For the first time in its history, Australia’s National Incident Centre (NIC) has been activated continuously for more than one year, working across Government to respond to unprecedented health emergencies faced by Australia and the world.
The NIC was activated in November 2019 in response to a measles outbreak in Samoa, and continued to act during the 2019–20 bushfires, the Whakaari Island volcano eruption and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
From December 2019 and into January 2020, the NIC was concurrently managing three different situations, also for the first time ever.
I want to thank all of the extraordinarily talented, dedicated and hardworking staff of the National Incident Centre over the past year. Led by the Department of Health, the staff have been drawn from across Government, including the ADF.
Their work around the clock allowed Australia to maintain an air bridge for critical and scarce global supplies of PPE and test kits at a time of international shortage. The NIC has literally been the Operations Headquarters for Australia’s national response to the pandemic.
Never has the National Incident Centre been more important, and its worth is shown in the Medical Journal of Australia’s paper, which attributes the saving of 16,000 lives to the comprehensive and early nature of Australia’s response.
The staff of the NIC have embodied the concept of real and profound public service. We are fortunate to have had such a well-prepared and well-drilled centre as the NIC in place before the pandemic. We are even more fortunate to have such an extraordinarily capable and dedicated team to help save lives and protect lives across Australia.
As the Department of Health’s emergency operations centre, the NIC coordinates Australia’s health emergency response to national and international incidents. It is also the primary means of communication between the World Health Organization and Australia for public health events, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
A significant accomplishment was distributing millions of masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) from the National Medical Stockpile in response to the bushfires and COVID-19 to states and territories, aged care facilities, disability service providers and Primary Health Networks.
As part of the COVID-19 response, key staff from a range of agencies across the APS were seconded to help operate the NIC. At its peak, the NIC engaged more than 200 employees, including liaison officers from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Border Force and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Surge staff have included epidemiologists and analysts from the Department of Defence, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
The NIC has also engaged in public information, community awareness and communications. The Australian Government has the strongest commitment to informing the community about the latest health advice and developments. This includes a national campaign, website, fact sheets, media liaison and social media.
The NIC was first formally activated for the SARS outbreak of 2003. It has since been activated for a range of emergencies including the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, the Bali bombings of 2005, the H1N1 Pandemic in 2009, the Victorian bushfires of 2009, and the Christchurch earthquake of 2011.
I thank the hardworking public servants in the NIC, which will remain activated for as long as this national health emergency demands.