SES morale low, volunteers quit after flood criticism

11th October 2017 10:00 AM
The SES Commissioner is concerned about the morale of Lismore volunteers. The SES Commissioner is concerned about the morale of Lismore volunteers. Marc Stapelberg

Mark Smethurst, Commissioner, NSW State Emergency Service wrote this letter to The Northern Star:

THERE has recently been undeserved negative sentiment towards our hard-working local NSW SES volunteers and staff with a reduction in their morale and several leaving because of unmerited negative comments.

This is affecting the ability of the Lismore SES Unit to respond to emergencies.

The Report released by the Lismore Citizens' Review into the flooding in March 2017 has a number of significant errors and misunderstandings.

Disappointingly, the authors of the report failed to engage with the NSW SES during the compilation of their report to ensure that it was a true and fair representation of the facts.

Further to the Lismore Citizens' Review, the NSW SES has initiated in-person meetings with a number of the report's authors to discuss their concerns and will continue this dialogue.

In particular, the NSW SES refutes any claims that the response to the March flood was undertaken without reference to the local Lismore SES Unit and local knowledge.

The flood response fully utilised local input, not only from the local Lismore Unit, but also from long-standing volunteers based at our Region office in Lismore, the local Council and other local emergency services, melding this with data from the Bureau of Meteorology and other wider sources to produce the best possible response with the information that was then available.

The report also fundamentally misunderstands modern emergency response, making assumptions based on outdated practices.

As a learning organisation, the NSW SES is always seeking to hone our response to emergencies.

We have previously acknowledged that elements of the March response could have been improved, and I commissioned an independent report authored by former Deputy Police Commissioner Dave Owens which has made a number of recommendations.

This report may be viewed in full on the NSW SES website.

Prior to the flooding last March, the NSW SES commenced a review of its warning products to provide clearer and more timely warnings to the community in times of emergency and disaster.

The NSW SES has also undertaken an internal 'after-action' review, as part of its normal post event process which will lead to further improvements in how we conduct flood and other response operations.

As a community based volunteer organisation the NSW SES has always valued local knowledge and experience and we will continue to do so.

Rather than attacking our organisation including our local SES members, I encourage the community to turn their efforts into positive action, and to join the NSW SES.

There are a range of ways to volunteer, from several hours each week to more flexible options based around events.

Again, more information can be found on our website and I challenge everyone critical of our efforts in the community to get on board, improve our capability, and help us build a safer, better prepared Lismore community.