Impacts and adaptation response of infrastructure and communities to heatwaves: The southern Australian experience of 2009
From 27 January – 8 February 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-occurence 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 occured 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 stategy, and 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 interdepencies of critical infrastructure services (e.g. 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 managing 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 enhancing the adaptive capacity of power utilities and transport services remains limited due to 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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