The heart of the NSW State Emergency Service’s operations will continue to beat in Wollongong for a long time, the organisation’s new commissioner has vowed.
Mark Smethurst has also revealed the community will be given greater access to the SES than ever before, thanks to fresh venture that will enhance the visitor experience at the organisation’s soon-to-open new headquarters.
Commissioner Smethurst was appointed last month, but officially welcomed to his new role by NSW Emergency Services Minister Troy Grant and the parliamentary secretary for the Illawarra, Gareth Ward, on Monday.
The trio visited the SES’s current headquarters on Regent Street before touring the organisation’s new HQ – the former Australian Taxation Office building on the corner of Burelli and Atchison streets.
The SES is fitting-out the new base, which will house about 200 staff, ahead of its mid-year opening.
“This facility will allow us, particularly in times of great crisis, to surge in inter-agency capabilities, surge in the amount of staff that we put into the call centre that’s here,” Commissioner Smethurst, who is in his second week of the job, said.
The new site has improved facilities, including a re-designed operations centre, and features a commemorative garden with 11 plaques – one for each SES member who had died serving the community.
Also part of the new building will be a visitor experience centre, Commissioner Smethurst said, which includes a coffee shop and a snapshot of the SES’s history.
“We’ll encourage the community to come into this building and use it collectively as something that they own as a community,” he said, adding that wasn’t possible at its current location.
Mr Grant said the new headquarters were “long overdue”.
“The current building they're in, they're very cramped and they’re dislocated from key aspects of the organisation,” Mr Grant said.
“This one [new building] puts the three functional operations all on the one floor with their operations centre right in the middle.”
Mr Ward said he was proud to have the home of the NSW SES in the Illawarra.
“This is the heartbeat of the state’s SES unit,” he said.
The SES has had a base in Wollongong since 1989 and Commissioner Smethurst said the organisation was staying put.
“SES headquarters are here in Wollongong for the long-haul,” he said.