August 24th 2006
Editorial: Cyclonic opportunities
This week, as part of his government's re-election strategy, Premier Peter Beattie committed over $50M towards a Safeguarding Cyclone Communities policy. The announcement includes a range measures from funding for advanced mapping capabilities, which better predict where cyclones will land, to funding towards shelters - both upgrading existing ones and in some cases building new structures. On Magnetic, where not a single structure is deemed by safety authorities as acceptable for a public cyclone shelter and where evacuation is always going to be a whole lot harder for a large population than on the mainland, the news is a welcome first step.
According to Local Member and Minister for Child Safety, Mike Reynolds, the government will, if re-elected, be holding a planning summit in November this year. "It will provide an opportunity to study the latest trends in cyclone management."
State, national and international experts will be brought together following a series of community workshops with key local stakeholders. "We want to insure that local knowledge is incorporated," he said, adding, "It will be a good balance between bottom up and top down".
As far as Magnetic is concerned Mike Reynolds wasn't yet prepared to commit to the construction of an Island cyclone shelter - a project which has been often discussed (read here), preferring to wait on the professional knowledge generated by the summit. He did however accept that if it is found that a cyclone shelter was the best option for Magnetic, that, "A multi-purpose structure for a range of different facilities could be used as a community shelter," and that, "Offshore Islands present specific problems in terms of preparation and our planning really needs to take into account those features."
Mike Reynolds is still keen to see how far high-tech prediction for storm surge impacts can be improved with the government's commitment to a $4.4 million funding package over two years to enhance spatial information and mapping capability in the Department of Emergency Services.
Following Cyclone Larry he was clearly impressed by the very accurate predictions which had the storm's path set for Innisfail at least 12 hours in advance. "The panacea may not be a shelter. It may be evacuation" he said.
This may be as far as our local member can go on the issue just yet. But, with a growing acceptance of the increased risk to tropical coastal communities from larger and more frequent cyclones due to global warming, the idea of a dedicated community cyclone shelter - a place where anybody, who wanted to be as physically safe as possible for the duration of the storm, could go - strikes this non-expert editor as more and more of a looming necessity but also an excellent opportunity to fix an number of much-needed community problems.
Mike Reynolds also pointed out, "Government has a variety of programs looking at community needs including sporting to cultural (and others) and it may need a cocktail of funding for such a strcture".
Letting the imagination loose on what might be possible if the government were to fund a Magnetic Island shelter, here is one sugestion. The government reaches into its cocktail funding cabinet for the construction of a multi-purpose community shelter that also serves as the much-needed respite centre for Magnetic Island Community Care. The building would need to be made to particular standards to meet the needs of the aged but many of the facilities such as rooms for various activities, medical and emergency equipment, high levels of accessibility for wheelchairs and kitchen facilities would neatly dovetail with an emergency shelter and what better place for the most vulnerable to be in a big blow than their own respite centre. As well the building could also serve as a public meeting place. We could even take it a step further and, with some very clever design, incorporate what could also become a tourist attraction to help pay off the whole project. What more appropriate attraction than Magnetic's own cyclone museum! Magnetic's legendary, Townsville-in-wartime photographer, Arch Fraley, could have a selection of his superb Cyclone Althea photos acquired for the museum. It could also involve lots of oral history on Althea and other cyclones as well as accounts of the 1998 cyclonic rain activated mudslide, eight times bigger than Thredbo landslide, in Nelly Bay. As a venue for our seniors it's likely that the very people who experienced the fury of Althea could, if they wished, make new friends every day recounting for fascinated national and international tour groups the events of that Christmas Day in 1971 when everthing blew away.
The site which comes immediately to mind is the large Council-owned open space where the old Nelly Bay sewearge plant irrigated secondary treated waste. We understand that there are health issues related to the soil there but, while mountains of mud from Nelly Bay Harbour have been dumped all across the Island for sometimes questionable ends, maybe the same could be used to elevate the site from such problems. As far as a respite centre and cyclone shelter goes the site could not be better located. Almost directly opposite the new Emergency Services HQ on Kelly Street and next door to the State Emergency HQ.
Clearly this is, at present, a flight of the imagination but, with the government's new found commitment to the cyclone prone coast, there is now a better chance that, with strong community support, such a proposal could gain traction. There is no better time than an election to make your voice heard so why not tell us (comments box below) and your Member of Parliament what you think.
File photo: George Hirst
Mike Reynold's initial Press Release on the subject follows.
REYNOLDS WELCOMES CYCLONE SAFEGUARDS
Member for Townsville Mike Reynolds has welcomed today's announcement that a re-elected Beattie Labor Government will strengthen and undertake new initiatives to help better safeguard communities in coastal Queensland from the impact of cyclones.
Mr Reynolds said initiatives in the Safeguarding Cyclone Communities policy include:
A $52 million funding package over five years to boost equipment and training for emergency service volunteers.
A $4.4 million funding package over two years to enhance spatial information and mapping capability in the Department of Emergency Services, allowing more accurate predictions of storm surge impacts.
Providing specially equipped cyclone shelters as part of the planning and budgeting process for upgrading existing or incorporating within selected new public buildings in the most cyclone prone areas, from Bundaberg north to Torres Strait and in western Cape York.
Working closely with local government and key government agencies in all cyclone prone areas to identify both public and private buildings that are robust enough to be used as evacuation shelters.
Fully equipping new cyclone shelters as well as existing buildings found to be suitable for shelters with emergency supplies including torches, food and water rations, portable radios, communication devices such as laptops and first aid supplies.
Holding a planning summit in November 2006 to review the lessons learnt from Cyclone Larry and consolidate planning for the 2007 cyclone season. This will include international delegates as well as State Government agencies, Local Government, climate change and weather experts.
Undertaking an extensive education and awareness campaign on cyclone preparedness specifically targeting new residents.
"Long term residents of Townsville, have grown up with the threat of cyclones as a regular occurrence. However we cannot afford to be complacent," Mr Reynolds said.
"That is why as well as boosting support for our volunteers and providing stronger cyclone shelters, a re-elected Beattie Labor Government will undertake an extensive education and awareness campaign on cyclone preparedness and safety procedures.
"The campaign will specifically target new residents to coastal communities who may be unaware of the dangers posed by cyclone and storm activity."
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