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Byron Shire
November 28, 2022

Tales of civilian helicopter response to floods

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During the first few days of the flood aftermath, community members coordinated helicopter missions across the north coast to rescue people and deliver food, medical supplies and fuel drops. 

After nine days of facilitating a civilian helicopter response, the team of around 30 were exhausted physically, financially and emotionally, one of the team members, Rich Latimer, told The Echo.

‘We were dropping stuff right down as far as Coraki’, Rich said.

‘We were nine days in, and we’d already done almost 300 missions.

‘I was able to arrange an unprecedented meeting with senior officials from each service [ADF, SES and Police] in a Lismore airport hanger – which was missing its doors from the floodwater – just metres from flood debris and the corpse of a horse.

‘After meeting with the formal services, the community coordination team were, for the first time in these responses, invited into the EOC (Emergency Operations Centre) to brief the government services on community support activity and hand over operations from the exhausted volunteer teams.’

When PM Scott Morrison was late to the press conference in Lismore, Mr Latimer says he took the chance to send out a message about the need to unify.

‘We need a lot less resistance between us and the agencies’.

Now Mr Latimer is calling for ‘major systemic, cultural and political changes’ that ‘are required to fully respond to climate change causing increased frequency of adverse weather events’. He says governments need to be better prepared for disasters like this, ‘by better engaging with community members for emergency preparedness planning and execution’.

‘The idea is about stripping the red tape away. We did it – this was a community-led crisis response that can be the blueprint, and we need direct interaction with the agencies like the ADF. 

Policy reform

‘There is a potential policy outcome from all this.

‘We want to see a special operations taskforce set up within the ADF, which is designed to respond to this in future in a much more powerful way, yet with deep community liaison.

‘We also want to see redirection of military funding budget into the mitigation preparation in response to climate change disasters, and we want to see the media starting to play a role of providing hope and unification.

‘The central message here is that we need to be prepared for these things in the future, and we need to learn from this disaster in the way the response was managed’.

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