How good is your emergency plan?

On Wednesday night, a bit after 10:00, a livestock carrier had a crash while travelling on the Princes Freeway, heading in towards Melbourne.

Before he was taken to Hospital, this driver was able to ask another operator to take care of things. As I was working in the area, that bloke then called me to come and help him.

When we got there the Police and Fire Brigade had completely closed the Freeway and they were having a think about the cattle.

After it came off the road, the crate had rolled over. Injured cattle from the top deck had escaped. Some were off along the Freeway, and the others were heading for the nearby suburbs.

And then there were the animals in the bottom deck. Those that hadn’t been killed were in a bad way.

The Officer in Command was a senior Policelady who was really down-to-earth and knew how to ask the right questions.

Right from the start, she wanted to know how many cattle had been on board, so she could be sure that they’d all been found. Luckily, we knew who’d provided the load. Before too long we were able to obtain that information. A couple were missing. The Police Air Wing was called in to locate them.

Ordinarily, of course, you’d look to create some kind of pen so you could secure the cattle and assess their injuries. But it turns out there’s not a single decent fence in the area.

Meanwhile, one bloke wanted to cut the crate open and empty it, so that it could be lifted upright. We had to tell the Police that there were bulls in the bottom deck and they’d be impossible to control.

Sadly, there really wasn’t much choice about it: the animals had to be put down. The situation was too unsafe and the welfare of the animals was too bad to take any other path.

I was very, very impressed with how this Officer ran the whole show. But she had to go through a lot of hoops in order to resolve this situation.

Firstly, the Police felt obliged to wait on the cattle until the DPI had a look. It took some time before DPI was on site. Although the DPI officer agreed that the cattle needed to be put down, he didn’t have an appropriate weapon or bolt to do it. They needed a Ranger for that. Luckily, a Ranger was available but because of the circumstances of the night, the other operator who was there had to provide a lot of assistance in order to get the job done.

The Freeway re-opened sometime around 0400. The media reports were pretty harsh,  but thank goodness it didn’t take any longer.  At dawn, there are about 50,000 cars that come up that road.

The Police did a great job. But I am worried by the delays they had to fight through.

And what if this driver had been from inter-state, or had been knocked unconscious? Or what if it had been me and I was on another run up to Queensland? Who would the responding local Police call to get advice about the load? Where would they go to get assistance with some difficult cattle handling?

It’s something we’ll be discussing with the authorities. It’s in everyone’s interests to get this right.

John Beer

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