The Spring of 2016 was one of Victoria State Emergency Services’ (VICSES) busiest in its 41 year history. It was a season marked by severe storms and prolonged flooding not seen since 2011.
Volunteers from across the state responded to more than 14,000 requests for assistance (RFAs), mitigating and responding to storms, floods and landslides, all while maintaining Australia's largest road rescue capacity and supporting other emergency service organisations.
VICSES staff have also been busy co-ordinating emergency community meetings in Incident Control Centres (ICCs) and at the State Control Centre (SCC).
A vital part of this work has been keeping the public informed via the issuing of flood watches and warnings via VicEmergency, social media and the state’s network of Emergency Broadcasters.
So far this year the Bureau of Meteorology has issued 1169 flood watches. VICSES issued 1889 community notifications.
The Bureau’s flood watches and warnings are a vital part of providing information during emergencies. These products provide up-to-date information and forecasts on river levels and flooding severity. Not only are these products viewable by the public at bom.gov.au/vic/warnings/ but by VICSES and flood analysts working in Incident Control Centres, who use this data, accompanied by knowledge, intelligence and information about what is happening in communities now and traditionally, to provide actions communities can take to prepare themselves, stay safe during emergencies and recover more quickly.
Having weathered the storms and floods, many Victorians are now preparing themselves against the threat of fire over summer – a season which is also prone to storms and hail. And as the holidays approach, VICSES volunteers will be giving up their time to host Driver Reviver sites around the state, encouraging everyone to drive safely and get home safe.
While that might all feel overwhelming, VICSES Director of Community Resilience and Communication, Kate White, said there were some simple ways Victorians could ensure they and their families were ready.
“By having an emergency plan and kit at home, you’ll ensure that, no matter the emergency, you’ll have the items you need to survive,” she said.
“An emergency kit should include enough food and water to last three days, as well as a radio, torch and batteries, some spare clothes and copies of any important documents. And don’t forget to pack any prescriptions and items needed by everyone in the home – including pets.
“Also, make sure you know where you’ll get information in an emergency. Download the VicEmergency app and know your local emergency broadcaster.
“We all hope natural disasters and emergencies won’t happen, but they’re an unfortunate fact of life. It’s important that when they do happen, we take the opportunity to be better prepared.”
How it happened
September marked the beginning
In mid-September, severe weather produced significant rainfall which impacted an already saturated catchment across large areas of the west and north of the state.
Coleraine in the south-west was one of the first communities to be significantly impacted due to flash flooding, with subsequent flooding extending widely to numerous north-west and north-east communities over the following days and weeks.
Landslides impacted fire affected areas at Wye River and Separation Creek on the Great Ocean Road and caused significant road infrastructure damage and impact to the community.
Destructive storms battered South Australia causing widespread flash flooding and property damage. VICSES deployed several task forces in conjunction with CFA strike teams.
A wet and windy October
Throughout the month of October, unprecedented back-to-back low pressure systems continued to drench Victoria leading it to become the second busiest month in VICSES’ 41 year history.
Volunteers from every unit across the state supported communities with extensive flood monitoring, levy construction, sandbagging at-risk homes and properties, clearing fallen trees from buildings, cars and roads, conducting road and other rescues, and supporting other agencies.
A cold front with strong gusty winds and widespread rain crossed the state resulting in increased flooding, landslides in the alpine areas and high numbers of RFAs relating to trees down and building damage. Ballarat and the North East Region were most effected, with sustained power outages in the Eastern Metropolitan area.
No reprieve in November
With flood response activities continuing, another severe thunderstorm with associated strong wind gusts and large hail devastated areas in and around Merbein, Mildura and Red Cliffs in the far North West of Victoria. Power and telecommunications in these areas were cut for extended periods and extensive building damage sustained.
Severe thunderstorms again crossed the state in November, resulting in substantial building damage in the Hobson’s Bay (Altona Meadows) and Wyndham (Truganina) areas. Floodwater in the Murray-Riverina catchments continues move downstream and impacting the Sunraysia (Mildura) area.
For more information on VICSES, and how to prepare for storm and flood, visit ses.vic.gov.au/prepare.