Adaptation lessons from Cyclone Tracy

Authors: Matthew Mason, and Katharine Haynes
Year: 2010

Cyclone Tracy was a Category 4 cyclone that devastated the city of Darwin, in the Northern Territory on Christmas morning, 1974. The direct hit by the cyclone resulted in particularly damaging impacts, including 71 deaths, 650 injuries and left 40,000 people homeless. 94% of housing was rendered uninhabitable. Damage to buildings was worsened because Tracy was a slow moving storm resulting in extended periods of exposure to high winds. The estimated cost of the event is in the order of about $400-500 million (in 1974 dollars), which equates to between $2 billion and $4 billion in todays money. Key vulnerabilities that exacerbated damage were: inadequate and unregulated standards of construction for a cyclone-prone region, and a lack of community response to warnings. The community, government and emergency management team did very little to prepare for Cyclone Tracy. A number of false alarms prior to Tracy had left the community complacent. One of the clearest lessons learned was that buildings with engineering input into their design and construction performed considerably better than those without. Research has shown that, due to the adaptation measures and changes to design standards that have been put in place post Tracy, in the event of recurrence, the average per structure damage would be reduced by up to 85%. This, importantly, represents a reduction in damage to a level that would no longer necessitate an evacuation. In terms of disaster management processes, Tracy resulted in the implementation of the Disaster Victims Database and Inquiry System and was influential in structuring the National Disasters Organisation (NDO). Tracy highlighted the need for improved emergency management, including the dissemination of warnings, preparedness and response. It showed clearly that longer term resilience does not lie simply in improved engineering standards, but also in the psychological welfare of individuals in the impacted community. This study is one of a suite of Historical Case Studies of Extreme Events conducted under Phase I of the NCCARF Synthesis and Integrative Research Program

Download publicationView Resource