Making things happen: supporting our Antarctic program

On most of the posters produced by members of the Operations Branch of the Australian Antarctic Division over the past year, somewhere the words 'We make it happen!' would have been displayed.

It has not been unusual to hear comments such as, ‘and so do lots of other people!' in retort. Of course the ‘retorters’ are right, but that does not take away from the fact that, for those of us who work in the Operations Branch, this phrase reflects what we believe we are all about — our single purpose in life if you like — to make the things that are important to ANARE happen!

I boast unashamedly that what we Australians do in our operational and logistic work is best practice in Antarctic terms; even so, it is readily apparent that on occasions some of the things we have made happen in the past were not entirely to the total satisfaction of all of our customers. As a result, over the past six months and with generous assistance from many people across the whole of the program, we have started to learn a great deal more about what would improve the activities we are responsible for; in the process we have been presented with an opportunity to demonstrate our willingness and readiness to shape the future of ANARE operational and logistic support arrangements.

Let me say that the challenge of meeting the diverse range of expectations of the community we serve should not be underestimated. It is not just the variety of tasks, their complexity or the technical variation that make the work of the branch interesting; but, as is proper, the level of support required can vary markedly between projects. It is entirely reasonable to have a rudimentary level of service delivery for one type of project/program, meaning no cooks and bottle washers, AANBUS panels or spa baths if that is what the program dictates. However, for others where there is a need for our customers to undertake important data collection and analysis that may be time dependent, physically demanding or time consuming, it can be quite different. On these occasions it is definitely more appropriate to provide additional support staff to set up and run camps, prepare and maintain appropriate levels of infrastructure or to act as field assistants — and we must be ready to provide for each.

Along with this comes the requirement that we have the expertise, experience, commonsense and courage to advise people when it is not possible, practical, affordable, environmentally appropriate, safe or sensible to provide what they seek. Although ‘the customer may not always be right’ we will always explain why, where it is possible offer alternatives, and keenly seek advice from all quarters, so that the service provided is as close as possible to what was requested.

The successes of the past are many but there have been problems along the way. No matter how good the eventual outcome has been, we recognise that there is no reason for complacency; it is a fact that, despite the Herculean efforts of those involved, interactions between service providers and customers have not always achieved the desired end state. This is a key future objective of the Operations Branch. The absolute need for improved ways of working to understand the needs of customers and, in return, to give them a realistic understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the support available, is central to successfully ‘making things happen'.

This is not the time nor the place to write about organisational change, but some of that is inevitable as we move forward. The objectives of the Branch in this regard are simply to work even better as a part of the bigger AAD team that makes ANARE happen, to be truly customer-oriented, to be better at managing and documenting what we do, and always to keep our eyes on the ANARE operational and logistics ‘ball'.

In other terms, over the past year there has been a realisation that, like in commerce, focussing on the successes of the past while not reacting to the changing shape of the client’s needs, could send the business under. For all of us it would be great to be recognised as the world-wide leaders in the conduct of safe, environmentally sensitive and cost effective programs in Antarctica — and at the same time to have everyone feeling fulfilled and happy with their lot. I really think that this is achievable and to be ‘the best little operator in Antarctica’ is not as far away as some might think; over the past year I have visited more than 12 different stations/major field camps operated by eight different nations, and each of these visits alerted me to ways that we could do better ourselves; however, at the same time it was exciting to realise that our processes and procedures are very good indeed and that with some focussed effort we could be the best of them all.

So this is where the Operations Branch is heading with its programs of the moment. In conceptual terms the branch is looking for more cost effective, safe and environmentally sensitive ways of providing support to ANARE. In practical terms we are embarking on some very interesting projects and activities, for example:

  • The development of proposals for detailed practical solutions to meet the infrastructure and support requirements discussed in the ANARE Chief Scientist’s report to the Management Planning and Action Group (MPAG) in December 2000.
  • The interim ship charters and the present helicopter charter will serve us well for the next few years while the Air Transport Project team completes its work. In the meantime, starting shortly, work on requirements for new ships and helicopter charters will be progressed.
  • Reduction of costs is a big issue and it is very pleasing that the long-running station energy conservation program has delivered such good results; more recently the ability to better manage the usage of energy using the BMCS has been truly exciting and the next step to save money includes the potential introduction of wind turbines able to provide a significant proportion of a station’s power (with attendant savings in fuel costs and reduction in environmental risk).
  • An alliance on waste management remediation of tip sites with the Human Impacts Research Program is proving very fruitful and a joint project to operationalise their research is progressing.
  • Improved oil spill protection measures are under development and the huge efforts of the Human Impacts Research Program are driving the Branch’s efforts towards real best practise solutions.
  • An in-house cultural change program has begun; polishing and cherishing the strengths of our ANARE traditions will be encouraged, as will the letting go of those that no longer help the Branch to ‘Maintain Strategic Fit'.
  • New approaches to Antarctic and subantarctic infrastructure design — looking for those that guarantee flexibility, economy and easy removal will be embodied in a project framework.
  • Master plans for each of the research stations are almost complete and the procedures for managing those plans will bring structure to managing the station infrastructure.
  • The limited use made of our research stations by wintering scientists, and the opportunities offered by different transport options, will result in a review of wintering processes — including engineering issues, population numbers and skill requirements.
  • The training review of 2000 will be advanced to improve even more courses and strengthen the program for recognition of prior learning.
  • With the introduction of more formal Risk Management Policies and Procedures across the whole of Government, comes reinforcement of the need for properly designed and tested contingency plans, the need for improved presentation and document control of the procedures used in times of crisis and emergency, and also for formal processes for following up on lessons learned.
  • The Branch has changed organisationally to include environmental responsibility as an equal partner with financial and safety responsibilities; next we will work closely with those embarking on the development of the new Environmental Management System (EMS) to ensure that our evolving organisational processes for the practical implementation and monitoring of environmental policies and for promoting the use of best practise procedures in all of the AAD’s work in support of ANARE, are totally compliant with and integrated into the EMS.

But the long and the short of it all is that at the start of this millennium, the level of commitment from the Operations Branch team to delivering the very best outcome for ANARE is unequalled and with everyone else, we assert that we are on the right track for the future.

“We Make It Happen!”

K Pitt
Assistant Director,
Operations Branch,
Australian Antarctic Division