Decades and Disasters - DisasterWISE
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Decades and Disasters

I’m Alan Jones, and I’ve been through a lifetime of challenges and adventures, primarily in emergency services. Born in 1947 in Sydney, I am a baby boomer and spent my early years exploring the bush and surfing the northern beaches. After meeting my wife Marj during a weekend ski trip to the snowfields of Kosciusko, we married in 1969 and now have four children spread all over Australia.

With three coal-fired power stations still polluting the city and us seeking cleaner air, my wife, pregnant with our first child and I moved to Queensland in 1973, just in time to experience the devastating floods of 1974 in Brisbane. During these floods, I took my first steps into the world of emergency response, joining the Queensland State Emergency Service (SES) as a volunteer.

The journey then took us to the Northern Territory, which was still very much ‘frontier territory’ at the time, with few proper roads and administered by the federal government. I had been recruited by the NT Police Force following the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Witnessing the resilience of the people of Darwin and the indigenous communities, in the face of disaster left an indelible mark on me. It was instructional to me to witness firsthand how closely indigenous people lived with nature and how they accommodated the changes in nature with not a great deal of ill effect on their lives.

Queensland called me back next, where we lived remotely, just east of the Great Divide, and I served as an ambulance officer with the QATB, dealing with all manner of emergencies including mountain rescues.

Business ventures with my wife ensued, including owning and running a motel in Ulladulla, on the southeast coast of New South Wales for four years. During this time I was a member of NSW SES and involved in the Thredbo Landslip Disaster. I was also a volunteer with the Royal Volunteer Coast Guards, responding to emergencies at sea. The call to serve the community rang again, leading me to the Australian Federal Police in Canberra. The devastating 2003 fires, which destroyed 500 homes, unfolded before my eyes, revealing the challenges of debriefing and the critical importance of learning from our experiences. Debriefing hasn’t improved over the years. It is my view that we had better group debriefings during my time with the Northern Territory Police than emergency services do now.

My journey extended internationally, taking me to East Timor in 2006, where I participated as a member of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force and then on to the Solomon Islands for three separate deployments. There, I marvelled at the resilience of remote villages and witnessed their ability to support each other through earthquakes, cyclones, and internal conflicts. I returned to Australia and faced the Black Summer fires in East Gippsland in 2019-2020.

This time, it wasn’t just a story of disaster response; it was personal. As fires threatened my community and my home, the camaraderie and support from organizations like the CFA, SES, Lions, and Rotary showcased the best and, at times, the most challenging aspects of human nature during crises. Following on from these fires, I joined the Bruthen CFA believing that I could better assist my community with future fire threats if I was trained to do so.

I’ve had my share of personal struggles, including being diagnosed with PTSD during my time in the East Timor. However, finding solace in constructive activities like volunteering with organizations like Bush Heritage Australia became my therapeutic outlet.

Through all the challenges, one thing remains constant: the need for continuous improvement in emergency response but more importantly, the need for preparedness at both local community level as well as all levels of government. Lessons from the past should shape our future actions. I’ve seen regulations on building standards in flood and cyclone-prone areas disregarded over time, and the consequences can be dire.

Reflecting on decades of service and personal growth, I remain dedicated to helping others in times of need. Whether it’s a neighbour affected by disaster or a community struggling to rebuild, I offer my expertise and experience, knowing that we can overcome even the most challenging circumstances together.

 

Alan Jones

 

2 Comments

  • Sabrina Davis
    Posted February 3, 2024 at 11:13 am

    Thank you Alan for sharing your experiences. It’s very insightful to see where disaster recovery has been at over the decades and I look forward to hearing more from you in a future get together. Sabrina

  • Pete Williams
    Posted February 6, 2024 at 12:18 pm

    Wow, thanks for all of the work you have done, and continue to do, helping communities through the toughest of times. Your message about community preparedness is so important and hopefully initiatives like Disaster Wise can contribute to improvement in that aspect.

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