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Byron Shire
November 28, 2021

SES Deputy Commissioner to visit flood group

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The Lismore Citizens Flood Review Group say that in the final days of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements in October the BoM and the CSIRO statements saying the pattern and effect of La Ninã in the coming summer season is likely to bring multiple cyclones and storms from the Coral Sea along the coast similar to those experienced during the Brisbane floods in 2011.

The groups says this is also a warning for the NSW Northern Rivers.

Given the outcome of the March 2017 flood for the regional community, this prediction spurred the Lismore Citizens Food Review Group to write to the SES Commissioner and the Minister for Emergency Services David Elliott.

In response to the letter the NSW SES Deputy Commissioner – Operations Daniel Austin accompanied by Senior Officers recently made two visits to Lismore.

Over several days the Lismore Citizens Review Group introduced them to members of the business community, government and non government agencies and local SES volunteers and Northern Rivers Zone SES staff.

The importance of Early Warning, Local Knowledge and the timing of the Evacuation Order were the key issues discussed.

The Lismore Citizens Flood Review Group was formed following the 2017 flood.

The objective of this small group of long term locals is to try to ensure that the level of devastation experienced by the community in 2017 never happens again.

‘In the past three years we have made presentations to the SES, Politicians, National and State Directors of BoM, Exec Director Office of Emergency Management, Local government representatives, and most recently the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements’ said Mrs Beth Trevan, Coordinator of the group.

‘Despite all these representations, issues related to early warning, local knowledge and the Evacuation Order remained unresolved.

‘Recognition and acceptance of locally devised emergency management actions was required from the Commissioner or her senior HQ representatives in order to resolve the situation for the community and local SES staff and volunteers,’  said Mrs Trevan.

‘During the meetings representatives from business and across the community were at last able to tell their 2017 stories directly to HQ staff.

‘Additionally, in further meetings local SES volunteer representatives and local salaried staff were also given the opportunity to speak up’, said Mrs Trevan.

‘The management of floods has changed considerably in recent years.

‘In the past floods were very well managed by Local SES Unit volunteers with support from Regional HQ.

‘Now they are managed by a trained Incident Management Team at Northern Rivers Zone level and by out of area personnel.  There is also greater involvement of SES HQ in Wollongong and the BoM.   

‘Our research has found in recent years there has been a never ending turnover of salaried staff resulting in little or no corporate or local knowledge within SES senior management.  This created the problems in 2017,’ said Mrs Trevan.

Following multiple meetings the Lismore Citizens Flood Review Group has been assured that preliminary early warning can be given by local SES units as soon as heavy flood rain starts falling in the catchment and there is the likelihood of at least a minor flood.

This should give the community and businesses sufficient time to consider their options, implement their plans, pack up their homes and businesses and for farmers to move stock to higher ground.

Local knowledge and the timing of the Evacuation Order based on incremental river rise is now built into the flood management system.   

This means that whoever is managing the incident has documented actions that are required to be followed as the water begins to encroach on the community at the various stages of flood development.

Detailed local information as it is happening will also be supplied by the local volunteer SES Intelligence teams.

‘We are looking forward to continuing to work with SES HQ and local staff to ensure that the locally devised system cannot be overridden by out of area staff and the avoidable outcome in 2017 does not happen again’, said Mrs Trevan.

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