Man for all seasons: Meet region’s master of disaster

Wayne Sunderland is the new Disaster Management Co-ordinator for the Sunshine Coast

When a disaster or emergency happens on the Sunshine Coast, Wayne Sunderland is the person council calls.

He’s had many a disaster in his working life. It’s not something you’d usually brag about, but he has made responding to extreme events his life’s passion.

Wayne began his career with the Australian Army as a firefighter for 12 years

Before coming to council, Wayne worked for Queensland Health for five years – tackling the maelstrom that was COVID-19. Wayne was also a firefighter in the Australian Army for 12 years and an emergency response coordinator in the mining sector.

The most confronting natural disasters Wayne has ever faced were Cyclone Yasi and the mini tornado at The Gap, in Brisbane, when people lost their homes.

“The biggest challenge is the initial stage when you get a burst of adrenaline,” Wayne explained.

“I focus on what the situation is, then try to eliminate any unknown, or speculative reactions.

“If you can control that, then the situation becomes a lot clearer and you can make informed decisions.”

The most stressful disaster Wayne has experienced was during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There were so many small things that made every interaction time critical – getting relatives through quarantine to visit family members in hospital safely, supporting people in quarantine and isolation, and the ever-changing community health requirements,” Wayne said.

In his new role as Disaster Management Lead for the Sunshine Coast, he will work closely with counterparts from across the region including Police, QFES, Qld Health, Transport and Main Roads, Unity Water and Community Services, to help safeguard locals.

During an emergency, Sunshine Coast Council Mayor Mark Jamieson leads the Local Disaster Management Group.

He is supported by council’s Local Disaster Coordinators Bill Haddrill or Scott Taylor, who will coordinate Disaster Response with Wayne and the primary Local Disaster Coordination Centre’s regional counterparts.

This may require a whole of council response with many staff actively involved in a variety of response and recovery activities across the Sunshine Coast.

Helping people is the driving force behind Wayne’s career and he wants to reduce the impacts of events for people.

“I really want to help increase my community’s resilience for all disaster and emergency events.” Wayne said. Some of the Sunshine Coast’s natural events, where Wayne hopes for the best, but prepares for the worst, includes storms, tropical cyclones, floods, fires, heatwaves, health events and the impacts of East Coast Lows.

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