6 hours to evacuate Ballina Island

IF there was an emergency in Ballina tomorrow, it would take six hours to evacuate people just on Ballina Island.

And that's without a flood.

In a flooding situation the problem would become even worse because key evacuation routes would be closed by rising waters.

These are the very real problems facing SES workers and Ballina Shire Council as they consider the shire's new floodplain risk management study and plan.

Consultant Ben Caddis, from BMT WBM Pty Ltd, said the evacuation points, in the event of a major flood, would beAlstonville, East Ballina and Ballina Heights.

“We have then estimated how long it will take to get people out (of Ballina) given the warning times,” he said.

“To evacuate Ballina Island, even without a flood event, it would take five to six hours.”

With flooding it will take considerably longer, he said.

That's because some of the key evacuation routes, including the Bruxner Highway up to Alstonville, were prone to being cut by flood-waters.

But the council's civil services group manager, John Truman, said a floodplain management model would give emergency services, such as the SES, ‘at least have half-a-chance' of being able to plan for evacuations.

During an evacuation Ballina will be divided up, with different sections directed on to particular evacuation routes.

For example, residents in West Ballina would be directed to Alstonville.

Mr Caddis said this was aimed at minimising traffic congestion.

But there were stillmany other issues to take into account, he said, including people's reluctance to evacuate, warning times and SES decision-making times.

Community education would be paramount in ensuring the process went smoothly.

Ballina SES unit controller Gerry Burnage said the plan was something they had been working on for a long time.

He also told councillors about a new SMS alert system which could help in evacuation processes.

“It's something which came about after the fires in Victoria,” he said.

“It's still being fine-tuned, but we think it could be effective in getting people out quickly.”

The system would send text messages to every-one in the area – residents and visitors.

Mayor Phillip Silver said the information about evacuation times was ‘very interesting'.

“I would hope that in subsequent stages of this plan we can minimise that risk,” he said.

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