CHANGE AFOOT: Mark Somers is the new Richmond Tweed SES Controller.
CHANGE AFOOT: Mark Somers is the new Richmond Tweed SES Controller. Scott Powick

New controller to adopt SES changes

HE HAS dealt with everything from stranded whales to fires, floods and storms.

Now, Mark Somers has taken the reins as the new Richmond Tweed controller for the NSW State Emergency Service.

Mr Somers, who was recently welcomed into the region's SES ranks, faced a defining period of his career in 2009 while in emergency management for the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria.

This disaster, which led to a host of changes in emergency management in that state, has left him in good stead to serve the Northern Rivers.

The NSW SES was subject to an independent review after the March floods this year, which decimated much of the region, including Murwillumbah and Lismore.

The organisation received 3400 calls for help and conducted almost 500 flood rescues during that time.

Mr Somers said they were now working to implement many of the 36 recommendations made.

Mr Somers said there was a significant job ahead in responding to the report by former NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Dave Owens, which made 36 recommendations for future disaster management after the March floods which resulted from ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie.

"There's some significant challenges,” Mr Somers said.

"Following the (flood) event there was some concerns about the way the event was managed.

"Of those 36 recommendations the majority are what we would call systemic issues.

"That's things like (a need to) increase training for our people, making sure that our systems are working and that there's better integration at all levels.

"Locally, part of that is increasing training of our staff and our volunteers. They have welcomed the idea that we're going to be doing that.”

He said extra measures would be implemented on a state level, including a review of emergency warnings and better connectivity between the SES and Bureau of Meteorology in the lead-up to, and during, natural disasters.

He said one facet of this involved helping the community to take as much responsibility for their own welfare as possible during disasters.

Helping to educate residents, he said, would allow the SES and other agencies to focus on those most vulnerable during emergencies.

Mr Somers said the region would soon have a second community engagement officer to help people and businesses to prepare.

"We are going to have more events, whether they're fires, floods or storms.

"We need to make sure that we are ready for those events and we need to make sure that we can manage them.

"We need to build community resilience.”

Mr Somers said there were still plans to find the Murwillumbah SES unit, currently split between one landslip-affected Kyogle Rd site and the industrial area in South Murwillumbah, a new permanent base. But he said it might still take some time to find the right location.

"My understanding is that there has been discussions with the local council... and we need to find the appropriate location,” he said.

The Kyogle Rd base had been threatened by a landslip from the hill above the building for years, but the March storms worsened this, rendering much of the building unsafe for the volunteers to access.

While he's found the nature of volunteering has shifted, with many "spontaneous volunteers” during disasters but time-poor people were not always willing to dedicate their time on an ongoing basis, Mr Somers said there was still value in being part of an organisation like the SES.

To address a shortage in some areas, he said they would establish more community action teams in communities which didn't have a dedicated SES base.

Corporate volunteer groups, consisting of businesses which shut down and lend their hands to the aid effort in times of emergency, would also be vital going forward, Mr Somers said.


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