A Brief History of the State Emergency Service Bunker
At 91 Leake St Belmont there is the Fire and Emergency Services Complex. This complex was the headquarters of the Civil Defence and the State Emergency Service for many years. At this location there is a large underground building known as the bunker. The Bunker was built in 1944 and was to have been part of the operational war effort of the Second World War.
The 6 Fighter Sector Headquarters of the Royal Australian Air Force was setup in the Masonic Hall in Alma Street Mt. Lawley on 11 April 1942. The 6 Fighter Sector Headquarters was connected to American Radar Units using SCR radars, north and east of Perth. A typical RAAF Fighter Sector Headquarters was located in a secure location where squadron movements were controlled and checked by radio-telephony and every move was recorded, usually by WAAAFS with symbols on a large grid map.
The Fighter Sector Headquarters would receive coordinated reports of aircraft and ship sightings from the local regional Voluntary Air Observer headquarters. These reports were then coordinated with other intelligence from the various Radar Units in their allotted area, and plotted before the information was sent on to area combined headquarters. In March 1944 the 6 Fighter Sector Headquarters was renamed the 106 Fighter Control Unit. In January 1945 the 106 Fighter Control Unit moved into the new underground bunker in Belmont. The bunker was used by the Civil Defence as a headquarters until the change to State Emergency Service (SES) in 1959.
As the headquarters for the SES, many operations were coordinated from this location. The Bunker was the operational centre for controlling the response to all natural disasters that occurred in Western Australia from the mid-1970s, until the formation of the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) in 1999. Operationally it was manned by staff and volunteers of the SES who provided Planning and Logistical support to the Operational Controller. In March 1999 the Bunker, as it is affectionately known, was manned continuously for several days whilst Cyclone Vance devastated Exmouth and Cyclone Elaine flooded Moora.
At that time Cyclone Vance was the most severe Cyclone to impact the Australian mainland and Cyclone Elaine caused the evacuation of about 1000 people from the town of Moora. All this was controlled from a facility that was state of the art at the time. During many major natural disasters the Bunker was visited by many leading politicians including the Premier and Minister for Emergency Services. Offices were there for their use, and even a room was set aside for a Cabinet Meeting if so desired.
After the formation of FESA and amalgamation of a number of functions the Fire Services and Volunteer Marine Services also based staff at this complex in the 2000s. During this period all the State Emergency Service support roles such as payroll, human services and communications were merged into FESA and relocated to 480 Hay Street, Perth. Soon after the new Perth Fire Station was opened in 2010 the Metropolitan State Emergency Service Managers and support staff were relocated from the Belmont complex to FESA headquarters at 480 Hay St, Perth. Today it has been converted to an Exercise Centre called the SIMCEN.
The above is an excerpt from the WA SES History
Gordon Hall – SESVA President