Communities across the Northern Rivers have had their say on the management of the flood that devastated the region in March … and most of it was not good.
A report released yesterday details the responses from residents who turned up to community forums organised by the NSW SES – Richmond Tweed region.
‘The most significant and constant theme from all forums was the need for specific local knowledge to be integrated into an accurate picture, in combination with agency and BOM data and communicated back to community members,’ the report, which was prepared by independent facilitators, said.
Many people were critical that information shared on ABC radio and by the SES on television, radio and social media channels was often too general to be useful in terms of decision-making.
Other concerns included the impacts of the built environment, insurance coverage and definitions of flood, storm, and deluge, concerns regarding accuracy and timeliness of flood gauge readings, and maintenance of waterways, culverts etc to decrease risk.
In findings similar to those reached by the Lismore Citizens’ Review, a concern repeated across the region was that official information being used by the SES and the Bureau of Meteorology was ‘sometimes less accurate than local assessments’.
People complained of warnings being issued too late, not reaching some communities and not giving specific information about risks and evacuation centres.
There was also a concern that the wording of warnings was ‘too extreme, forceful or causing panic’.
Another concern expressed at every forum was the trauma caused by ‘rubber-neckers’ as the flood receded.
‘Every community expressed concern that people coming to look at the damage rather than help, got in the way and further traumatised the community,’ the report said.
On a positive note, residents who turned out to forums showed ‘a great deal of interest’ in creating community and neighbourhood groups to work with the SES to plan ‘readiness, warning and response actions at a neighbourhood level to integrate with agency response’.
Report author Rebecca Riggs said a number of solutions were being considered in response to community concerns.
They included sharing ‘old timers’ knowledge with new residents, how to support smaller potentially isolated communities, sandbag preparations, car evacuations, warning phone trees and alarms and supporting members of the community with additional needs.