2023 – Dam Safety Emergency Preparedness – Lessons From the Recent NSW floods

Craig Ronan, Jason Porter

NSW has established modern safety legislation to ensure that dam safety risks are acceptable to the community. The legislation includes requirements for declared dam owners to prepare and implement an emergency plan for their dam.

The NSW State Emergency Service (NSW SES) is an emergency and rescue service comprised of a large proportion of volunteers and a small contingent of staff. It is the legislated combat, or lead agency, for planning for, and responding to floods, storms, and tsunamis in NSW under the State Emergency Response and Management (SERM) Act 1989 and State Emergency Service Act 1989.

During the period November 2021 until March 2023 the NSW SES conducted 479 days of flood operations, with 34 river catchments in flood with multiple flood peaks in some areas. 16 floods of record were recorded, sadly with the loss of life.

The NSW SES, dam owners and the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology worked closely together to model the impacts of forecast rainfall producing inflows to dams and planned water releases from dams into already flooded rivers to predict flood heights for communities downstream.

The events showed that dam Emergency Plans play a critical role in assisting combat agencies, in this case the NSW SES, in managing the response to the flood events. Dams Safety NSW works closely with the NSW SES to ensure the consequences of dam failure are appropriately managed to keep communities safe.

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