In a groundbreaking initiative, the SES wants to have a say in all future developments in flood prone areas.
In the wake of two major floods in the Hunter this year, State Emergency Services will push to have legal authority granted to them to become a part of the development approval process.
This would mean SES officials could brief government authorities, such as local councils, about storm and flood risks to an area prior to any new development being approved.
“The development and consent authority need to fully understand the flood risk,” NSW SES Assistant Commissioner and director of emergency management Mark Morrow said.
“They need to be engaged with the community ... understand that the economic and social impacts of these weather events can be catastrophic.”
Developments are currently made to withstand a one in 100 occurrence of a severe weather event.
Mr Morrow said the phrase misled people to think that it will only occur once in 100 years and believed it was no longer an adequate way to plan in locations such as the Hunter.
“Using the phrase a one in 100 occurrence – that statement is misleading,” he said.
“What we are really saying is that one per cent of events produce severe weather conditions.
“In light of recent events we are seeing more intense and extreme weather conditions and they are happening more frequently.
“Preparation and resilience in the face of changing weather patterns is the best approach for communities and emergency service agencies alike.”
Mr Morrow believed the Hunter had dodged a bullet when the storm and flood hit in early January. Had it been of similar severity to the April 2015 storm, the outcome would have been very different.
The damage bill to Maitland City Council assets from last year’s superstorm reached more than $7 million. This estimate included the cost of repair work to council-owned buildings, drainage networks, roads and trees.
The dollar amount significantly rises when local businesses and properties are included in the damage bill.
In the Cessnock City Council area it was estimated that the total damage costs was in the vicinity of $39 million.
Mr Morrow said sustainable communities were the way forward and he believed the collective knowledge of the SES could help during the planning process to ensure development decision were well-informed on flood, fire and storm risks.
“We need to have resilient communities,” he said. “For example there are parts of Gillieston Heights that are always going to be isolated because of Testers Hollow. We need the community to educate themselves.”