A combat agency and its hazard
A New South Wales State Emergency Service perspective on the management of flooding Keys, C. (2002) The Australian Journal of Emergency Management 17 (2), 14-18, 10-55
The New South Wales (NSW) State Emergency Service (SES) was formed, nearly 50 years ago, as a direct result of flooding. The period 1949-55 had seen floods in many parts of the state, some of them catastrophic in their consequences: dozens of people had died, massive damage had been wrought on urban and rural assets and community life had been severely and repetitively disrupted across large areas. In response the government of the time decided that an agency was needed to coordinate community reactions to the flood threat and to protect and sustain communities during and after flood events. For many years the SES's actual role in flood management was only vaguely defined, however, and was interpreted largely to mean the management of floods as they occurred - that is, at the real-time moment of emergency response. In recent times this has seen considerable change: the role has been considerably broadened as well as being more formally defined, and today's SES is involved in a wide spectrum of activities relating to flooding and its management.
Since the passage of the State Emergency Service Act in 1989 the SES has been formally designated as the state's 'combat agency' for flooding. This status, and the criticism levelled at the SES in a government-commissioned 1989 report which led to its restructuring, caused the organisation to rethink its purpose and the ways it carried out its responsibilities. As a result the SES moved to participate in or lead activities beyond those real-time response activities such as warning, rescue, evacuation, resupply, property damage mitigation and the provision of information and advice to communities actually under the threat of flooding. Nowadays, the SES also concerns itself with preventative and preparatory activities including planning for floods, developing improved warning systems and procedures, participating in decision making processes relating to flood mitigation and the use of flood liable land, and fostering the education of community members about floods and their management. The combat agency's remit these days is treated as being a very broad one requiring the development of wide-ranging expertise.
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