Lake Macquarie State Emergency Service

6th August 2015

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) [11.38 a.m.]: I move:

That this House:

(1) Notes the recent storms that impacted on significant parts of the State highlighted the important role and expertise of the SES.

(2) Notes the Lake Macquarie SES at Boolaroo did an excellent job in responding to local needs.

(3) Notes the work of other SES branches and volunteer organisations deserve heartfelt thanks and support for their response to this and other events.

(4) Notes that the Lake Macquarie SES is in need of improved facilities and calls on the Minister for Emergency Services to respond to its growing need by providing new facilities.

All members would be well aware of the impact of the east coast low that hit on 20 April, sweeping a destructive path from the Shoalhaven to Myall Lakes, with the Hunter and Central Coast regions bearing the brunt. Like the infamous Pasha Bulker storm of 2007, this weather event created absolute havoc in the Hunter region, with flash flooding, gale-force winds, widespread power failures, bridges washed away, roads cut, communities isolated by floodwaters and thousands of trees downed—many across cars, homes and roads. Tragically, lives were lost in Dungog and Gillieston Heights as a direct consequence of the flooding. The storm generated more than 20,000 requests for assistance to the State Emergency Service [SES] across all affected areas, more than 170 flood rescues and left more than 220,000 homes without power—some for more than a week.

The force of the storm was equal to a category two cyclone, with winds reaching up to 135 kilometres an hour and between 300 millimetres and 400 millimetres of rain falling on parts of the Hunter during the critical period. The response to this storm graphically illustrated the importance of the SES to the welfare of people living in New South Wales and the invaluable service its 10,000 volunteer members provide in responding to emergencies. While emergency services personnel and work crews from government agencies also contributed to the recovery, the bulk of the work was done by SES members, including some from interstate and other parts of New South Wales who travelled to lend a hand. When we hear stories about SES workers who literally spent days in the field assisting people to deal with damage to their homes it is easy to forget that these workers are not paid for their services. In fact, many end up doing it at a personal and financial cost to themselves.

Lake Macquarie SES units were in the thick of things during the storm response. The city and Cooranbong units responded to about 3,000 requests for assistance, and were still helping people weeks after the event when I visited the headquarters at Boolaroo. Overall, the storm generated an unprecedented response by SES units statewide, with more than 700 volunteers mobilised to answer the 20,000-plus calls, nearly half of which were from people in the Hunter. Around Lake Macquarie most of the volunteers' work was devoted to the removal of fallen trees and other debris, and patching up homes left vulnerable by storm damage. However, there were also a number of boats set adrift, and jetties broken and submerged in the lake, and people in some low-lying areas needed assistance to deal with flooding.

In other parts of the Hunter, such as Dungog, Maitland and Stroud, the damage and disruption caused by flooding was much more severe. Thankfully, SES volunteers were there to render assistance, just as the pioneer forerunners of the organisation were during the 1955 floods in the Hunter Valley. Coincidentally, this storm response coincided with the sixtieth anniversary of the events that led to the evolution of the then Civil Defence into the NSW State Emergency Service following devastating floods. I would be surprised if members who represent the region do not refer to that in their contributions to this debate. It would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of the many other service organisations, charities and random volunteers who pitched in to assist communities and individuals in need. That assistance included cooking meals and offering the use of shower facilities and power sockets, helping with the clean-up or organising food drops and fundraising efforts. Community spirit has certainly been to the fore in the wake of this disaster, especially with efforts to assist hard-hit communities such as Dungog.

The final point in my motion refers to the resources of the Lake Macquarie City SES unit. The Lake Macquarie unit has premises on council-owned land in an industrial estate in Boolaroo, next door to the council depot. The unit has about 90 members, although a similar number of Rural Fire Service [RFS] members frequently work with the unit. It operates two storm rescue trucks, three smaller vehicles and two flood boats. The base station is a converted shed, which houses the large vehicles and includes a meal room and training space, and a small cluster of demountables, which house the operations centre and administration offices. While the unit operators are very grateful to have this facility, it is clear to anyone who visits—as I did a couple of weeks after the storm—that it is fast outgrowing the premises. Some basic amenities are needed: There are no change rooms, there is minimal car parking and only a single shower for members' use. Perhaps a more pressing problem is the cramped conditions of the administration and operations centre, which threaten to hinder the efficiency of the unit, particularly during crises when all hands on deck are required.

The operations room cannot comfortably hold more than about four people, but at the height of the recent storm response more than twice that number were frequently there. It becomes crowded and noisy very quickly during an emergency, making communications difficult. Similarly, the administration centre is a rabbit warren of small rooms and narrow corridors that only barely serve their purpose. It is clear that a move to bigger, preferably purpose-built, facility would greatly enhance the operations capability of the unit and probably serve as a drawcard to new members. While I acknowledge that the needs of units throughout the State and the demands for government money are many, I respectfully ask the Minister for Emergency Services to give priority consideration to the provision of better facilities for the Lake Macquarie SES unit. I have spoken briefly with new Hunter Region Controller Amanda Williamson, who confirmed to me that she was acutely aware of the deficiencies of the Creek Reserve Road site and acknowledged that she will be looking to address this problem.

I take this opportunity to record two acknowledgements. One is to former Lake Macquarie Controller Darryl Marshall, who has left the job since the April storm. Darryl has been a member of the SES for 35 years and local controller since 1988. He has received national recognition for his contribution and is greatly respected and revered by his colleagues. I was pleased to be able to attend a farewell for him last Saturday night at Club Macquarie, where it was obvious that his former team members hold him in high regard. I trust that Darryl and his wife, Joan, will enjoy their retirement. Finally, I once again thank all the SES volunteers who contributed to the immediate storm response and to the ongoing recovery—another job well done. I trust that Government members will support me in this motion.

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