Presentation: Upgrades to Evacuation Centres
ABE Public Forum Presentation to Council 25 July 2023 - NoM 23/02 Upgrades to Evacuation Centres
By Dr Brett Stevenson
Co-Convenor, A Better Eurobodalla
I am presenting today as the Co-convenor of A Better Eurobodalla (ABE), a community forum working to achieve open, accountable and responsive government in Eurobodalla.
ABE has applied our principles of good governance to today’s NoM 23/02 Upgrades to Evacuation Centres. ABE has taken a close interest in disaster preparedness and recovery in the wake of the catastrophic Black Summer bushfires, which have had major impacts on the Eurobodalla community and environment.
When ABE presented to the previous Council in June 2021 regarding disaster preparedness and recovery, it was clear that both our neighbouring LGAs of Shoalhaven & Bega Valley were significantly more advanced than the Eurobodalla Shire in their recovery and emergency preparedeness planning.
It is therefore timely to review the situation after the passage of another two years, and ascertain whether the situation has changed.
As part of responsibilities designated under the NSW Emergency Services & Rescue Act, the General Manager of the relevant Council (or their staff nominee) chairs the Local Emergency Management Committee, which is responsible for producing the Local Emergency Management Plan in each area.
It is notable that the current version of Eurobodalla Emergency Plan was created in 2016, with minor changes and updates to ABS statistics in 2019, and has not been reviewed in wake of the Black Summer fires, and nor does it mention the word “pandemic”. The plan also indicates it is required to be reviewed every 3 years, meaning it is already overdue for renewal.
In contrast, our northern neighbour’s current Shoalhaven Emergency Management Plan was signed off in 2021, and has been updated to take account of the Black Summer bushfire season, as well as recognising the occurrence of pandemics. The current Bega Valley Emergency Plan was last updated in April 2021, and includes consideration of the implications of a pandemic.
Furthermore, given that the then Director Infrastructure’s IRR22/024 report to Council last September referenced nine natural disaster flood events since the Black Summer bushfires, it would be expected that the Eurobodalla Shire Emergency Flood Plan would be a priority document for emergency preparedness. However, this is not the case, with Volume 1 being prepared in 2013, and volumes 2 and 3 each being prepared in 2006. It is notable that the Flood Plan states that “the plan is to be reviewed no less frequently than every 5 years”, so the plan has clearly failed its own benchmark.
In contrast, Shoalhaven and Bega Valley have found it within their capacities to produce current flood management plans. The current Bega Valley Flood Management Plan was signed off in March 2021, while the Shoalhaven plan was authorised in October 2022.
So it doesn’t seem to matter whether it is fire, flood or pandemic, the Eurobodalla’s current emergency management documentation lags our neighbouring LGAs, and is significantly out of date in many respects. This apparent inability to update current emergency management planning tools in the Eurobodalla is a critical governance issue which needs to be promptly addressed in order to both discharge legislative responsibilities and contribute to community confidence, well-being and resilience.
As outlined in ABE’s June 2021 presentation to ESC, community involvement in disaster recovery and preparedness is a key objective of the NSW Recovery Plan meant to guide efforts in the Eurobodalla and across the state. However, little of substance has been achieved in community disaster recovery planning in the Eurobodalla over the last 2 years.
ESC has only prepared one Bushfire Action Recovery Plan in April 2020, which failed to explain how it was actually planning to achieve its stated objective to “Build community resilience and capability.
The Eurobodalla Bushfire Recovery Plan has never been updated, despite page 6 proclaiming “This is a working document and is updated regularly”.
In contrast to Eurobodalla’s internally focussed approach, Shoalhaven and Bega Valley Shires have continued to pursue their community focussed disaster recovery and preparedness processes. The intervening two years has seen significant progress in delivery of comprehensive and resilient disaster preparation, management and information tools, particularly in the Shoalhaven, where Shoalhaven Council’s decision to invest $2 million of BLER funding into their Recovery into Resilience (RiR) project is delivering significant dividends.
The RiR project benefits the community by helping residents and visitors get better prepared for emergencies, be more resilient and have better access to accurate, timely and authoritative information in times of crisis.
A key practical component is the provision of Local Information Hubs where communications and energy technology have been installed at 19 Council-owned halls and community centres across the Shoalhaven.
The Hubs are linked to the Shoalhaven Emergency Operations Centre via satellite internet connection and powered via backup power from solar panels and batteries.
This ensures the Hubs are not reliant on mobile phone towers or the power grid, which were major points of vulnerability in both Shoalhaven and Eurobodalla during the Black Summer Fires
The Shoalhaven Council website also provides extensive and current emergency information, including a “Disaster Dashboard” which is updated in near real time to display the current status of potential emergency situations across the entire Shoalhaven. In contrast, emergency management pages on the ESC website are a very modest affair, essentially consisting of a series of links to external home pages of agencies such as the RFS or SES.
There are multiple opportunities currently available for Council to rectify the issues identified in this presentation, with interested and skilled local stakeholders having already done much of the groundwork necessary to facilitate realistic and achievable projects to boost community emergency preparation and resilience across the Eurobodalla. There is also a ready source of Federal funding available to undertake such projects via means of the Commonwealth Disaster Ready Fund, which is providing up to $200 million per year for 5 years for funding commencing in 2023.
Councillor Mayne’s NoM today is a modest but welcome step in the right direction to address significant long running deficiencies in emergency preparedness and building community resilience, and ABE urges Councillors to support it. However, much more remains to be done if we are to bring our shire’s level of preparedness up to a standard commensurate with escalating 21st century hazards and risks.
Our neighbouring Councils have provided valuable templates of what can be achieved, and the Eurobodalla community looks to our Council to fulfil its legislated governance responsibilities and moral obligations to help us achieve these objectives.