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Well the Abbot Government’s first budget and it ain’t pretty. Here’s a roundup of all the new measures and cuts related to disasters. Although there’s a few new measures (such as the back-to-the-future National Bushfire Mitigation Programme) most of the ‘new’ spending are really the continuation of programs from previous governments.
New and continued spending
- Stronger biosecurity and quarantine arrangements – $20 million over 4 years
- Up to $320 million in assistance for drought affected farmers. However most of this is in the form of concessional loans or is contingent on state co-payments. Much of this spending is largely consistent with that of previous governments.
- National Bushfire Mitigation Programme – $15 million over 3 years
- Expanding research at the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine – $42 million over 4 years, though it’s unclear whether this will be offset by cuts elsewhere in the Australian Research Council’s budget.
- $9 million over three years for the continuation of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (though this is a drop in the amount of funding compared to previous governments).
- Addressing insurance costs in North Queensland. $12.5 million in grants to bodies corporate to undertake engineering assessments of strata properties to understand natural disaster risks and identify mitigation measures. This initiative will also establish an insurance comparison website for home building and contents and strata insurance for North Queensland.
- Continue the Natural Disaster Resilience Program and the National Partnership on pest and disease preparedness and response programmes (although with reduced funding)
- Closure of the Australian Emergency Management Institute. Some of its programs will be transitioned to a ‘virtual’ institute.
- Cuts of $7.6 billion to foreign aid over 5 years
- Cut the Exotic Disease Preparedness Program
- Merger of a number of biosecurity committees and working groups
- Cuts of $10 million over 4 years to the Bureau of Meteorology
- Cuts of $21.7 million over 4 years by merging the National Environmental Research Programme and the Australian Climate Change Science Programme
- Cease the National Insurance Affordability Initiative which had a number of activities related to flood risk management at a saving of $72.2 million
I’ve sourced these all from the budget papers. Let me know in the comments if I’ve missed anything.
The fires keep on coming and so does the coverage. Here’s more of the best commentary:
- Lateline: Fire expert, Professor David Bowman, discusses the latest bushfire emergency. Lateline (in fact the whole ABC) is doing some rather excellent coverage. Check it out.
- The Conversation: Fire and climate change: don’t expect a smooth ride
- The Conversation: Living with fire: deciding where to build
- Australian Financial Review: Controlled burns to manage bushfires won’t work: expert
- Sydney Morning Herald: NSW Fires: If You Live in the Bush, build for the Bush
- Sydney Morning Herald: Waiting for the Fires Reveals What’s Really Important
- Sydney Morning Herald: In the land of bushfires we need a national plan
The NSW Government has declared a State of Emergency with regard to the bushfires in the Blue Mountains and the forecast deteriorating weather conditions. One of the reasons given for the declaration is the additional evacuation powers this grants the Rural Fire Service (once the actual wording of the declaration is published I’ll be making a post on what exactly are the additional powers it grants). Large areas of the Blue Mountains could come under threat. Though the likelihood of a complete evacuation of the Blue Mountains has been played down the RFS says that it is looking at the planning.
So let’s look at the feasibility of a large scale evacuation. I’ll use a back-of-the-envelope version of the evacuation timeline method developed by the NSW SES.
NSW does have a plan for a large scale evacuation – in the event of an extreme flood in the Hawkesbury-Nepean River (incidentally this plan also calls for the declaration of a State of Emergency – primarily to convey the seriousness of the situation). If there was to be a whole-scale evacuation of the Blue Mountains I would expect some elements of the evacuation planning around a Hawkesbury-Nepean flood to be utilised.
But is an evacuation even possible. Everyone would need to exit via the Great Western Highway, presumably to Sydney
Though the Great Western Highway is mostly double lane, dual carriageway it narrows to a single lane each way in a number of places, notably at Hazelbrook and Woodford. Single traffic lanes can carry 1200-1500 vehicles per hour. Standard practice is to halve this figure to account for emergency conditions, smoke, emergency vehicles, accidents etc. Census figures estimate a total of about 50,000 vehicles owned by households in the Blue Mountains area – experience shows that households will use all available vehicles to evacuate.
The math is pretty simple:
50,000 vehicles / 600 vehicles per hour = 83 hours or about 3.5 days. If Wednesday were indeed going to be catastrophic the evacuation would need to start now.
Even with perfect traffic conditions, contra-flow arrangements (which I highly doubt would be used as they would prevent emergency vehicles from coming in) and only 1 car per household it would still take a long time:
33,000 vehicles / 2400 vehicles per hour = 14 hours
What about trains?
Seated capacity of 6 car V set trains (those normally run on the Blue Mountains Line) is 608. At the peak they run at four trains per hour. Assuming double capacity and an increase to 6 trains per hour you have the ability to move about 7300 people per hour. The census gives a population of 75,000 for the blue mountains. So by train:
75,000 people / 7300 people per hour by train = 10 hours
Now if you could convince a whole lot of households to leave their cars at home, travel with only what they could carry (both of these are pretty unlikely assumptions) and take the train it might be possible to evacuate all the Blue Mountains in about 6 or 7 hours. Still too long?
If it did come to it, an evacuation of the Blue Mountains would be a multi-day round-the-clock operation involving massive coordination of transport assets, traffic control and a huge effort to convince the community of the need to leave very early. It would need to be called long before the fire was directly threatening properties – in the worst case the decision would need to be happening now.
I was going to write a post on the Bushfires in NSW, links to climate change and the media discussion after Adam Bandt’s comments (though I do wish to point out the irony that many of those criticising Bandt’s timing are more than happy to blame the fires on Green ideas about land clearing) but others have said it better than I. Here’s a wrap of some of the best coverage to date on the fires:
David Holmes in the Conversation looks at the media discussion of the bushfires and climate change. Despite calls not to ‘politicise’ research shows that now is the best time to talk about extreme weather and climate change. Also read Adam Bandt’s article that started it in The Guardian.
In the Guardian Josh Taylor outlines the benefits of social media in keeping tabs on what’s happening, but that it has its drawbacks too.
Although the fire season is likely to lengthen in the future detecting historical changes in seasonality is difficult as David Bowman examines in Crikey.
Also in The Conversation Ross Bradstock looks at the reasons why the Blue Mountains is so vulnerable to bushfires and Janet Stanley covers climate change, arson and land use as three areas that need a greater focus on prevention.
The Australian argues that despite losses and the early arrival of the bushfire season we are getting better at Bushfire Management. Technology is improving how fires are fought as detailed in the Daily Telegraph but models are far from reliable, as pointed out by David Bowman in the Conversation.
Today is International Day for Disaster Reduction, check out the website here and be sure to look at the results from the IDDR survey which looks at the contributions and needs of people with disabilities in disaster risk reduction. Their number one priority? Information.
Meanwhile in India Super cyclonic storm Phailin: the strongest cyclone ever in the North Indian Ocean Basin, made landfall yesterday – this piece in The Conversation gives some background. Check out the Hindustan Times for ongoing coverage.
And unseasonably hot weather in Australia has sparked a string of damaging bushfires predictably leading to calls for greater prescribed burning. However, planned burning is not necessarily as effective as many think. The design of bushfire mitigation activities needs to take science into account. These fires come as research to be published in Nature on Monday suggest the El Nino Southern Oscillation cycle will strengthen as a result of climate change, intensifying drought and bushfire risk. Even more concerning is new research showing that more than two-thirds of people would adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach when deciding to evacuate or defend in the face of a bushfire. Less than 1% would leave their homes on days of catastrophic or extreme fire danger – the safest option.
- Smartphone-powered earthquake detectors could help direct first responders in an emergency – One of the principal challenges of early response to an earthquake is rapid damage assessment. Currently seismologists use accelerometers, computer models and ‘did you feel it‘ websites to understand shaking intensity which feeds in to models like PAGER to estimate impact. Scientists here in Italy have published a new study proposing that the accelerometers in smartphones and tablets could be used to get a more accurate map of earthquake intensities and damage.
- The WDR 2014 and its Relevance for Disaster Risk Management – The World Bank’s GFDRR takes a look at the World Bank’s 2014 World Development Report titled “Risk and Opportunity: Managing Risk for Development”. This is the latest in a string of reports increasing the focus on risk management within development. The 2014 GDR argues that improved risk management can better protect development outcomes and create new opportunities to eradicate poverty. This is an important report in the lead up to the post 2015 development agenda which I expect to have a much greater focus on disaster reduction and risk management than the 2000 Millennium Development Goals.
- Video games and law of war – In this post the ICRC argues for greater implementation of the laws of war in realistic war simulation games (like Call of Duty, Medal of Honor and America’s Army). They note that they are working with some video game developers to implement this.
- Fukushima’s Worst-Case Scenarios – In this lengthy piece on slate.com the worst-case scenarios developed by scientists in the US and Japan during the early days of the Fukushima disaster are put under the microscope. Unsurprisingly the media’s treatment of these scenarios at the time didn’t accurately communicate them.