Friday, October 24, 2014

Moreland Council increases Heatwave response strategy while Victoria found to be critically deficient

A version of this article was originally published at Climate Action Moreland.

As well as taking the lead with fossil fuel divestment, the other important climate change related item at Moreland Council meeting on 8 October 2014 was a tabling of a report on heatwave strategies including the feasability of council heatwave refuges. The report was initiated as a result of a resolution moved by Cr Bolton at the Council meeting in February 2014 (See my report: Moreland Council calls for greater heatwave emergency planning for Victoria).

The report and decision came a week before the Victorian Auditor General tabled in parliament a damning report titled Heatwave Management: Reducing the Risk to Public Health which listed critical deficiencies in the emergency management of heatwaves and extreme heat events in Victoria. To a large degree these deficiencies derive from poor governance and oversight and the ultimate responsibility for this should be borne by the Baillieu and Napthine Liberal National Government. (See Victorian Auditor General Office: Heatwave Management: Reducing the Risk to Public Health tabled in Parliament 14 October 2014)


Moreland Council updates heatwave strategy


Arising from the February 2014 resolution of Council, Moreland Council Officers employed an outside consultant to prepare a discussion paper: Potential Risks and benefits of Different Responses to Heatwaves. The discussion paper was then used to write up a report with recommendations to Council.

The Victorian heat alert system and Victorian Heatwave Framework were developed following the 2009 extreme heatwave that saw 374 excess deaths attributed to the heat event. Initial money was also provided for Victorian Councils to develop their own heatwave response plans but there has been no subsequent funding to update or evaluate those plans. The State Government does provide a tool to help council officers review plans, but that is the extent of continuing State Government support.

Community registers located at police stations have also been funded to provide a support service to older, disabled or socially isolated and vulnerable people so that volunteers can ring them during heatwave events to check on their welfare.

The discussion paper emphasises that "a heatwave is not considered an emergency event under Victoria's current emergency management framework and emergency provisions are not activated when a heat health alert is issued."

This is a major failing of the current emergency framework on heatwave response in Victoria and has been highlighted in the latest Auditor General report.

The discussion paper also identified that although most councils have now prepared a heatwave plan there is no central repository of these plans for comparative purposes. A literature search by Darebin City Council conducted in early 2014 on local government heatwave strategies found that there was little evaluation of strategies occurring, "Assessments of the feasibility, effectiveness and cost of different strategies could not be found, presumably because no evaluations have been undertaken to date."

The nine points recommended by council officers in their report were adopted in full, but it was also identified by Councillors that these were not enough. An amendment was proposed with an additional point (Point 9) that the State Government be urged to activate emergency planning measures when the temperature reaches dangerous threshold levels, and that other councils also be encouraged to lobby the state government on activation of emergency planning measures for heatwaves and extreme heat events.

Councillor Sue Bolton said in a statement after the Council meeting:
"This is important because no state government has treated extreme heat as an emergency, deserving of emergency measures such as the setting up of heat refuges. The services say that there is no demand for heat refuges, and yet, people came to the Coburg Library to sleep in the daytime during the heatwave early this year because the couldn't get any sleep in their hot houses.

There must be an acknowledgment of extreme heat on especially vulnerable people but also on all working class people, especially anyone on a low income. There are only so many times that you can go to the pub to cool down before you run out of money.

The state government's emergency strategy regards shopping centres as cool places. But homeless people and other people who shopping centre management and security take a dislike to are routinely excluded from shopping centres. There still need to be heat refuges established.

The decision of Moreland council re heatwave strategies last night was a step towards recognising that climate change is already happening and the poorest people will suffer the most, regardless of whether or not they recognise climate change as a fact."

The full motion passed at the Council meeting is below:
Cr Bolton moved, Cr Ratnam seconded that -
Council resolve to:
  • 1. Continue all strategies and actions contained in Moreland’s Heatwave Plan and carefully monitor their effectiveness.
  • 2. Investigate the introduction of the ‘Know Your Neighbour’ campaign as a means to build community resilience to heatwaves and other emergencies.
  • 3. Approve an over expenditure of $10,000 to the Aged, Disability and Emergency Relief unit’s 2014-2015 budget to action the unbudgeted ‘Know Your Neighbour’ campaign if it proceeds.
  • 4. Promote key community facilities as cool venues for respite from the heat during normal operating hours.
  • 5. Ensure access to drinking water at key community facilities during heatwave periods.
  • 6. Develop a Drinking Fountain Strategy to ensure adequate access to free water in the public domain.
  • 7. Complete the trial assessment of the capacity of HACC clients to cope with heatwaves and develop further strategies to support this group, if needed.
  • 8. Engage the community sector and business in planning for future heatwaves.
  • 9. Advocate to the State Government to activate emergency planning measures when the temperature reaches the heat health temperature threshold for three days in a row (heat health temperature is when the average of the daily maximum and overnight minimum temperature exceeds the trigger of 30 degrees). In addition, to encourage other local councils to advocate to the state government to activate emergency planning measures when the temperature reaches the heat health temperature threshold for three days in a row in their localities.
  • 10. Review the efficacy of all strategies following the 2015 summer and consider avenues for further action or review and report to Council.
Motion was Carried

The heatwave strategy is important for community climate adaptation. Council is well aware that much of the municipality has been assessed as having a high social vulnerability to extreme heat events.

A recent study by Loughnan et al (2013) assessed environmental, demographic and health characteristics producing a heat vulnerability index, then mapped the heat vulnerability of Melbourne and other Australian cities down to the postcode level. All of Moreland's suburbs show up as high on the vulnerability index.



Moreland Council is also undertaking action to reduce the impact of the urban heat island effect that is amplified by climate change (Dan Li and Elie Bou-Zeid (2013)), primarily through planting trees to increase Moreland's tree canopy to provide shade and increase evapotranspiration in urban areas.

In fact at the same meeting Cr Kavanagh moved a motion for Council to apply to the Federal Government, under the 20 Million Trees by 2020 Program, for funding for Council's tree planting to re-establish green corridors and urban forests.

I have since heard that Moreland Council is also starting to investigate use of cool pavement technologies in a street trial to change the albedo (surface reflectivity) and/or porosity of pavemenents and road surfaces. Climate Action Moreland raised using cool pavement technologies in July: See Moreland Council cuts funding to Carbon Management Strategy.

The Moreland motion also sought to highlight the large deficiencies in State level emergency management of heat events. Co-ordination of heatwave emergency response has been neglected at the state level with poor governance. Even though over 500 people have died due to heat related events in the last 5 years, our politicians have failed to take the actions necessary to protect and keep safe the citizens of Victoria.

Health Minister Davis claims heatwave messages heeded


The Victorian Auditor General makes it clear there has been an abrogation of responsibility and strategic oversight when it comes to heatwaves and extreme heat events. This quote from the Auditor General's report highlights this lack of oversight:

The Heatwave Plan for Victoria is not a state-level plan. While Victoria has a State Tsunami Emergency Plan and a State Earthquake Emergency Plan, there is no equivalent state-level plan for heatwaves, despite the recognised significant risk heatwaves present to the state and to the community.

You would be hard pressed to find any acceptance of responsibility in the Health minister David Davis's statement on 13 October 2014 when he released details of the number of excess deaths during the January 2014 heatwave. 167 people are calculated to have died due to heat related mortality. This corresponds with a 24 per cent increase in the death rate on the average for this time of year.

"A detailed analysis of all the available data showed there were 858 deaths during the week of the heat wave, with 691 deaths expected, based on deaths data from previous years," Mr Davis said.

He drew a comparison to the 374 excess deaths during the 2009 heatwave, which was a 62 per cent increase in mortality on the average.

"Parts of the state recorded temperatures of 45 degrees or more on three consecutive days and Melbourne experienced temperatures in excess of 41 on each of the four days of the heat wave. Although maximum temperatures in 2014 were slightly lower than those recorded during the heat wave in January 2009, mean temperatures were high and the heat lasted for a longer period of four days of extreme heat in 2014, compared with three days in 2009."

Ambulance emergency dispatches in the metropolitan area increased by 25 per cent during the heatwave, with a 97 per cent increase in priority emergency dispatches for cardiac cases. Public hospital emergency department workload increased with health data showing that older people are over-represented in the medical statistics, with a 23 per cent increase in emergency department presentations observed for people aged 75 years or more.

Other services such as The National Home Doctor Service, which provides after-hours general practitioner services to Melbourne, Geelong and the Mornington Peninsula areas suffered an overall increase in activity of 56 per cent during the week of the heat wave. The service also experienced a three-fold increase in consultations with a heat-related diagnosis. The Nurse-on-call service also had a tripling of heat-related calls related during the heatwave.



The Minister implies that heat wave alert messages were heeded, yet 167 people died due to the excessive conditions and many of these deaths may have been preventable. One has to be cynical of the timing of the press release coming a day before the tabling of the Auditor General's report. An attempt to spin the subject rather than take ministerial responsibility.

Auditor General finds critical deficiences in heatwave emergency response


The Victorian Auditor General's Office identified there were many critical gaps including: lack of clear governance arrangements with roles and responsibilities; variable quality of planning and preparedness; public health messages and warnings not always being well targeted; activation of heatwave plans was not well understood by agencies and applied inconsistently. I am not going to go into these in detail, you can read them yourself in the report.

One particular aspect stood out for me. Heatwaves also increase fireweather conditions, with the result that agencies respond to the bushfire emergency neglecting the potentially greater health impact of heat-related stress and mortality.

"There was no statewide, strategic view of the combined impact of the different emergencies." said the Auditor General, in response to the Victoria Police who took issue with the report being critical of the different levels of response and co-ordination to bushfires and heatwave impacts.

This highlights the lack of governance and the problems faced when multiple stressors are in play at the same time. Lack of strategic governance and the danger of partial systemic collapse has been warned about in multiple studies since 2009 and it seems the State Government has taken little heed of this advice in the intervening period.

Read more comment on the Auditor General's report by David Reid: New report on heatwave management in Victoria.

Watch the Victorian Auditor General's video summary that accompanied it's report to parliament: Heatwave Management: Reducing the Risk to Public Health.



Government failing in duty of ensuring a safe climate


The Baillieu and Napthine Liberal National Government has been disengaging from climate action over it's full period through a number of measures including: constraining wind farm development, abolishing energy efficiency, reducing solar feed-in tariff, eliminating state emission reduction targets, failing to set in place programs to upgrade housing energy efficiency - all of which have actually increased the problem and placed citizens at greater risk in future from extreme heat events as they increase in frequency and intensity with climate change.

A peer reviewed historical assessment of the impact of heatwaves was published in June 2014 (Coates, L. et al (2014) which noted that since 1844 there is a lower bound estimate of 5332 heat associated deaths in Australia, about 55% of total deaths from natural hazards and by far eclipsing any other single hazard including bushfire.


The risk factors of heat related mortality are well known with the Coates study articulating "The most important socio-economic and physiological risk factors identified are age; pre-existing medical conditions; chronic mental disorders; medications; alcohol/narcotics; social isolation; low-economic status; homelessness and strenuous outdoor physical activities."

The conclusion of this study, along with the Victorian Auditor General's Report into heatwave management, raises a chilling reminder that our State and Federal Governments are failing in their duty of ensuring a safe climate and protecting citizens, especially the most vulnerable in our community.

"During the 2009 extreme heat event, Haynes et al. (2010a) observed that South Australian emergency, social and health services were unprepared and had to develop a response as the event unfolded. Victorian plans were still under development when the event struck: their response was also ad hoc. Most planning currently relies on reducing risks through information and education to influence and change public behaviour, and emergency response when an event unfolds. However, while public education and emergency management is important, long term risk reduction must also consider urban planning, building design, community development and social equity (Bi et al., 2011, Haynes et al., 2010a and PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2011). The dangers from extreme heat within Australia remain neglected, and fundamental changes will not take place until extreme heat is given the priority it deserves as Australia's number one natural hazard killer."



References:

Coates, L., Katharine Haynesa, James O’Briena, John McAneneya, Felipe Dimer de Oliveiraa, (2014) Exploring 167 years of vulnerability: An examination of extreme heat events in Australia 1844–2010. Environmental Science and Policy. Volume 42, October 2014, Pages 33–44 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1462901114000999

Li, D. and Elie Bou-Zeid (2013), Synergistic Interactions between Urban Heat Islands and Heat Waves: the Impact in Cities is Larger than the Sum of its Parts, (abstract), Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 201, May 2013, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JAMC-D-13-02.1

Loughnan, ME, Tapper, NJ, Phan, T, Lynch, K, McInnes, JA (2013), A spatial vulnerability analysis of urban populations during extreme heat events in Australian capital cities, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold Coast, 128 pp. http://www.nccarf.edu.au/publications/spatial-vulnerability-urban-extreme-heat-events

Moreland Council report: DSD44/14 HEATWAVE STRATEGIES (D14/275828) prepared by Director Social Development, Aged, Disability and Emergency Relief, tabled as part of Moreland Council Agenda for meeting on 8 October 2014

Media release 13 October 2014 - Statement by Victorian Minister of Health David Davis - Heat wave assessment shows messages were heeded

Victorian Auditor General's Office (2014) Heatwave Management: Reducing the Risk to Public Health. Report tabled in State Parliament 14 October 2014