But he added that issues, such as the centralization of the SES and the shortage of volunteers, had severely impacted the agency’s ability to respond to the flooding emergency.
The report made 37 recommendations, including that the SES should be restructured to harness local knowledge, coordinate with other rescue agencies, boost paid staff salaries and push for more volunteers.
It also suggested that Resilience NSW be abolished unless its role was clarified and its policies became more focused on meeting community needs, and First Nations people should be included in discussions about how to better prepare communities from flooding events and recovery.
The report found the government and telecommunications companies failed to ensure flooded communities had emergency communications after infrastructure was destroyed.
The report also said the government failed to provide services such as housing and cash relief in time, and state infrastructure was not ready for the extent of the floods.
Inquiry participants claimed that the timeliness, accuracy and clarity of information issued by the NSW SES and BOM were inadequate and that communication issues were exacerbated by the loss of telecommunication services, particularly in the Northern Rivers region, the report notes.
A NSW SES spokesperson said the agency welcomed the “opportunity presented by the independent flood inquiry and parliamentary inquiry to identify ways in which the emergency response of the NSW SES’s volunteers and staff can be improved”.
“The NSW SES notes that the NSW government will consider the findings and recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry and respond to the parliament in due course,” the spokesperson said.
A BOM spokesperson said the agency strongly refuted several of the committee’s findings, noting its involvement with this inquiry had also been limited.
“The bureau strongly refutes the committee’s findings that it was not prepared for and did not comprehend the scale of the February-March 2022 flood events,” the spokesperson said.
They added that it warned governments and the community via traditional and social media of the likelihood of a La Nina event for that summer three times before the weather event was declared. The agency said it reinforced this messaging several times, including a briefing to NSW and Queensland premiers and senior officials.
The agency also rejected the report’s criticism that it functioned as a “nine to five business”, noting they operated each day and around the clock.
“The bureau will review and consider the report’s recommendations and respond as appropriate,” the spokesperson said.
NSW Emergency Services and Resilience Minister Steph Cooke said the government would consider its findings and recommendations, and respond in due course.
It comes as many await the findings of the government’s independent flood inquiry report. The report was provided to NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet last month and he will prepare his response to its findings before they are publicly released, but one of the key recommendations will see Resilience NSW boss Shane Fitzsimmons dumped and the agency scaled down.
The report, prepared by former police commissioner Mick Fuller and Professor Mary O’Kane, will call for the agency to be cut to a small office and its responsibilities reallocated to existing government departments. A new deputy police commissioner will also be appointed to emergency and disaster management under the recommendations.
Former emergency service chiefs said the disaster agency didn’t have time to adequately establish itself before it was forced to step into action and poor planning doomed the agency from the start.
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