Media release: Local government business and service continuity arrangements for natural disasters

What the report is about

Natural disaster events, including bushfires and floods, have directly impacted some local councils in New South Wales over recent years. It is important for local councils to effectively plan so that they can continue operations through natural disasters and other disruptions.

This audit assessed the effectiveness of Bega Valley Shire Council and Snowy Valleys Council’s approaches to business and service continuity arrangements for natural disasters.

What we found

Bega Valley Shire Council has a documented approach to planning for business and service continuity that provides for clear decision making processes and accountability.

Bega Valley Shire Council has prepared for identified natural disaster risks to business and service continuity but can do more to monitor how it has implemented controls responding to these risks.

Bega Valley Shire Council did not follow all aspects of its business continuity plan in responding to the 2019–20 bushfires.

Bega Valley Shire Council can do more to ensure its business continuity management approach is regularly reviewed and updated, and that staff are regularly trained in its implementation.

Snowy Valleys Council did not have a finalised approach to ensure business and service continuity until October 2020. Now in place, this approach identifies governance, assigns roles and responsibilities, and includes procedures to retain or resume services. That said, the Council has not adequately documented key elements of its business continuity management approach.

Snowy Valleys Council's strategic risk register identifies that natural disasters may impact its ability to deliver services, but the Council has not identified controls to respond to these risks.

During the 2019–20 bushfires, in the absence of a business continuity plan, Snowy Valleys Council relied on the local knowledge of its staff to manage service continuity in line with directions from the Local Emergency Operations Controller and the combat agency (the Rural Fire Service).

Both councils advised that, during the 2019–20 bushfires, services were maintained, sometimes with adaptation and sometimes with support from other councils, NSW Government and Australian Government Agencies.

What we recommended

Bega Valley Shire Council should update and regularly review its business continuity plans, provide business continuity training, and improve its monitoring of risk controls and actions, including for natural disaster impacts.

Snowy Valleys Council should document and monitor all disruption-related risks and controls, regularly review and update its business continuity plans, and progress planned actions to increase staff awareness of business continuity plans.

Across both councils, we recommended that recordkeeping relating to service delivery during natural disasters should be adequate to inform post incident reviews and future updates to business continuity.

Fast facts

  • Multiple natural disasters affected the audited councils in 2019–20:
    • bushfires in 2019–20
    • storms and floods in January 2020
    • storms and floods in July and August 2020
    • storms and floods in October 2020.
  • 6,279kmSize of Bega Valley Shire Council (area)
  • 2,203kmArea burnt within Bega Valley Shire Council in 2019–20 bushfires
  • 8,959kmSize of Snowy Valleys Council (area)
  • 3,339kmArea burnt within Snowy Valleys Council in 2019–20 bushfires.

Further information

Please contact Ian Goodwin, Deputy Auditor-General on 9275 7347 or by email.