SYPAQ’s Head of Flight Operations Supports Disaster Relief Australia 8 April 2021

On 1 February 2021, During a 5-day COVID lockdown of the Western Australian Metro area, a fast-moving bushfire started in Wooroloo, 45 kilometres north-east of Perth. By 2 February, the bushfire spread from where it began in the Shire of Mundaring to the Shires of Chittering, Northam, and the City of Swan. The fire destroyed at least 86 houses and 2 fire trucks before it was contained. By 6 February, the bushfire had travelled 26 km from its source.

The impact on the community was enormous. Many families had lost everything they had spent a lifetime building. Many more had lost parts of their property, such as outbuildings. Almost everyone near the fire had lost fencing and could no longer keep their animals safely, let alone feed them in the near term, having lost their feedstocks in the fire. But after the fire was out and the news crews move on, what happens next?

In Australia, no shortage of support is on offer in the weeks following a natural disaster, as the community rallies to support their fellow Australians. Money is raised, donations roll in, and community recovery centres are established to help the locals. But who helps clean up?

The rebuilding can’t begin until the debris is cleared, and on this occasion, that seemed like an insurmountable task. It takes time to complete the damage assessments and for the local government agencies to source suppliers. More than a year from the black summer fires in NSW and Victoria, that process is still taking place.

Disaster Relief Australia (DRA) provides disaster response to those affected by natural disasters, be they domestic or international. By pairing the skills and experiences of military veterans with emergency responders, medical professionals, and technology solutions, DRA aims to provide the greatest service and impact possible.

SYPAQ’s Head of Flight Operations, Luke Aspinall, has been a DRA volunteer for a few years now, primarily supporting remotely as an Imagery Analyst as part of the Aerial Damage Assessment Team capability.

DRA reached out to Luke following the fire to participate in the Operational Reconnaissance Team (ORT) to prepare for their first western Australian deployment and assist the community. SYPAQ gladly and proudly supported Luke’s leave request to dedicate his time to the activity, and he and his DRA colleagues set to work arranging everything needed to base, support and operate a volunteer group of up to 50 people for a month. Once the ORT team completed their work, the first waves of volunteers hit the ground and got out into the community.

Luke’s role transitioned back to the Aerial Damage Assessment Teams, where they put small drones to work mapping and documenting the damage within the affected area. They were then tasked to map and photograph more than 100 affected sites across the region, working around restricted airspace and heavy rains that added to the challenges of the affected landowners in the area, in some cases temporarily flooding places that had just been hit by fire.

The ADAT team was able to help the Incident Management Team with ground-truthing reports and updating local intelligence, prioritising where to send the ground teams to assess what was needed to be done.

When asked about his experience, Luke responded in his typically understated and humble way, stating that, “It’s always nice to give back and help a community after such a traumatic event. It was particularly rewarding engaging directly with families after the event and hearing their stories, some good, some bad and being able to assist in a small way in getting back on their feet. Working with DRA is always rewarding. As one person out there put it, ‘it is good to nourish the soul from time to time’.”