As Australia’s east coast was ravaged by record flooding from late February to early April 2022, Coates was on the ground to support the recovery process in the NSW Northern Rivers region. Despite four branches being inundated or cut off by floodwaters, the East Business Unit quickly mobilised to establish a 500-bed camp for the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) at Wollongbar, midway between Lismore and Ballina, in early March.
In just 48 hours, Coates built the base camp with full infrastructure, including shower units and toilet blocks; 1,800 square metres of flooring and walkways; a large dining marquee; consumables such as cleaning products and toiletries; lighting towers; and air conditioning for more than 50 tents. The temporary site was powered by a small fleet of generators ranging from 200 kVA to 650 kVA.
Coates also provided bulk fuel storage for 30,000 litres of diesel and 2,000 litres of unleaded fuel, along with a regular supply and delivery of fuel, which was vital to support the RFS' relief and recovery efforts, says Coates Regional Manager Jarrad Whitby, who led the project team.
"It was a full turnkey site management solution – whatever the RFS asked for, we supplied," says Jarrad. "We've worked together for more than 10 years during fires, floods and the pandemic. It was a no-brainer for them to call us to deliver what they needed in a very tight timeframe so their team could get in there and start the clean-up process with the community."
During the region's last major floods in 2017, Coates established a similar camp for the RFS at the same Wollongbar site. Engaging an end-to-end solutions provider with prior experience and knowledge was invaluable in successfully implementing this latest emergency response, says Jarrad. "The RFS essentially made a phone call, placed their order for equipment and services, and knew we could supply in a matter of days," he says.
Mobilising equipment and personnel at short notice was the first challenge for the team. Faced with road closures as heavy rain and flooding continued to batter the east coast, transport was the next major obstacle. "We had to quickly establish the easiest and safest routes to get equipment into the area from our branches in Sydney, Newcastle, Ballina, Lismore, Grafton, Coffs Harbour and Brisbane," says Jarrad. "This involved constant communication with stakeholders such as NSW Police, who provided escorts to get through certain areas."
The task was made harder with the Lismore branch completely inundated by floodwaters and the Ballina branch cut-off due to road closures.
“Our teams in Lismore and Ballina were impacted severely. Not only were they cleaning up the branch and their own homes, but they still turned up every day to service our customers and make sure other people were safe and getting the support they needed," says Jarrad. "The branch was back up and running within a couple of days, thanks to their incredible resilience and hard work.”
Site access and ground conditions at Wollongbar also proved challenging. "The ground was obviously very wet and soggy, so we had to bring in a 100-tonne slew crane and a 25-tonne Franna crane to manoeuvre all the equipment into position," says Jarrad. "Engaging local contractors who were either flood-affected themselves or busy running around trying to help others was also tricky, but our local experience and existing relationships really helped."
Coates also provided equipment, services and expertise to other organisations and agencies involved in the response effort, including Resilience NSW, Department of Communities and Justice, NSW Health, local councils, and Veolia Waste Management.
"For Resilience NSW, we set up disaster relief centres for the communities in Coraki and Woodburn with toilet blocks, shower blocks and laundry facilities. These were greenfield sites with no water, sewer or power, so we managed everything from the equipment and consumables to daily sewage pump outs, cleaners and 24/7 security guards, and will continue to manage the sites for some weeks or months to come,” says Jarrad.
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