Police feared “civil disorder” as rattled South Australians scrambled to stock up on essential items during the statewide blackout, documents show.
Increasingly dire messages shared between emergency services during the crisis reveal the true extent of how close SA came to chaos during the blackout last September.
As violent storms toppled pylons and plunged the entire state into a so-called “black event” at 3.48pm on September 28, messages released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal police warned of “civil disorder if fuel is not available to public”.
Authorities feared emergency vehicles would run out of fuel, banks were told to prepare to distribute cash as electronic payment systems crashed, many people struggled to access the “overloaded” 000 service, and service stations were the expected flashpoint for “civil disorder”.
The warning messages and status updates obtained by The Advertiser were sent to the South Australian State Emergency Centre, which was activated to co-ordinate the emergency response.
Within hours, dramatic messages were flooding in.
This included police warning to prepare for civil disorder as fuel supplies ran out, and a late-night attempt — abandoned until morning — to ask the banking industry to make cash reserves available for food.
As SA faced a busy work day without EFTPOS or credit card facilities, the State Government’s “recovery” expert told the State Emergency Centre: “Liaising with the banking sector about the availability of cash to communities with power outages’’.
Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire applied for the release of the documents, to better inform the public of the quality of response and the threat faced.
“This FOI has surprised me, as it indicated a significant amount of chaos and under-preparedness for a significant state disaster,” he said.