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The State Emergency Service is an emergency and rescue service dedicated to assisting the community. It is made up almost entirely of volunteers, with more than 230 Units located throughout New South Wales. The Units comprise more than 9,000 volunteer members, who are easily identified by their distinctive orange overalls.

While our major responsibilities are for flood and storm operations, the SES also provides the majority of general rescue effort in the rural parts of the state. This includes road accident rescue, vertical rescue, bush search and rescue and other forms of specialist rescue that may be required due to local threats. The Service's trained rescuers also support the full-time emergency services during major disasters.



The State Emergency Services (as it was then known) was formed in April 1955, following disastrous floods across NSW that had caused substantial loss of life and massive damage to property. The government of the day recognised the need for a body of trained and disciplined volunteers with good local knowledge who would be available at short notice to help the community during such disasters.

Later the same year, in view of the tense world situation at the time, the government decided there was a need for a civil defence organisation in the event of a nuclear attack. In September 1955, the two organisations merged under the leadership of Major General (later Sir) Ivan Dougherty. The new organisation was known as Civil Defence.

In 1972, the State Emergency Services and Civil Defence Act was passed by Parliament. This Act remained in force until 1989, when it was replaced by the State Emergency Service Act.


Guarantee of Service

Our mission is to provide immediate assistance to the community in times of natural or man-made incidents or emergencies.

Flood and storm threats are the most costly natural hazards the community of New South Wales faces. In response to this, the SES:

  • Prepares flood plans for communities at risk.
  • Assists the Bureau of Meteorology in developing and disseminating official flood and storm warnings.
  • Translates official flood warnings into likely effects and disseminates that information.
  • Evacuates people whose properties are threatened or made uninhabitable due to floods or storms.
  • Rescues people who are endangered, trapped or injured by floods or storms.
  • Resupplies communities and individuals who are isolated due to flooding.
  • Minimises damage to properties affected by floods or storms.
  • Coordinates immediate welfare requirements for affected communities, in conjunction with the Department of Community Services.
  • Undertakes public education to ensure that those at risk know what they should do to protect themselves and their property.

The SES also provides rescue services and supports other agencies:

  • Units accredited for general rescue respond according to established policy.
  • Units maintain a disaster rescue capability.
  • Units also assist, at their request, the Police Service, the NSW Fire Brigades, the Rural Fire Service and the Ambulance Service in dealing with any incident or emergency.


FlareThe NSW State Emergency Service consists of its headquarters, staffed by 34 permanent officers, 18 Divisions (three in the Sydney metropolitan area and 15 elsewhere in the state) and more than 230 Units. Divisions are groupings of Units, based generally on major river systems.

Control in each Division is exercised by a Division Controller, who is supported by an Executive Officer and an Administrative Officer. There are also volunteers on the staff of each Division Headquarters, who assist in running operations and conducting training.

SES Units are made up entirely of volunteers. They are based on council areas. Each unit has its own headquarters, and its personnel are trained and equipped to meet the tasks required by its particular environment.

As the combat agency for floods, the SES has a network of flood gauge readers along the rivers. These volunteers provide a valuable service by reading river and stream heights in their local areas, assisting in the accurate prediction of flood levels.

The SES has established a special team to assist in the management of flooding on the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system from Penrith to the coast.



Volunteers are the lifeblood of the State Emergency Service, and we pride ourselves on being able to accommodate both the young and those with more experience. We can invariably find a rewarding position for anyone who is willing to give up their time to help the community. SES Units are always looking for volunteers to work in the field and to assist in managing operations, communications, media and community education.

You can phone 1800 201 000 for more information on volunteering.


SES volunteers are trained to national standards in a wide range of skills. There are two main training streams: rescue and headquarters. Rescue personnel are trained in first aid and general rescue techniques, and the other skills needed to deal with specific local threats. Headquarters personnel are trained to manage operations and logistics, as well as to work with the media and coordinate community education activities.

Training within Units is conducted by skilled volunteer instructors, who are supported, where necessary, by permanent officers. Most Units train weekly, and conduct weekend exercises several times throughout the year.


It is not uncommon for a single Unit to have equipment valued at well over $300,000.

Major equipment includes vehicles, flood boats, emergency lighting, hydraulic rescue sets and radios, as well as many other items that may be required in rescue situations. Funding comes from a variety of sources. The state government provides the major proportion; some local councils contribute, and a large amount is raised through donations or from Unit fundraising activities.


In recognition of the contribution made to the community by State Emergency Service volunteers, the Commonwealth government approved the award of the National Medal in 1987 and the Emergency Services Medal in 1999.

The State Emergency Service provides an invaluable service to the people of New South Wales in times of emergency. The volunteers are well trained and stand ready to assist at a moment's notice, often in difficult and dangerous situations. They welcome community support for their activities and encourage recruitment of new volunteers.

Quality of Service

State Emergency Service Units are community-based so they can provide a timely local response. SES officers are available to provide advice on dealing with floods and storms at State, Division and Unit levels.

As part of our commitment to providing a quality service to the people of New South Wales, the SES has established the following procedures:
State Headquarters and all 18 Division Headquarters will be contactable during normal office hours and have after-hours duty systems providing 24-hour emergency contact. Wherever possible, all Units accredited for general rescue are equipped with call-out systems.

For emergency help in floods and storms, call 132 500.