Either bushfires or floods on a terrifying scale – it seems of late to be either one or the other in Australia and they just seem to get worse. Of course this has been going on for thousands of years – it just seems that way when our efforts to tame nature come undone. We do continue to build homes on floodplains or in forest areas – seemingly suffering a collective amnesia while our governments just establish endless enquiries, table lengthy reports but apparently do little to actually redress matters.
Building standards now make new homes in cyclone-prone areas somewhat more robust but that seems to make them more at risk from floods as the habit of building homes on stilts is discouraged by those same standards. Just as new roofs in cyclone areas need to be secured with steel straps embedded in the walls, in flood plain areas a similar technique should be employed to secure the homes themselves to their foundations, footings or piles on which they stand. Seeing TV footage of numerous people stranded on their roofs with fast moving flood waters threatening to wash them off, it would also be an idea to encourage installation of safety rope mounting points on roof crests so people can hang on and clearing overhanging branches so helicopters can winch people off. Perhaps homes in flood/cyclone areas could have a core component on a pontoon that was tethered to deeply set piles so it could float up when a flood came along? They could be supplemented with (or even built over) a storm/fire refuge cellar where appropriate. Modules like this should be planned and prefabricated to a tested standard to keep costs reasonable. Were stamp duty to be forgone and insurance premiums to be discounted for such buildings then they could become as trendy as solar panels. Perhaps the kitchen with its high-value plant & equipment plus food might be an ideal candidate for the floatable room especially were back up power included.
While on the subject of natural disasters, more should be done about good intelligence being collected and disseminated to the population effectively. I do not for the life of me see why in past bushfires that military or special-purpose UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that can loiter for many hours high above disaster zones with infrared vision systems and communication relays – even cell-phone transceiver multiplexers – were not deployed & used to inform command centres. Many were killed because they got inadequate information. Firestorm plasmas can form that cross open ground with negligible fuel load at high speed with little warning. Staying tuned to your battery powered radio is not much good if they are not getting good information out. Similarly the new computer-based systems that text or ring phones in danger’s path will be only as good as the information they have to hand. And automated boom gates where roads routinely flood or forest fires are prevalent would make a lot of sense if informed by the same disaster command centres.
These days many people have GPS assisted mobile phones that can help them flee a disaster – only problem is they often depict ghost roads that were planned or surveyed years ago but never actually built. School projects could help sort this issue but governments bureaucrats always thwart cross-agency initiatives. Pity the hapless fools trying to take the road out of dangers way that is not yet built. The traffic alert system SUNA could also be expanded to integrate such information.
Smart phone applications that can provide a map-based presentation of the emergency situation (rather like a weather map but with threat symbology for moving fire fronts, flash floods and the like) that were automatically tailored each phone’s current location should be developed. These should include a function that compiled a HELP US function that sends GPS coordinates in an unblocked SMS to SES centers with check boxes for INJURED, STRANDED, NEED EVACATION and people counts. An ordinary web site could also provide similar functionality if integrated with map navigation applications.
It is not a matter of IF but WHEN that they next disaster will come along costing lives and billions of dollars. I look to our governments to champion and expedite initiatives such a these to ameliorate those risks and costs.