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Introduction and History

The Queensland disaster management system is a multi-tiered system of committees and coordination centres at state, district and local levels, which works in partnership to help prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters in Queensland.

Emergency Management Queensland (EMQ), a division of the Department of Community Safety (DCS), is the lead government agency for coordinating disaster prevention, preparedness and recovery. EMQ also works closely with the Queensland Police Service and local councils in responding to disasters.


Prior to the 1970s, no formal disaster management structures or arrangements existed within Queensland. Instead the focus was on Civil Defence which was able to provide some level of coordinated response to disasters and civil emergencies.

In the 1970s a series of natural disasters including the 1974 Brisbane Floods and the destruction of Darwin by Cyclone Tracy highlighted the need for the development of a disaster management system in Queensland that would ensure effective whole-of-government and cross-government coordination and response during disasters. States and Territories throughout Australia commenced developing legislation and disaster/emergency management structures that shifted emphasis away from Civil Defence and focused on managing the community consequence associated with disasters.

In 1975, Queensland developed the State Counter Disaster Organisation Act. The legislation underpinned the Queensland Disaster Management System and addressed three principal issues:

  • It established the State Counter Disaster Organisation as the umbrella body to ensure effective coordination and collaboration in the event of disasters
  • It established the State Emergency Service (SES)
  • It provided special legal powers to enhance the preservation of human life such as ordering an evacuation or the commandeering of assets.

During 2002-03 the Department of Emergency Services undertook a comprehensive review of the State Counter Disaster Organisation Act 1975 in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders. The review resulted in the development of the Disaster Management Act 2003 (DM Act).

The new Act maintained many elements of the existing system, while adding contemporary elements such as disaster mitigation, prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.

Amendments to the Act

In recent years, the disaster management system has been required to respond to particular threats for the first time, which has placed new problems and demands on the disaster management system and functional agencies.

The threats are different to those posed by frequently experienced natural hazards and include damage to technology and critical infrastructure, storage and transportation of hazardous materials and biosecurity risks from the spread of infectious diseases through human pandemic and terrorism.

A review of Queensland’s disaster management arrangements was conducted by an independent consultancy during 2009.

The recommendations from the review included amendments to the Disaster Management Act 2003(DMA) the Public Safety Preservation Act 1986 (PSPA) and policy and operational arrangements of disaster management in Queensland.

The recommendations were endorsed by Government and the DMA with amendments from the Disaster Management and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 were implemented in late 2010.