Western Australia SES history
Western Australia Emergency Service (SES) has been involved in most major emergency responses in Western Australia since it began as the Western Australia Civil Defence Organisation in 1950. It is still the lead agency for flood, storm, tsunami and earthquake responses today.
The State Emergency Service was established in July 1959 for the purpose of «coping with civil disasters including fires, floods, cyclones, railway accidents, crashed aircraft, explosions and the search for lost persons». The Commissioner of Police was responsible for its operation.
In October 1961, following a royal commission on bush fires and a government review into ways to combat cyclones and floods, the State Emergency Service was amalgamated with the older Civil Defence Organisation.
The combined organisation was responsible to the Western Australian Premier’s Department and known as the Civil Defence and Emergency Service of Western Australia.
In July 1974, in line with national re-orientation away from civil defence to natural disaster response, the organisation changed to its current title of the Western Australian State Emergency Service and responsibility for the organisation was transferred to the Public Works Department.
Organisational headquarters were situated at Belmont where the State Emergency Operations Centre was contained in an underground facility known as the ‘bunker’. In the early days local volunteer units were located at Subiaco and Perth, as well as diverse locations like Westrail and the Swan Brewery.
In order to provide coverage throughout Western Australia, the state was divided into various regions. From 1976 onwards State Emergency Service regional coordinators were appointed to each of these regions, the Gascoyne/Murchison and Pilbara regions being the first.
Responsibility for the organisation was moved back to the Premier’s Department in 1977 and six years later to the Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Local Government.
In 1995, the State Emergency Service was established as a separate department and this remained in place until 1997 when the SES became a division of the newly created Department of Fire and Emergency Services pending legislation to create the Fire and Emergency Services Authority of Western Australia (FESA).
When FESA came into being in January 1999, the State Emergency Service had more than 80 units and 2,500 volunteers across the state. It fulfils FESA’s role of Hazard Management Agency for tropical cyclones, floods, storms, earthquakes and tsunamis and also Combat Authority for land search, road crash rescue, as well as cliff and cave rescue.
As a result of the State Government enquiry into the Kelmscott/Roleystone bushfire of 6 February 2011, FESA became DFES (Department of Fire and Emergency Services) under the leadership of ex-Policeman Wayne Gregson and underwent a significant internal restructure.