As the name implies, Marine Rescue Queensland (MRQ) provides a much-needed search and rescue service to the tens of thousands of people who enjoy boating throughout the bountiful waters of the Sunshine State.
MRQ has provided that vital service for the past 50 years and as a largely volunteer organisation, has a paid staff of just three full-time employees and one part-time employee to administer and train the volunteers.
But changing expectations have meant that what was suitable in the past may no longer be sufficient for the future.
Keith Williams, President for MRQ, suggests expectations placed on the organisation from the general public have undergone a large transformation, “Where in the old days there used to be a bit of give and take – ‘Well, we’re only volunteers’ – that’s pretty much all gone now,” he said.
“Everybody, from Maritime Safety Queensland, the compliance regulator, through to the general public now expect that Marine Rescue volunteers will be trained to the highest levels and will have all their processes together.”
The general public now expect that Marine Rescue volunteers will be trained to the highest levels
The problem for MRQ was that with 1500 volunteers spread across 25 individually-managed, autonomous squadrons located throughout the vast reaches of Queensland needed help to meet these high standards.
“We’ve got 25 locations in incredibly diverse areas throughout Queensland, from Southport on the Gold Coast that do up to 900 jobs a year, through to Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria that has a total population of 300 people on the island and about eight Marine Rescue volunteers. In the past all these volunteers have been inventing their own processes, there was no consistency or collaboration between groups.
“They’ve all been doing absolutely everything on their own and that’s become harder and harder to do in this age of increased compliance and risk assessment,” Mr. Williams said.
“The problem screamed out for a whole of state approach, having some of the administration centralised, so everybody can get what they need without reinventing the wheel the whole time.”
Enter Microsoft Partner, Empired, and Office 365 and enter a technological revolution for MRQ.
For example, with the previous email system, if head office wanted to contact every volunteer then every personal email address was needed.
“What Office 365 has given us is the ability to put everybody on the same page, for starters,” Williams said. “But it also enables us to create group-based aliases, so I can just send an email to all volunteers in a region now, rather having to remember each individual person.
“It doesn’t sound like such a big thing but when you’re coming from nothing it’s been a huge step forward to be able to achieve that and to know you’re talking to the right people.”
SharePoint has proved another marked improvement, with MRQ using a satellite-hub concept where the State body shares content that is relevant to all squadrons. Each squadron then has a satellite that it controls so that it can share information that is only relevant to that squadron – retaining autonomy while meeting the overall aim of being able to share content across the State.
SharePoint is now being used for a number of tasks that are essential to increasing the professionalism and accountability of the organisation.
‘SharePoint is now being used for a number of tasks that are essential to increasing the professionalism and accountability of the organisation’
“We didn’t understand the full usefulness of SharePoint at first,” Williams said. “It started off with us being able to put a lot of our documents about our compliance out to everybody, now it’s evolved to include a lot of training material.
“What will happen is that we’ll end up with a system whereby people will be able to do completely self-based learning.
“They’ll get the training material, they’ll be able to sign in and perhaps have a co-ordinator sign off that they’ve done practical training skills in that area. Then they’ll be able to do that exam in their own time at their own location, so SharePoint is bringing massive benefits to us.”
SharePoint is enabling volunteers to keep on top of legislative changes and allows easy access from anywhere at any time to policies and procedures.
Another huge advantage of the change to Office 365 is that it is device agnostic, operating perfectly with Apple, Android or Microsoft operating systems. The volunteers across the disparate regions don’t have a uniform device format, so it is essential to them that documents can be accessed from any device.
By working with Empired to utilise the cloud through Office 365, MRQ is now able to easily complete educational and risk management processes.
“We’ve always had a system of operating procedures in place that says: ‘If you’re going to drive an outboard powered boat, you do this. If you’re going to launch a boat, you do that. If you’re going to tow a boat, you do this’, and those procedures are fine, but what the newest legislation is insisting is that we go back and create a risk register,” Williams said.
“So we have to go back, re-think about why we have those operating procedures and identify the risks around those operations and then recreate those operational procedures from a risk-based perspective.
“Now you can imagine that’s a major task and if you’ve got 1,500 people in 25 locations and you’re all wanting to end up in the same place, that’s pretty much never going to happen unless there’s a centralised tool that allows them to do that. SharePoint allows them to see what other people are doing and just do their bit.
“What the community will see out of that is safer operations and better risk management”
“So what would have left me tearing my hair out, is actually now for the first time possible.
“It is an innovative way of getting a job done that we are compelled to do. What the community will see out of that is safer operations and better risk management. We need to know our volunteers are safe as well, so it’s helping us meet that goal.”
Keith Williams said MRQ has also appreciated the increased latency and speed response from utilising Microsoft local data centres.
In fact, one could almost say that Microsoft and Office 365 has rescued the rescuers.