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Callide Creek - Failure IS An Option

The Callide Creek Flood of 2015 is instructive for professionals in the disaster and emergency management field because in this incident EVERYTHING THAT COULD GO WRONG DID GO WRONG. It is a reminder that failure IS an option, and that complacency is not.

Any disaster or emergency poses a threat to life and property, and there are times when no matter what we do a negative outcome is the end result. This is a fact of life, it is NOT a definition of failure. We only fail as disaster or emergency management professionals if such outcomes turn out to have been AVOIDABLE - if controls had worked as intended, if mistakes hadn't been made, if better decisions had been taken.

Callide Creek is an example of failure. Fortunately the consequences were not too severe, no one died, the property damage was repairable, recovery did take place. As such the incident qualifies a something of a 'near miss', all the more reason to absorb the lessons it offers up, and avoid a repeat.

What does qualify as failure ? It is a position where objectives are not met, in spite of our efforts, where the negative outcomes we were striving to prevent do in fact eventuate. In the case of Callide Creek, as Tropical Cyclone Marcia approached, the following failure scenarios provided the key end states to be avoided through the application of disaster management as a practice -

Unfortunately, EVERY SINGLE ONE of these failure scenarios DID eventuate. The question then is - were these outcomes preventable ? The answer is YES, because none of these were the result of the cyclone or rainfall alone, they were due to factors UNDER OUR CONTROL. This is why they qualify as FAILURE, they were avoidable.

The Callide Creek flood is a scenario used in HCD training for Regional Controllers, that is, those with an oversight function as opposed to Incident Controllers directly managing an emergency. It is a third person, rather than a first person, perspective, which is the reality for many in the disaster management field, especially those at higher levels, but is also an extremely useful way to approach the subject from a training or capacity building point of view. The method used is to take the failure scenarios as a given, and then to work backwards in order to identify what would have to happen for these negative outcomes to eventuate. The benefit of this approach is that it provides warnings and indicators, an idea of what to look for, well before the situation becomes irreversible. This we do in depth and the result is that it becomes obvious that each and every one of the failure scenarios were PREVENTABLE well in advance, opportunities to step in and change the course of events DID exist, failure was ONLY an option, by no means was it inevitable.

Here is a brief overview of how the HCD Framework could have been successfully applied during the Callide Creek incident as it progressed, from the perspective of the Local Disaster Management Group (LDMG) in charge of the response.

These we can discuss and elaborate in detail so that their full meaning becomes clear.

The factors that led to the failure scenarios played themselves out over a number of days as the cyclone approached and then hit. This meant that even though things were not going well at a local level, TIME was available to turn things around, the situation was by no means lost. This is important, because it applies in all but the rarest of positions, so long as the warning signs of failure are picked up, and addressed. This was achievable in Callide Creek, and it is in most cases.

The source of information on the Callide Creek Flood is the Queensland IGEM Report into the incident available here. If you would like to discuss the issues raised in this post, or how the HCD Framework might be applied in your context, then comment below or else contact us at

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