The ACT State Emergency Service took its current form in 2004, after the 2003 Canberra Bushfires. However, it has existed in other forms since 1936.


In 1936 the Commonwealth and States agreed that the States should protect the population against gas attack, and train personnel for essential civil services.  To supplement State efforts, the Commonwealth agreed to train key personnel and provide equipment, manuals, technical information and key advice.

This was the start of the modern SES of today.  Over the period 1936 – 1966 all states and territories established civil defence directorates.  This process remained unchanged until 1974 when the Natural Disasters Organisation (NDO) was established and services across Australia changed from Civil Defence to SES.

For the ACT this saw the ACT Emergency Service created. Its focus was to support operations, in particular search and storm operations. Also at this time we changed our uniform from dark blue (and for about a two year period ACT wore white overalls) to orange. In the intervening years ACT Emergency Services worked within:

  • Emergency Management Group
  • Emergency Services Bureau (ESB)
  • Emergency Services Authority (ESA)
  • Emergency Services Agency (ESA)

Some key dates and activities for the ACTES (now ACTSES):

  • 1994 Task Forces to Sydney  fires
  • 1997 Operations at the Canberra hospital Implosion
  • 1997 Operations at Thredbo
  • 2003 ACT  bushfires
  • 2003 NSW South Coast Task Forces (storm)
  • 2004 Adoption of the name State Emergency Service
  • Emergencies Act 2004 introduced
  • 2006 Newcastle Task Forces floods
  • 2006 Task Forces to Vic fires
  • 2007 Task Forces to Blacktown storms
  • 2009 Task forces to Vic fires
  • 2011 Task Forces to QLD floods and Tropical Cyclone Yasi
  • 2011 NSW Task Forces for Floods
  • 2012  NSW Task Forces for Floods
  • 2012 heaviest rain and floods in ACT since 1950
  • 2015 Task Forces to Hunter Region, NSW storms
  • 2017 Task Forces to Tropical Cyclone Debbie

For a more detailed history of the SES, download the History of the State Emergency Service [PDF 35 KB], researched and written by one of our organisation’s long serving members, Bruce Lang.