The Big River Sailing Club was under water as the Clarence River reached moderate flood level of 3.6m at Grafton on the 14th February, 2020.
The Big River Sailing Club was under water as the Clarence River reached moderate flood level of 3.6m at Grafton on the 14th February, 2020.

Concerns raised over SES flood management changes

CLARENCE Valley Council has come out firing at the State Emergency Service after concerns were raised over the most recent flood event.

On Tuesday Mayor Jim Simmons called on the SES to reinstate resources and management to the Clarence Valley through a mayoral minute after hearing from local SES volunteers and the council's own local emergency management officer.

The concerns were raised after recent SES restructures meant the most recent flooding event in the Clarence was being managed by staff in Lismore, which led to a lack of attention to local issues.

"Based on the issues raised during the recent event, this is clearly not acceptable and raises unacceptable risks for the community," Cr Simmons said.

"It is my strong view that the Clarence Valley community is vulnerable and at risk if the current level of emergency management is not complemented with personnel who know the local area."

Councillor Richie Williamson said the Clarence needed a fully operational control centre and the community would not stand for a "second-rate SES agency".

"We have, most recently, had a little taste of how it floods," he said.

"I can tell you from where I sat, the response from the State Emergency Service as an organisation - not the volunteers - as an organisation, simply was not up to the task."

Cr Williamson emphasised the issue was not about the volunteers who the community were "absolutely indebted to" but about the agency's support.

"This is about how floods are managed in the Clarence," he said. "I can tell you in 2013, without that well-resourced, highly skilled, local SES staff and personnel at Induna St (SES Control Centre), the flood would not have been managed in the same way it was."

It was stated in council documents some staff at the Incident Control Centre in Lis­more included Queensland Fire and Emergency Services personnel with "little knowledge" of the region or its nine SES units.

It was also stated radio interviews conducted with an incident controller based in Lismore led to "sketchy" information being given about the flood impacts of the Orara and Clarence Rivers.

"During a major flood those agency representatives would be cut off with road closures and would be stuck in Lismore," stated the council documents.

"There was general feeling that the EOC (Emergency Operations Centre) needed to be established in Grafton as occurred recently during the recent bushfire event.

"Council's LEMO (local emergency management officer) and senior staff are of the view that the changed arrangements within the SES are unacceptable and not serving our area."

Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis said he understood the concerns of volunteers and said it was important that as much local knowledge was available to ensure people were given the right advice.

He raised the concerns regarding the recent flood events with the Emergency Services Minister, David Elliott and had been assured during a major flood the operations would be managed from the Clarence.

"The advice I have received from the minister is there are no changes to the SES structure," he said.

"He said because it was not a major flood that (the control centre in Lismore) was the most appropriate way to deal with it at that particular time.

Councillor Greg Clancy said they needed to stem the flow of essential services out of the Clarence and he too called on the SES control centre to be brought back.

"We do need to be calling on the local member and the minister for police and emergency services, to certainly bring back services into the Valley," he said.

"We have the largest river in eastern Australia and we have a massive floodplain. Why should that be managed - in an emergency - from Lismore? It just does not make sense."

The State Emergency Service has been contacted for comment.