Impacts and adaptation response of infrastructure and communities to heatwaves: The southern Australian experience of 2009

Author: Queensland University of Technology
Year: 2010

From 27 Jan 8 Feb 2009, South-Eastern Australia experienced extreme heatwaves, with maximum daytime temperatures reaching 12-15 degrees celcius above average. The severity of the event and its co-occurrence with an emerging bushfire threat meant that government, councils, hospitals, emergency response organisations and communities were largely unprepared for a heatwave of this magnitude. Adaptation that occurred during the event was a result of reactive competence and capacity rather than proactive planning; reactive management of human health impacts (emergency, medical services) was relatively good in some areas. There was no clear public information or warning strategy, no clear thresholds for invoking emergency management or incident response, resulting in mixed messages to media and the public. Vulnerability was highlighted in the electricity supply (asset failures due to heat), transport (especially trains) and ports (melting bitumen surfaces), as well as in the interdependencies of critical infrastructure services (eg: loss of electricity affecting traffic lights and trains). Since the event, South Australia has implemented clearer communication, escalation and coordination processes, developing a whole of Government ‘all hazards’ approach to manage future events. Victoria has developed a bottom up plan dependent upon Local Governments to develop localised plans. Some community agencies are actively improving listing/contact/monitoring procedures for vulnerable groups. However, the potential of power utilities and transport to enhance their adaptive capacity remains limited because of regulatory barriers that prevent them from recouping investments through pricing. This study is one of the Historical Case Studies of Extreme Events conducted under Phase 1 of the NCCARF Synthesis and Intergrative research program.

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