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Q&A: Gary Dreibergs

April 5, 2023  By Brittani Schroeder

Photo credit: Gary Dreibergs

Over the last few years, countries around the world were tasked with keeping their communities safe during the global pandemic. These efforts included using police agencies to help enforce bylaws that were newly created to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Recently, Blue Line was able to speak with Gary Dreibergs, former Deputy Commissioner of Western Australia (WA) Police, about their police-led responses to COVID-19.

Q: When WA instituted the state of emergency and tasked the police with managing the COVID-19 response, what was the first step the police took?

The first step that the WA Police took was to establish a command structure based on the Crisis Incident Management System (ICCS+). We then worked with the WA Department of Health to ensure that they put the right structures in place as the Hazard Management Authority (HMA) for a pandemic.

The WA Police then liaised with the state government to ensure that they established a structure that enabled critical decision making in partnership with police, heath and, importantly, the Chief Health Officer (CHO). The Premier’s Emergency Management Team was established for daily joint decision making, and ultimately reporting to the State Disaster Council.

The Police and Department of Health arrangements were established under the WA State Emergency Management Act.

For police, there were two critical immediate actions:

  1. Establish capability for responding to the State of Emergency.
  2. Manage capability for business-as-usual policing of the community.

The initial steps undertaken in the first 24 to 48 hours was to create command and coordination for response to the emergency. This included key roles and functions for communications, operations, planning, intelligence and public information.

Operationally, the first deployment activities focused on creating and closing internal state borders. This rapidly moved to closing the interstate borders via road, air and sea. The second deployment priority was to commence managing quarantine for both overseas and interstate travellers.

The objectives of the police in the State of Emergency was to keep the community safe and keep the economy of WA running.

Q: What challenges did the WA Police face? Did the geography and size of the jurisdiction complicate matters more?

The management of the state’s borders was the biggest challenge we faced during COVID-19. It was always the objective to manage the borders effectively to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in WA, until such time that a vaccine could be developed and rolled out.

WA is a state of more than 2.5 million sq/km and has a resource sector that provides more than 50 per cent of national goods exported. Effective border management was a key to managing the fly-in fly-out workforce of the resource sector, and to safely manage the ports of the state. Without the ability to manage the resource workforce and the shipping of exports, the economy would have been significantly impacted.

The intent of managing the borders was not to actually close the state to travellers, but to create lawful restrictions that provided for approved travel into the state by road, rail, air and sea.

Establishing the systems and processes that were required was complex. The complexity was further compounded when these systems and processes needed to be operationalized by police as they deployed to manage the borders. Public information was critical to keep the community informed and laws were required to support the system.

The objectives of the police in the State of Emergency was to keep the community safe and keep the economy of WA running.

Lawful Directions (laws) were established under the Emergency Management Act that set out the travel and quarantine requirements for individuals, at a point in time, based on the risk level that COVID-19 presented at that time. For instance, if there was an outbreak in a particular state of Australia, their risk level would have been high, and hence a stricter regime of approvals were applied to travellers. In a state with no outbreak and a low risk level, the approval requirements were less. Every day, new directions were written as the COVID-19 circumstances changed, and every day the travel approvals changed. Travel approvals were assessed by police based on the directions and the risk level, and the public was informed of the direction requirements.

Communicating with travellers was critical as there were times when COVID-19 circumstances changed at short notice, which meant conditions of travel changed, and on many occasions approvals were canceled. This regularly occurred with travellers only given 12 hours’ notice.

Every traveler who entered the state of WA during COVID-19 was met by police at a border entry, and subsequently provided with quarantine advice and requirements.

Approved travellers entering the state were required to quarantine in most circumstances, and they were also required to undertake a COVID-19 testing regime before completing a quarantine period. At times there were up to 17,000 people in quarantine that required management and police compliance checking, which was a significant drain on police resources.

The complexity of undertaking border management and quarantine systems was beyond the scale of any manual system and required a technology solution. Any solution had to be automated wherever possible and needed to be highly transparent and accountable. The system had to be flexible and consider the ever-changing COVID-19 environment.

To meet the requirements of border management, and quarantine management, the WA Police partnered with a company called Genvis to build and operate a technology solution in public private partnership arrangement.

Q: How did automating your processes and being transparent help you in your tasks?

In the first week of the coronavirus being labeled a global pandemic, police rapidly identified the need for a technology solution to meet its objectives during the state of emergency. After process mapping the requirements of border management, police approached Genvis to build a software solution. In less than a week, a proposed software solution was developed and immediately police moved to implement the solution.

Genvis develops software tools for public safety teams to help them keep communities safe. Prior to COVID-19, WA Police had commenced working with Genvis on systems to protect victims of family violence and forensic video analytics systems to help police investigate and solve crimes.

The border management software was named “G2G Pass” and became a critical tool for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in WA, keeping the community safe and the economy running.

The G2G Pass went through more than a thousand iterations during the pandemic. This enabled a highly flexible approach to meet the ever-changing COVID-19 environment. What started out as a system for allowing the smooth movement of approved industry travellers, between intra-state borders, became a highly sophisticated system of approvals and checking processes that allowed safe movement of more than two million people into WA during COVID-19. The system was then used in providing evidence to the courts when prosecuting people who breached the legal directions.

The benefits of the G2G Pass went beyond the basic element of managing a border. It delivered safety to the community from COVID-19, with less than seven days of lockdown in two years.  It also provided the ability for the state to successfully manage a resource sector that delivered a record $210 billion of sales during the 2020/21 financial year.

To manage quarantine, the WA Police again partnered with Genvis to develop “G2G Now”, a software solution that provided for fully automated quarantine checks. The solution was provided to travellers as an option to remain in their homes and undertake quarantine checks via the G2G Now app on their mobile phone. The system provided for facial recognition and geolocation to provide assurance to police that people were quarantining appropriately and at the location that they were supposed to. The system also provided interactive health messaging and COVID-19 testing requirements to those in quarantine. This enabled people to record their health symptoms during quarantine where appropriate.

The ultimate benefit of G2G Now was that police no longer were required to visit people in quarantine as they checked people remotely, saving significant resources during a time of high demand for police. The system was accepted by the community as a positive initiative, and they responded accordingly. Again, as with G2G Pass, the system was successfully tested in the courts when people were prosecuted for breaching quarantine.

It is no understatement to say that both the G2G Pass and G2G Now solutions were integral in the state’s ability to manage COVID-19. The public private partnership was one where both parties were reliant upon the other’s efforts to ensure success. Success in both the development of the solutions and success in the implementation and ongoing management and use of the systems.

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