Kathryn Maxwell - 1 February 2022

Kathryn Maxwell, President of the Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance, presented to Council at the Public Access Session on 1 February 2022.

Preparing for future extreme weather events

The Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance congratulates the new elected ESC Councillors.  We believe now it is the time for the Council to partner with the community to better prepare for future extreme weather events be they heatwaves, flooding and/or storm surges.

1. Heatwaves

Heatwaves are known as the “silent killer”.  Heatwaves are more deadly that all other natural hazards combined including bushfires, floods, cyclones, and storms.  The Bureau of Meteorology defines a heatwave as ‘three or more days of high minimum and maximum temperatures that are unusual for that location’.

People who are most at risk include the elderly, those with a disability or pre-existing health conditions, outdoor workers, pregnant women, and young children. This is a big demographic in the Eurobodalla.   Heat-related deaths are not often officially identified rather being attributed to the worsening of an underlying chronic illness rather than the actual cause of heat stress.

The urban areas in towns can be sitting ducks for heatwaves. They’re hotter than rural areas, because of the heat stored in roads, buildings and other structures. They have less shading, less evapo-transpiration to cool things down and more waste heat generated by infrastructure and vehicles. This makes our towns vulnerable to prolonged hot weather.   Doctors for the Environment, Australia, have called for urban planning that includes increased tree canopy and awnings in the built environment to keep urban areas cooler.

2. Bushfires

The Eurobodalla was totally unprepared for the 2019/20 bushfires despite members of the community, including SHASA presenting to Council before the bushfires about the impending risks due to the severe drought and global warming.

The Evacuation Centres were not fit for purpose, with no temperature control, or air quality control.  There was excessive overcrowding with a gastric outbreak at the Moruya Evacuation Centre.  The Council's community halls which have air conditioning could have been used to protect the more vulnerable but were locked through the entire bushfire period.

SHASA had just installed air conditioning at the Red Door Hall, Anglican parish and this served as a bushfire and heatwave haven for some of the more vulnerable members of the Moruya Community in January 2020.

While other Councils waived tip fees for green waste, residents of the Eurobodalla were charged cleaning up their yards as recommended by the RFS.  I live among the social housing in Moruya and decided to help these frail people by cleaning up their yards.  I took 6 loads to the trip, and was still charged fees when I explained what I was doing.  Only one load for the Anglican Church was free after I showed the staff a letter from the Anglican Priest.

The Bodalla community decided they would become a warehouse for food and other items being donated from Sydney.  Council was unable to find the key so they had to get in by other means.

What can Council do to better prepare our community for future extreme weather events.

  1. Undertake significant improvements to the Evacuation Centres and make sure they are safe and fit for purpose.
  2. Set up heatwave and bushfire havens in each town to protect the the more vulnerable from extreme weather events.  SHASA has already set up 2 in Moruya and in 2022 will set up one in Narooma and Central Tilba. Upgrades include air conditioning, hepa filters, rooftop solar PV, batteries with electrical wiring to operate off grid when the power goes down, back up generators, awnings and fire fighting equipment.
  3. Ensure that no new houses are built in high fire danger areas or flood zones.
  4. Community Education.
    That council in its communications with the public makes it clear that they are committed to preparing our community for the more extreme weather events that are predicted .  This includes regular pieces in the ESC newsletter on Council's bush fire preparations and encouraging residents to prepare as well for the future.
  5. Bush fire and disaster plan.  That the bush fire plans that they are required to do by state government are reviewed annually and appropriate preparation actions taken.
  6. Plant fast growing shade trees and install shade structures in all town centres to protect vulnerable people from summer heat.
  7. Facilitating street plantings in urban streets across the Eurobodalla.
  8. Encourage shop owners to have awnings on their shops to provide shade to shoppers and amend council regulations to facilitate this.
  9. Strongly enforce tree preservation protections in urban areas to provide vital street shade as well as habitat for our native birds and animals”.
  10. Install shading of all Council car parks which are huge heat sinks. We already have an example of car park shading at the Plaza in Batemans Bay.  In addition, other Councils have installed solar car parks which provide shade and solar energy which, for example, could be used to power EV charging stations.
  11. Strengthen the heatwave measures in the draft ESC Climate Resilience Plan.
  12. Collaborate with community groups on grant funding applications to maximise our chances of securing funding for projects.