20 April 2024

We've passed the worst of 'high-risk season', so it's time to prepare for the next one, says SES chief

| Claire Fenwicke
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Anthony Draheim with SES vehicle

ACT SES chief officer Anthony Draheim is proud of everything his volunteers achieved during the recent high-risk weather season. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Despite predictions of a hot and dry El Niño-type summer that didn’t eventuate, the Territory was battered by six severe storms during the high-risk weather season, which runs from October to March each year.

Over that period, calls to the ACT State Emergency Service (SES) jumped 55 per cent and we’ve been urged to get ready now for the next emergency.

The ACT SES received 2316 requests for assistance by the end of February 2024. Over the same period in 2023, there had been only 1499 calls for help.

The main driver of the increase was the severe weather event of 8 December, when the SES received 1079 calls for help over a six-day period.

ACT SES chief officer Anthony Draheim said that equated to about 13,000 hours of volunteer support and work in the community.

“By anyone’s estimation, if you have a list of 1000 jobs to do, it’s going to take you a bit of time to get there,” he said.

“You can’t get to them all in the first half an hour … those people most in need get the service first.”

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CO Draheim described the Canberra community as generally resilient, but some key messages about the SES continued to be misunderstood.

One was the fact that the SES is made up primarily of volunteers.

“Every time you see someone in orange, that’s a volunteer from the community working to keep the community protected,” he said.

“They’re moving out of their own home to protect someone else’s home.”

Another was that volunteers respond to emergencies and that jobs were triaged by the amount of danger that’s presented to the community, which isn’t necessarily the same as the amount of damage that’s been inflicted.

CO Draheim also pointed out the volunteers’ job was to make a situation safe, not provide a free service that a homeowner or business would otherwise pay for.

“We only make it safe; we don’t repair anyone’s house,” he emphasised.

“So, for example, if there’s a tree on your house that’s not going anywhere and can’t fall any further, [volunteers] don’t need to cut it down because it’s already done its damage and is stuck there.

“That’s when you need to call an arborist, your insurance company and a builder to come and do it.”

While it’s understood supply and skills shortages, cost-of-living issues and insurance company negotiations can hold up repairs to a leaking roof or the removal of a tree, CO Draheim said it could be frustrating to see a place that had previously been made safe still have the tarp flapping on the roof months later.

Now that we’re out of the high-risk weather season, he stressed that the community was expected to prepare for the next emergency weather event while things were calmer.

“The other six months of the year, outside of the high-risk weather season, are all about preparedness,” CO Draheim said.

“[This is when] you can fix damaged roofs, go to your insurance company and your builder, clean your gutters out, trim branches in your areas, tidy up any loose items that could cause you damage later on.

“It’s too late to do it [during] a storm event.”

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Respect for volunteers was another aspect that still seemed to escape some people asking for help.

CO Draheim said his people were out helping the community on their own time and should be treated with the respect they deserved.

“They are super dedicated. They’re committed to not just wearing orange but protecting the community, no matter what time of year, day or night,” he said.

“When they are out and about, treat them as you’d expect to be treated because that’s not always the case.”

Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman recently thanked all emergency services for their work during the high-risk weather season.

He stressed that people should use the down season to develop an emergency survival plan, watch for community preparedness events, and stay informed about incidents by checking the ESA website and social media pages.

“Complacency can be costly. The best time to prepare for an emergency is before it happens,” Mr Gentleman said.

“By working together, we can continue to build resilience and ensure the safety and wellbeing of ACT communities in the face of any challenge.”

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