MEDIA RELEASE: Victorians flock to VICSES in record number for help during COVID years

MEDIA RELEASE: Victorians flock to VICSES in record number for help during COVID years

13/10/21, 11:10 pm

Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES) volunteers have attended more call-outs than ever in its 70-year history during the 2019-2021 ‘COVID years’, despite most Victorians being in some form of lockdown, an analysis of internal VICSES data shows.

From severe weather and storms, to tornados and an earthquake, VICSES volunteers have been busy. The storm on the evening of 9 June 2021 which lashed the Dandenong Ranges, Macedon Ranges and many other areas led to the busiest period in VICSES’ history with over 10,000 calls for help in the days that followed. 

Last year, the Bureau of Meteorology confirmed two separate weather events in Horsham and Waurn Ponds, as tornado events. With a huge clean-up effort following both events, VICSES volunteers across the south to mid-west together responded to almost 300 related calls for help. 

State-wide, VICSES volunteers and staff attended 74,535 calls for help, in the period 1 July 2019-30 June 2021, a massive 27% increase compared with the previous two-year period (1 July 2017-30 June 2019). The 2019-2021 financial years were two of the top three busiest years in VICSES history, in terms of state-wide requests for assistance.

Together, volunteers and staff logged over 500,000 hours in the 12 months to 30 June 2021, responding to Victorians’ calls for help, during a period when Melbourne experienced its second wave of COVID cases and most of its citizens in prolonged lockdown, unable to travel more than five kilometres from home.

Of the 503,427 hours spent responding to calls for help, 408,139 were for storms, 46,751 were to assist other emergency services, 18,617 were for floods, 12,022 were for road rescues, and 6,767 were for other rescues.

Gippsland experienced the largest increase in requests for assistance over the 1 June 2019-30 July 2021 period, with VICSES East region units responding to 8,371 requests, This is 41% more than the previous two-year period. 

This was followed by:

  • Greater Melbourne where Central region units responded to 43,749 call-outs over the period 1 June 2019-30 July 2021 – 32% more than the previous two years;
  • Grampians where Mid-West region units responded to 4,009 call-outs over the period 1 July 2019-30 June 2021 – 23% more than the previous two years; 
  • Southwest Victoria where South West region units responded to 3,433 call-outs over the period 1 July 2019-30 June 2021 – 20% more than the previous two years;
  • Hume where North East region units responded to 6,759 call-outs over the period 1 July 2019-30 June 2021 – 5% more than the previous two years; and
  • Loddon where North West region units responded to 3,170 call-outs over the period 1 July 2019-30 June 2021 – 1% less than the previous two years.

Reflecting the larger population in the VICSES Central region covering metropolitan Melbourne, significantly more hours were consumed by volunteers, responding to requests for assistance in the 12 months to 30 June 2021 (331,082 hours responding to 21,837 calls). 

This was followed by:

  • North East region (43,143 hours responding to 2,844 calls)
  • North West region (42,439 hours responding to 2,762 calls)
  • East region (38,103 hours responding to 3.905 calls)
  • South West region (22,473 hours responding to 2,990 calls)
  • Mid West region (21,687 hours responding to 2026 calls)

Calls for assistance across Victoria have been responded to by 4,553 operational and support VICSES personnel, with a review of figures and trends showing volunteerism has remained steady over the past five years, despite the challenges of COVID-19. 

Women account for just under 35% of VICSES personnel (1,506), with 70% of units state-wide having a female on their Unit Management Team, a significant increase over the past 10 years. Of the 146 unit controllers, 34 are women; of the 368 deputy controllers, 113 are women; and of the 464 unit officers, 161 are women.

For more information, or if you’re interested in volunteering with VICSES, please visit, https://www.ses.vic.gov.au/join-us.

Quotes attributable to VICSES CEO, Stephen Griffin:

VICSES volunteers have played a critical role in supporting Victorians and the state’s emergency services during a period of enormous stress in the community. 

 They have experienced the same challenges of working from home, remote schooling and the physical and mental impacts of lockdowns as the rest of the community, and we applaud their continued support of Victoria’s emergency services so magnificently during COVID.

Some of the extreme weather events and storms we have experienced in Victoria over the past two years are no doubt a factor in the significant increase in requests for assistance VICSES have responded to. VICSES is a trusted resource for Victorians, and it is gratifying to have been able to provide help and peace-of-mind during these unprecedented times.

Notwithstanding a small decline in regional volunteers, we have experienced a steady level of resourcing in recent years, with a small increase in Greater Melbourne. It’s also encouraging to see a significant increase in the number of women in Unit Management Team roles, demonstrating some of the gender diversity gains we have achieved in recent years.”

Quotes attributable to VICSES Assistant Chief Officer, Ray Jasper:

“With the climate outlook pointing to above average rainfall, there are basic steps Victorians can take to mitigate damage from storms, floods and high winds we typically experience in Spring, such as securing items from around the house and property, clearing out gutters of leaves and other debris that has accrued during winter, and having a contingency plan should you be impacted by adverse weather events. For more information on how to plan and prepare, please visit our website, ses.vic.gov.au/plan-and-stay-safe.”