This audit found that the NSW State Emergency Service cannot be assured that it has sufficient volunteers to respond to future demands.


The NSW State Emergency Service (SES) is the lead agency responsible for preparing the community for and responding to storm, flood and tsunami events. Many non-metropolitan SES units respond to other emergencies including road crash, search, rescue, community first responder and bushfire support.

The NSW State Emergency Management Plan recognises that no one agency can address all of the impacts of a particular hazard. The lead agency needs to coordinate the activities of other organisations involved during a disaster.

SES is different from other emergency services in NSW, in that all of its frontline units are made up wholly of volunteers. This presents particular challenges. The episodic nature of storms, floods and tsunamis require a range of management and leadership skills: sustaining volunteer interest in training during quiet times, controlling rapid response to events and all the while providing effective corporate support.

The audit examined whether SES has a sustainable volunteer workforce, with effective strategies to attract, retain and train volunteers. The criteria are:

1. does SES have the workforce it needs to prepare for, and respond to emergencies and disasters?

2. does SES have an efficient and effective framework for managing its volunteer workforce?

The audit’s focus is on the management of the volunteer workforce to support SES objectives. The report comments on other aspects of SES management and operations only where it is relevant to that focus.

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