EXPERT REACTION: Townsville floods

Embargoed until: Publicly released:

With major flood warnings in place for rivers and dams around Townsville, the floodgates to the city's dam were fully opened overnight. Below Australian experts comment.

Organisation/s: Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, The Australian National University, University of Technology Sydney (UTS)

Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Dr Gabby Walters is a Senior Lecturer at The University of Queensland's Business School. She is an expert in tourism marketing communications, tourist behaviour and tourism crisis recovery.

Flooding can have a significant impact on tourism, particularly when there is extensive media coverage of the devastation and destruction such disasters can leave behind. Destinations wanting to minimise the reputational damage and restore visitor numbers as soon as possible should consider the following 10 recommendations.

1.      Manage confusion among tourists by providing accurate information that clearly indicates those areas that are affected and those areas that are open for business

2.      Provide factual safety information to manage unfounded risk perceptions

3.      Work closely with the media to promote positive good news stories

4.      Marketing communications in the short term should include empathetic messages encourage support by way of visitation and tourism expenditure

5.      Destination Marketing Organisations, operators and park authorities should convey accurate information and images regarding the status of their destinations/operations on a regular basis via social media

6.      Operators and tourism managers should avoid discounting for short term gain during the recovery process

7.      To continue to bring tourists to the broader region, Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs) should continue to market destinations that remain unaffected and ensure they are dissociated in the short term from destinations that have been

8.      DMOs and operators should concentrate their efforts on relationship marketing immediately following a disaster – loyal visitors are likely to be the first to return

9.      Do not attempt to market an affected destination before it is prepared and ready to receive visitors – media and recovery services and trades provide alternative market opportunities in the short term.

10.  Ensure stakeholders remain consistent in their portrayal of events and the status of the destination when speaking with media – or ideally have one media spokesperson readily available for comment.

Last updated: 05 Feb 2019 5:16pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
A/Professor Linlin GE is the Leader of the Geoscience and Earth Observing Systems Group (GEOS) and Co-Director of the Laboratory for Imaging of the Mining Environment (LIME) at UNSW.

The cloud-penetrating satellite radar can fly over the entire state in a matter of seconds and an accurate and comprehensive flood map can be produced in less than an hour, whereas previously this could have taken days if using aircraft, or in the case of optical satellites, could have been hampered by cloud coverage.”

We are providing this flood intelligence gained from satellites so that it can be used to make critical  decisions about infrastructure such as switching off power substations before flood water reaches them.

Last updated: 04 Feb 2019 4:52pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Dr Mel Taylor is from the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and Macquarie University

We know from research conducted this month that many people still think it is ok to drive or play in floodwater. Over half those surveyed had driven through floodwater previously (56%), and of those who had driven through floodwater, 58% had driven into floodwater more than once in the last five years. Nearly a third of those surveyed (30%) had played in floodwaters. Flooding is extremely dangerous, and this flood is unprecedented for Townsville. All residents of Townsville should follow the directions of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services – it is never safe to enter floodwaters.

Last updated: 04 Feb 2019 4:39pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Dr Richard Thornton is CEO of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC

What we are seeing in north Queensland reminds us again that, despite advances in technology, flood response is still very much done by people and a great many of these are volunteers from the community. Queensland has already born its fair share of extreme weather recently, with unprecedented bushfires, drought, heatwave, a cyclone, and now intense rainfall and flood. Across any given year our emergency services deal with floods, fires, cyclones and severe storms, plus other regular demands such as motor vehicle accidents and search and rescue. Our research shows that those human resources – both paid and volunteer - are now being stretched beyond normal with the severe weather seasons getting longer and more complex.

The impacts are felt far more broadly too as most large scale hazards draw on resources well beyond their local areas. While these floods are battled in Townsville and throughout north Queensland, the fire fight continues in Tasmania with a multi-state response, other southern states are dealing with their own bushfires, and it was not too long ago that we had Australians in North America helping fight an extended fire season.

With hazards seasons lengthening and overlapping across the globe, we need to change and think of new ways of dealing with bushfires, floods, cyclones and heatwaves. The old ways of sharing resources around Australia and with the northern hemisphere may not always be possible so we need to discover better ways to manage our people for the long term.

Last updated: 04 Feb 2019 3:26pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor Elizabeth Mossop is Dean of the Faculty of Design Architecture and Building at University of Technology Sydney. She lived through Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath and was part of the rebuilding effort in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Until it happens to you, you don’t realize how devastating floods can be. Once you have more than a couple of feet of water through your house literally everything is lost. All of your family photographs, as well as all of your furniture, cars, clothes, books, toys, tools and so on…

The aftermath is often worse than the flood and more difficult to recover from. Recalcitrant insurers after Hurricane Katrina compounded the pain and suffering of many victims, especially those not well-educated and well versed in bureaucratic games.

Businesses (small ones especially) are often inadequately covered for loss of trade or loss of premises and this can often drive them out of business entirely.

Medical problems are exacerbated by interrupted medication, stress, lack of access to adequate care or treatment, all of which can have long term effects. These services have to be designed to take flooding into account and to be resilient to disruption.

Adequate preparation for the next flood should begin now. Use the repair and rebuilding process to address the next flood, don’t just put everything back the way it was. In areas where flooding will recur there are many excellent strategies to design out much of the impact. Houses and other buildings can be designed or retro-fitted to be more flood proof. Infrastructure like parks, parking lots and streets can all be designed to store and disperse water, protecting houses and more vulnerable facilities. In cities like Townsville and Brisbane we need to design for flooding in the way that cities like Perth already design for drought as a part of business as usual.

Last updated: 04 Feb 2019 3:04pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Andrew Gissing is an emergency management expert with the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and General Manager of Resilience at Risk Frontiers

Widespread flooding in North Queensland poses a significant risk to life as highlighted by rescues conducted by authorities. 

Risk Frontiers and Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre analysis has shown that floods are the second most deadly type of natural hazard in Australia, higher than bushfires and severe storms. Entering floodwater can be very dangerous. Flood deaths most often occur as a result of people making a decision to enter floodwater either in a vehicle or on foot.

Our research has shown that driving through floodwater is an entrenched social behaviour and that though almost everyone believes that entering floodwater is dangerous almost everyone can identify a circumstance where they believe it is safe. Emergency services are right to discourage people from entering floodwater. The safety of floodwater can often be very difficult to judge, in particular the speed and depth of the water and what might be underneath. Making only a slight error of judgement can be the difference between life and death.

Last updated: 04 Feb 2019 3:01pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor Jamie Pittock is Professor at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian National University

The need to spill waters from the Ross River dam in Townsville demonstrates the limits to using dams for flood control. Dams cannot control the biggest floods. Large flood return frequency is projected to worsen with climate change.

In this light, the NSW Government needs to reconsider its proposed raising of the Warragamba Dam, purportedly for flood control in the Nepean River valley.

Alternatives practiced in Europe and the USA include moving people and infrastructure from the most flood prone lands which are then retained for agriculture, recreation and nature conservation. There are also practical adaptations that should be mandatory, such as the elevated ‘old Queenslander’ houses that are sitting nice and dry above the floods in Townsville

Last updated: 04 Feb 2019 2:51pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.

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