Funding will help river communities to plan for emergencies

Spencer was inundated by flood waters during storms in March 2021. CCN Archive

The River Cares community group has received almost $15,000 in funding to develop a Community Emergency Plan for the Lower Hawkesbury district, incorporating a range of Central Coast suburbs including Spencer, Lower Mangrove and Wendoree Park.

River Cares is one of 17 community groups affected by floods in March this year to receive funding from the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR), in partnership with Suncorp Group.

Funded through the Rebuilding Futures program, the grants are intended to help with projects such as restoring damaged infrastructure, improving buildings and maintaining equipment needed for future disaster events, developing local disaster-response knowledge and skills, and providing access to services that foster recovery.

River Cares President, Robyn Downham, said the grant of $14,832 would go a long way towards preparing the area, which has been totally cut off by both floods and bushfires in recent years, for future emergency weather events.

“We have applied for a variety of grants programs and this is the first in which we have been successful,” Downham said.

“We are really thrilled because this will really get our emergency planning up and running.

“We’ve been trying to compile the plan since the floods in March with assistance from the SES, Central Coast Council, the RFS and the Department of Communities and Justice.

“So much is needed to prepare us for future events.

“We need a community generator, a box trailer, electronic signage to let people know if creeks are cut off, a CB radio system and emergency packs for community members for a start.”

Downham said she and fellow River Cares member Jane McCallum who runs the Spencer general store had recently completed an eight-week online course on emergency response to help them compile a comprehensive plan.

“The next stage for us is to involve more of the community,” she said.

“Each creek which is an offshoot from the Hawkesbury River has what we call a Hamlet Leader and we need to bring these people together to let them know what their roles are.

“Each of them is responsible for a group of people and they need to establish base stations and have CB radios to hand out to the vulnerable.

“One of the biggest problems we have when there is a severe weather event is that we lose all forms of communication and it’s important to be able to keep everyone informed on what’s happening and be in touch with emergency services.

“We need to have a structured, reliable dissemination of information.

“We have also applied for funding under the Black Summer Bushfire Recovery grants program and hopefully that will also be successful.”

Downham said the organisation would hold an open forum to involve as many people as possible and get the community on board with emergency planning.

“We need so much help including people to help out in organising storage and allocation when we get donations of things such as mattresses,” she said.

“There are lots of volunteer roles which need filling.”

Downham said the organisation was expecting funding from Central Coast Council towards holding regular community information days.

“In the past we have been completely cut off by fires and floods and left to fend for ourselves with no communication, no electricity to drive the pumps for fresh water and no power for generators to keep things such as fridges powered,” she said.

“We are in dire straits whenever there is a big weather event but things are looking very positive for 2022.”

FRR CEO Natalie Egleton said grant recipients had shown a sense of resolve and strength when it comes to rebuilding and preparing for the future.

“More than 50 per cent of the applications we received for this round were for infrastructure and equipment, which shows not only the extent of the physical damage from the flooding, but also the long-term approach that these organisations are taking to the rebuilding of their communities,” she said.

Suncorp Group CEO Steve Johnston said the grants will enable recipients to overcome challenges and take control of their futures.

Terry Collins