsidies and rental arrears, it takes up to 2 months for people to receive them where they can be evicted within that time.

“With water, there are no hardship provisions like there is in energy. There is no hardship framework and there’s no concessions for renters.”

What can the energy sector do to help with the cost-of-living crunch?

When it comes to supporting customers with their energy and water bills, the panel provided insight into what’s currently working and what could be improved to help customers regain control of their financial situation.

  • Continue educating customers on ways to reduce their power bills, where Andrea mentions that once customers are given this information, “12-24 months down the track, we had observed their energy bills and they dropped hundreds [of dollars]. Just a bit of information and they were able to change their ways and reduce their bills.”
  • Continue energy audits for vulnerable customers as well as further to current government initiatives, there could be potential to replace faulty appliances causing higher energy bills.
  • More reference to the National Debt Helpline to ensure customers know where to go for financial help (for example, as shown in the Keep the money. It’s yours. National concessions campaign).
  • Matched payments, where possible, as Danielle explained that customers start to think “the energy provider is going to help me pay off my debt?” which helps to shift the mentality to ‘we’re in this together’ (acknowledging this may not be the case for all retailers).
  • Potential to introduce debt waivers, including an automatic debt waiver when there’s family violence.
Want to watch the full recording of ‘Stories from the frontline of the cost-of-living crunch’ session?

Listen to the full session to gain further insight into what financial counsellors are seeing in their casework and the impacts the cost-of-living crisis is having on their energy and water bills.

About this event 

This event was part of the Know Your Customers + Communities – Community of Practice dedicated to building capability around robust and fit-for-purpose customer, community, and stakeholder engagement, and building organisational cultures that value the customer voice in decision making. 

Know Your Customers + Communities is a collaboration with between the Energy Charter and Water Services Association of Australia under our Collaboration Memo of Understanding (MoU). 

To become a regular member of this Community of Practice, please contact Bec Jolly, Director Collaboration 

The story of energy – An artwork is by Ngarrindjeri artist, Jordan Lovegrove

The story of energy - An artwork is by Ngarrindjeri artist, Jordan Lovegrove

More about the art and the artist, Jordan Lovegrove…

Jordan Lovegrove

Jordan is a Ngarrindjeri visual storyteller and artist known for his captivating contemporary and abstract art. You can see more of his work here.

With 12 years of experience, Jordan has developed a vibrant and dynamic style, drawing inspiration from his Ngarrindjeri heritage, his artwork showcases cultural symbolism and a unique artistic vision.

Alongside his art, Jordan is also skilled in graphic design, specializing in creating visually appealing reports, Reconciliation Action plans, logos & branding. He seamlessly blends traditional and modern techniques to produce visually stunning and contemporary designs.

The artwork by Jordan produced for the Energy Charter tells the story of energy, how it connects all of Australia and the Energy Charter’s commitment to create a better energy future for all Australians.

The centrepiece of the artwork represents the Energy Charter’s five core principles dedicated to better outcomes for customers and their communities. 

TEC579 Artwork Final-09

The three coloured sections and symbols represent the transition to a cleaner future; blue is hydro, orange is solar, and green is wind.

TEC579 Artwork Final-13
TEC579 Artwork Final-16
TEC579 Artwork Final-12

The meeting places around the outside and pathways that connects them represents like-minded energy organisations across Australia collaborating and connecting people together for the betterment of communities.

These communities are represented by the pattern on the inside of the artwork.

Jordan was brought to us by Ochre Dawn, a 100% Australian Aboriginal owned and Supply Nation Certified, company. Company founder and proud Peramangk and Ngarrindjeri woman, Rebecca Wessels, explains…

“As Aboriginal people, we are natural storytellers – it’s part of our makeup. As an Aboriginal-owned branding and marketing company, storytelling is our business”.

Ochre Dawn helps others to tell their story in visually captivating ways. They do this by being the hands that write, that paint, that create; being the minds that ideate, being the voices that declare true identities and unleash a truly Australian existence.

For more information visit their website

Community of Practice – Financial and mental wellbeing

A dive into financial and mental wellbeing with Beyond Blue

In our August Know Your Customers + Communities – Community of Practice, we heard from Beyond Blue and how their Services Guide for Financial and Mental wellbeing can be used by energy & water customer teams to better support customers experiencing financial and mental health stress.

Beyond Blue is an Australian, not-for-profit organisation, whose vision is to help all people in Australia achieve their best possible mental health. Representing them was Irene Verins, their Wellness and Prevention Lead. She oversees development of research relating to Financial and Mental Wellbeing, and the design of tools and resources to support the community. Irene also oversees the Parenting and Mental Health portfolio.

Irene explained the purpose of the session was two-fold:

  1. to introduce Beyond Blue’s research, tools and resources and explore how they might be useful to your sector
  2. to build understanding between the energy, water and mental health services sectors.

What is financial and mental wellbeing and what does the research tell us about it?

Financial wellbeing is being able to meet current and ongoing expenses and commitments, being financially comfortable to be able to make choices to allow one to enjoy life, feeling secure about the financial future and having resilience to cope with financial adversity.

While financial challenges refers to any financial circumstances, thoughts and feelings that may negatively impact financial wellbeing (for example financial hardship, debt, unemployment, loss of income, low income)

In turn, mental wellbeing reflects a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.

While mental health challenges is an umbrella term that covers diagnosed mental health conditions, as well as any other mental health issues that may negatively impact mental health but may not meet the criteria for a diagnosed illness.

Beyond Blue’s recent Money and Mental Health Report found people experiencing financial challenges were at least twice as likely to experience mental health challenges and vice versa. We found that those people most affected by financial and mental challenges were:

  • young people,
  • women,
  • First Nations, and
  • small business owners.

What are factors that influence financial and mental wellbeing?

  • Relationships – People who felt they had no one to lean on are more likely to experience financial and mental health challenges.  And withdrawal from community and social interactions is a common response to financial challenges.
  • Life transitions – Young adults transition from school to university or their first-time job, transitioning out of work and into retirement. If support is not available, transitions can quickly become risky moments. 
  • Cultural narratives about success – often lead to expectations on what being financially stable symbolises. The environment you live in, or the expectations surrounding your circumstance may create a culture that contributes to self-blame or feeling ashamed. Job and income loss may lead to shame that you are not meeting expectations of managing your financial position and your family responsibilities. This was prominent for small business owners.
  • Stigma – plays a significant role in both mental and financial health and inhibits help-seeking. So often we hear that people feel enormous shame when they talk about financial difficulties, and this can deter them from seeking help when they need it most.
  • Adverse life events – are often outside your control and can be coupled with trauma. These may include divorce, separation, becoming widowed, job loss and family violence. These situations can lead to unexpected and rapid changes in income and financial stability.

This is important because a recent unpublished report has found that 37% of Australians reported that cost of living was the issues having the greatest negative impact on their mental health.

How can the Services Guide for Financial and Mental wellbeing help?

Developed in partnership with Financial Counselling Australia, this Guide provides practical advice on how services from both energy + water sectors, can provide greater support to customers.

We are not asking the energy and water sectors to become mental health counsellors or financial councillors. The aim of this Guide is to build the awareness and capability of energy + water sectors to work with mental health services, showing how they can both work more closely together. This flow on effect of bringing sectors together will drive action on support and referral options.

The Guide will help you:

  • Depict signs & behaviors of people in financial or mental hardship
  • Apply models and approaches in assessing hardship
  • Drive action on support and referral options.​​

A key tool in the Guide that you can have on your desk as a reference when you are meeting with clients is this continuum. It will help you evaluate a person’s financial and mental wellbeing. It starts with ‘In crisis’ and moves through stages until we get to ‘Thriving’.

Financial and mental wellbeing journeys are non-linear, meaning they can shift and change over time. That’s why managing financial and mental wellbeing together is important at all stages of the continuum. Whichever stage is identified by a customer along the continuum, there are broad actions and support you can provide in subsequent pages of the services guide.

Watch the ‘Support customers with financial & mental wellbeing’ session

If you would like to watch the Know Your Customers + Communities Financial and mental wellbeing session that explored inclusion, you can watch the recorded session here.

About this event 

This event was part of the Know Your Customers + Communities Community of Practice dedicated to building capability around robust and fit-for-purpose customer, community, and stakeholder engagement, and building organisational cultures that value the customer voice in decision making. 

Know Your Customers + Communities is a collaboration with between the Energy Charter and Water Services Association of Australia under our Collaboration Memo of Understanding (MoU). 

To become a regular member of this Community of Practice, please contact Bec Jolly, Director Collaboration at 

September 2023 News Update

September 2023 News update

In the September 2023 News Update, CEO Council Chair, Guy Chalkley states the importance of the accountability and transparency mechanism for better outcomes for consumers and communities. At the end of this month, Full Energy Charter Signatories will publicly share their annual Disclosures on how they have met their commitments to the five Energy Charter customer principles and opportunities for continuous improvement.

We also provide an update to the #BetterTogether Life Support initiative and critical findings in the 2022 Australian Energy Foundation Report as well as the four key benefits of the initiative.

Our latest First Nations Engagement Community of Practice session is also available to watch.

August 2023 News Update

In the August 2023 News Update, CEO Council Chair, Guy Chalkley welcomes AusNet Services as a Full Signatory and Marinus Link as a #BetterTogether Collaborator. The Knock to Stay Connected Customer Code also held its first Customer Code Council (CCC) meeting in July where they appointed the Independent Chair and Code Administrator.

We also provide an update to the National Concessions Campaign ‘Keep the money. It’s yours’ and how it’s reaching those who are missing out on energy concessions, as well as how to get involved.