Mark Tregellas founder of Crisis Cleanup Australia

Mark Tregellas works and lives in the middle of the Croajingolong National Park in Mallacoota, Victoria. He has worked in an operational role in the Emergency Services for over 28 years.

Mark’s spare time is spent on developing community based disaster recovery programs. He has launched several programs at both a local and national level and is considered a pioneer in Australian community based disaster recovery.

Mark launched Crisis Cleanup Australia in early 2013. Crisis Cleanup Australia is Australia’s first website using an Open Source Disaster Relief Mapping Tool that enables Inter-Organisation Disaster Recovery Collaboration, Coordination and Communication.

How do you organise 30,000 volunteers from 100 organisations to 5,000 locations across a 1000-km area during a disaster? You don’t. You let them organise themselves. @crisiscleanupAU facebook

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

After all the disasters Australia has experienced in the last few years, there is still no platform that enables volunteer organisations to coordinate with each other during disasters, on a national, state, or even regional level.

I had developed a community based disaster recovery website for my hometown which enables the community to organise itself after a disaster. The website worked well for our community but what if the disaster affected dozens of communities?

After talking with Aaron Titus in the United States about his open source software platform Crisis Cleanup, I realised that not only was the idea of launching an inter-organisation Disaster Recovery Collaboration and Communication Platform at a national level possible, but that I had the knowledge and capacity to make it a reality.

Crisis Cleanup has been used at every major disaster in the United States for the past 3 years. During Hurricane Sandy it coordinated 30,000 volunteers from over 100 organisations. It has been tried, tested, and is constantly being improved. Best of all it is simple and it works.

Crisis Cleanup was designed by and for field volunteers who interact directly with survivors and victims. It is designed to be used by people who carry shovels and wear boots, not suits. With my experience and knowledge of disasters, I could see that an Australian version of Crisis Cleanup would work.

Two months later Crisis Cleanup Australia was born.

Why does Crisis Cleanup work so well?

During disasters, non-government agencies, and other collaborative bodies behave as decentralised coalitions of interconnected, interdependent, sovereign members. In disasters, hierarchies flatten in the field as they spend every ounce of their strength responding to needs and maximising efforts by coordinating their organisations’ respective strengths. They strive to achieve Unity of Effort.

When not at disasters, energy is redirected away from disaster coalitions, and toward their respective organisations. Because organisations are often hierarchical, activities tend to build and emphasise hierarchy, benefiting organisations at the top of the pyramid, and inflexibly require best practices to secure scarce funding. They strive for Unity of Command. Then disaster strikes, pyramids crumble, best practices are the minority case, and inflexible tools don’t work on the ground.

Unity of Command is impossible because volunteer organisations derive their power from volunteers, not law. Among volunteer organisations, nobody has to take orders from anybody else, and he who has the volunteers has the power. If you have boots on the ground, you are therefore in charge.

This simple reality is often overlooked as organisations build structures that should support coalitions of interdependent organisations. But instead they too often misguidedly mimic our government brethren, and build organisation-centric hierarchies, like government agencies using MOU’s for volunteer organisations.

Collaborative Accountability where interdependent, co-equal partners pressure and assist one another to accomplish a goal using tools that decentralise power away from any single organisation, while strengthening coalition members and the connections among them, will have a higher likelihood of adoption and success during disaster.

Crisis Cleanup applies these philosophies and works by supporting multiple hierarchies, complex inter-dependencies, ad-hoc connections, and ephemeral governance structures that inevitably pop in and out of existence during a disaster recovery.

Please explain your business model. 

Crisis Cleanup Australia is currently self-funded. Overhead costs are minimal when not being used the cost to operate is $15 per month.

My latest project is DOVE (Disaster Organisations Volunteering in Emergencies). DOVE hopes to become Australia’s first national, non-profit, membership-based organisation that serves as; a forum, information, training, and operational support team, where organisations share knowledge and resources by enabling; cooperation, communication, collaboration, and coordination at disasters to help survivors and their communities.

Potential business funding is anticipated through organisations joining DOVE which will have access to Crisis Cleanup Australia, and also licensing partnerships with insurance companies and media having access to the data.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months? 

At the moment I am working on the constitution for DOVE, how it will integrate with Crisis Cleanup Australia and how community based volunteer groups fit inside the model.

I hope to present Crisis Cleanup Australia at the Australian & New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference, which will be held at the QT Gold Coast on 5th – 7th May 2014.

How do you make ideas happen?

There is no “best way” to be creative, and ideas are worthless if you can’t make them happen. Most people focus on having the idea rather then generating the capacity for making the idea happen. To overcome the obstacles of vision to reality, be proactive and not reactive. Self market and do it with the view of how others will benefit from your ideas once they see the light.

What does your typical day look like?

Married and working full time shift work, with three small children means my days vary. Early mornings or late at night are sometimes the only time I have to work on projects. Being web based, so long as I have access to the Internet and a laptop I can work anywhere.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

You can never think of all the possibilities yourself. When developing my ideas I posted questions online, and in forums on LinkedIn. The forums enabled me to access over 30,000 emergency management professionals. The answers I received were profound and caused me to change my ideas in ways I would have not otherwise have imagined.

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia, at the moment?

Eileen Culleton the founder of Emergency Wiki 2.0 . Eillen created a global emergency 2.0 wiki to provide practical guidance on how to use social media and web 2.0 in all phases of emergency management.

Michael Eburn the founder of Australia’s only legal blog devoted to Emergency Law to discuss legal issues affecting the emergency services (fire, ambulance and rescue services) in Australia.

Melanie Irons the founder of Tassie Fires we can help. Melanie organised the community recovery efforts during the Tasmanian Fires in 2012.

What about internationally?

Aaron Titus, founder of Crisis Cleanup. Crisis Cleanup works so well that it has been utilised to coordinate the recovery response for 10,000+ survivors, in 9 states, for 9 disasters, in 3 countries, for 160+ organisations, and 40,000+ volunteers. And it’s free.

Caitria O’Neill co-founder of Recovers makes disaster response smarter by providing easy-to-use software that empowers communities to prepare together, mitigate risk, and locally match resources with needs.

Samia Kallidis, founder of Jointly . A brilliant self-help app to facilitate community-based disaster recovery efforts.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.


IDisaster 2.0

Crisis Comms Command Post

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

Crisis Cleanup Australia is a work in progress that is constantly being refined and improved. Being open source, volunteers give their time and money to improve the system. Funding to pay for software developers is always needed so if any person or organisation would like to contribute, please go online or contact me.

We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?

Can someone please develop a Wiki for; start-ups, non-profit, open source, community organisations and ideas that address; marketing, social media, accounting, funding, monetization, grants, and product development.

LinkedIn group banner

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant? 

Charcoal Grill on the Hill at 289 High Street Kew.  Sublime steaks and a red wine collection that will make your eyes pop.  And any bar that serves Matilda Bay’s Dirty Granny Cider.

We thought it would be cool to crowd source an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize? 

Yes, a bottle of wine.



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