RESCUE FLIGHTS: More than a dozen helicopter services worked to rescue North Bundaberg residents from flooded homes.
RESCUE FLIGHTS: More than a dozen helicopter services worked to rescue North Bundaberg residents from flooded homes. Carolyn Archer BUN280113CAR6

FIVE YEARS ON: Emerging stronger than ever

THE 2013 floods set in motion a multi-faceted response from our emergency services.

But even after the flood waters receded and the life or death emergency situation passed, there were lessons to be learned and new action plans to devise.

Queensland Ambulance Service: Operations manager Rick Tenthy

Operating out of a makeshift tent at the old showgrounds after the service's own Bourbong St headquarters was compromised by flood water, paramedics were faced with unprecedented circumstances.

Mr Tenthy said normal day-to-day medical emergencies didn't stop as staff also assisted with the largest helicopter evacuation in Australian history and the evacuation of patients from Bundaberg Hospital.

"We learned lots of lessons on the day and know not just Bundaberg but the whole state is better prepared and trained,” he said.

"Every local ambulance service network has its own local ambulance co-ordination centre. At the flick of a switch we can co-ordinate our own activities in our district independent of major co-ordination centres, because we lost that linkage in the flood.

"We rehearse that drill all the time.”

Mr Tenthy said those lessons learned in Bundaberg, particularly the co-ordination of the helicopter evacuation, were now been replayed across the state during emergencies.

"Lessons learned have now been adopted into a stateside procedure when it comes to dealing with disasters anywhere in Queensland, particularly when it comes to engaging aircraft,” he said.

"Those frameworks all have their origin that big day in Bundaberg.”

Mr Tenthy said the 2013 floods were also the catalyst for a national framework on how the aged-care sector dealt with large-scale evacuations to ensure the elderly and vulnerable were looked after.

AIR SUPPORT: A Royal Australian Airforce transporter on the tarmac at the Bundaberg Airport.
Photo: Mike Knott / NewsMail
AIR SUPPORT: A Royal Australian Air Force transporter on the tarmac at Bundaberg Airport. Mike Knott BUN290113PLN2

Queensland Police Service: Disaster management support officer Acting Senior Sergeant Russell Williams

Police learned three main lessons from the 2013 floods, with the QPS working alongside Bundaberg Regional Council, and in particular the Local Disaster Management Group, to remedy any shortfalls.

"The most important thing we learned was that emergency and evacuation plans needed reviewing,” Sgt Williams said.

"Organisations were relying on fire plans in a flood situation that were totally inappropriate.

"They had an emergency plan to go to a particular location and would have been standing in ankle-deep water.

"So we became more aware that those things need to be reviewed.

"A lot of work was done with the council and organisations to take an all-hazards approach to emergency and evacuation plans.”

Sgt Williams said the the next big lesson was to expect the unexpected, and with greater warning systems now in place, they also had more time to react.

"Instead of looking to the past - we thought things couldn't get bigger than 2010-11 - we're now planning and prepared for something bigger than 2013,” he said.

"With real-time data on river and dam heights that give us days' notice before Bundaberg is impacted, it's comforting to know we have that far greater advanced warning.”

Lastly, the way police delivered emergency messaging had been overhauled.

"We realised people don't understand the technical jargon,” he said.

The Queensland Police Service was now embracing social media and had altered its scripts for delivering emergency messages to the public, ensuring information was presented in a clear and easily understood manner.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services: Swift water rescue technician and station officer Jonathon Blackley

Motorised swift water rescue craft, additional training and a proactive approach are some of the changes the QFES has implemented post the 2013 floods.

Mr Blackley said the region now had access to motorised craft, with the need for such equipment identified off the back of flood events across the state, including Bundaberg.

"There's been changes to our vehicles, with larger vehicles capable of towing trailers to transport those craft,” he said.

"We also have a more proactive instead of a reactive response to forecast weather events.

"On advice from BoM ... operational personnel are made available or pre-deployed to known trouble spots such as Gayndah and up and down the coast when there's just the possibility of a weather event.

"There's also now a plan and procedure for deploying a team to the north side of Bundaberg and setting up a mobile fire station.

"Prior to 2013, the north side of town being cut off had never happened before, but we know now that is a possibility so we have a procedure in place in the event of a big event.”

Mr Blackley said while the number of trained swift water rescue technicians remained about the same in Bundaberg since 2013, auxiliary staff at Childers and Gin Gin were now trained to level one, giving them greater rescue skills to help in times of emergency.