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FLOOD REPORT: 36 recommendations in the wake of March 31

Dave Owens was in Lismore earlier today to brief the council on his findings after he conducted an independent review into the SES response to the North Coast floods.
Dave Owens was in Lismore earlier today to brief the council on his findings after he conducted an independent review into the SES response to the North Coast floods. Marc Stapelberg

MISTAKES in the roll out of Lismore's evacuation during the March flood have been admitted  by the NSW State Emergency Service.

The revelations came from Commissioner Mark Smethurst and former NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Dave Owens, who briefed Lismore City Council on findings from an independent review into the North Coast floods.

Mr Owens was contracted by the SES to conduct the review into the SES flood response in June amid community tensions about the flood warnings and evacuations.

At the Lismore council chambers, Commissioner Smethurst said the report found vital community information was missing from public warnings and evacuation orders.

"Clearly, the order that did go out should have given people time to get out of the Lismore CBD by the overtopping of the levee," Commissioner Smethurst said.

"That was missing and that was an error, it's in the Owens report. We've said it was a mistake and we need more detail."

Since the report's release, Commissioner Smethurst said the organisation has embraced the 36 recommendations made by Mr Owens.

"We were talking about that today with the mayor about how we need to work hand in hand," Commissioner Smethurst said.

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"It's a council, its SES, its all the other emergency services who will support what we are doing."

In particular, Commissioner Smethurst said the wording of future community alerts would be shorter and more succinct.

"We've made the information going out already simpler from a three page document to one page," Commissioner Smethurst said.

Lismore Mayor, Isaac Smith said the report addressed key concerns tabled to the SES about the handling of the floods, especially about warnings and evacuations.

He was pleased to hear the SES would in future incorporate local knowledge as well as council infrastructure and input into flood response and preparedness processes.

"All of these things will weigh into that decision making process around warnings and evacuation is key to getting a good result from people and preventing some of the disaster we saw," Cr Smith said.

"Everyone I think was quite supportive of his report, it addressed a lot of the issues councillors raised."

The council's general manager, Gary Murphy said the SES' move towards an all-encompassing flood information source rather than from multiple different sources was needed.

Commissioner Smethurst said the report would inform an on-going, statewide transformation of the organisation.

"The responses that we've put in against the Owens report are clearly designed to be affected across NSW not just here in the region," he said.

Lismore's Helping Hands clean up effort he said was a strong example about how the organisation saught to diversify its volunteer base.

"There's no reason why they couldn't be working in coordination with out work effort which I think will make a huge difference, particularly cleaning up after the fact," Commissioner Smethurst said.

On national level, Commissioner Smethurst said he aimed to help drive a uniform emergency response strategy.

"I would like to see nationally a all hazards warning system that is the same so regardless whether its floods, storms, fire, a terrorism issue, a pandemic that the warning system works for everybody."

Topics:  dave owens flood review lismore city council northern rivers floods richmond-tweed ses ses


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