Floods ‘could have been worse’: Review
THE flooding in Townsville would have been worse, not better, if the Ross River Dam flood gates had not been opened manually, a major independent review has found.
The monsoonal trough review, released by the State Government yesterday, found the "successful operation" of the Ross River Dam was at the "heart of the flooding" in Townsville during the disaster, in a significant endorsement of Townsville City Council's actions.
A survey of 500 residents for the review found nearly a quarter of them believed an early release of water would have made a difference to their property, while 30 per cent thought flood waters wouldn't have been as high.
However, researchers found there would have been increased flooding if the Ross River Dam gates had not been opened manually four times at the behest of the council. "In summary, the report found the dam performed satisfactorily during the flood event," the report stated.
It was determined the council's "flexible approach" in implementing the dam's emergency action plan, instead of rigidly adhering to it, proved better.
The report also found there would have been nearly no difference in the impact of the flooding if more water had been released from the dam sooner.
It was also clarified that while the Ross River Dam was built in 1974 to mitigate against flood and to improve water security, it is not a prescribed "flood mitigation manual dam" because its spillway gates are not designed to provide sufficient control of incoming storage or water release.
The only dam-related recommendation made by the report was for the annual review of the emergency plan to consider the lessons learnt from the flood event and the impact of manually opening the gates.
It was found however that Townsville residents had low levels of understanding of terms used to describe flood risk, although nearly all ranked their understanding of flood risk as "very high".
Townsville residents, the report found, did not heed flood warnings and evacuation messaging as strongly as cyclone messaging and more education was needed.
The true extent of the flood event has also been revealed. Officially, the February flood was "greater in size and nature" that any flood event Townsville has experienced in 120 years.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said 56 per cent of Queensland's land mass was hit by the disaster, 500,000 head of cattle were killed and thousands of people impacted.
"The review identified some further work needed to be done around public flood risk messaging around the online dashboard … and increased focus on disaster recovery in planning on a local level," she said.
"And for councils to develop their volunteer capability a bit more clearly."
In total the report made 14 recommendations out of 35 findings.
This included the need for evacuation centre plans to be revised to better manage vulnerable residents, the safe storage of medications and providing alternative arrangements for evacuees with additional needs, like the elderly.
A total of 2940 evacuees were assisted by the Red Cross across five evacuation centres during the monsoon.
Pets were not forgotten, with the report recommending future disaster management plans considered evacuations of pets and alternative storage options for all identified risks, including floods.
"Ultimately, it is the responsibility of owners to plan for the safety of their pets in disaster events, including the planning of alternative accommodation for pets," the report stated.
"The Office also believes that greater community education around pet owners developing their own pet management plans for disasters would be advantageous."
Recommendation 1: Further work be undertaken to develop effective public flood risk messaging and community education materials that are easy to understand and tested with the community to ensure flood risk is understood.
Recommendation 2: State Government agencies with key roles and responsibilities around disaster recovery provide increased support in the development of recovery at the local level (pre-event).
Recommendation 3: Entities with disaster management responsibilities need to integrate the eight priorities identified within the Emergency Management Sector Adaptation Plan for Climate Change into their disaster management planning cycle.
Recommendation 4: Evacuation centre plans be revised to better manage vulnerable persons, including the safe storage of medications and providing alternate arrangements for evacuees with additional needs. (e.g. evacuation centre for aged persons).
Recommendation 5: As part of the annual Emergency Action Plan review for the Ross River Dam, consideration should be given to the potential impacts of operating the gate outside automatic mode and whether this event has provided any new information and learnings which can be incorporated into the Emergency Action Plan. This should occur prior to the 2019/20 wet season.
Recommendation 6: A single point of truth be established for accurately capturing and reporting on disaster management group activation levels for any given time frame.
Recommendation 7: Councils, with the support of stakeholders, continue to develop and promote local disaster dashboards as the 'point of truth' for community information and messaging during disaster events. Greater use during recovery should be considered.
Recommendation 8: The provision of system-wide tools, education, guidance and testing for requests for assistance is strengthened to enhance understanding and outcomes.
Recommendation 9: Greater emphasis be placed on pre-planned and predetermined arrangements between the Australian Defence Force and State and local agencies.
Recommendation 10: Energy Queensland and local groups consider establishing formal arrangements that embed measures that assist evacuation plans to increase levels of safety.
Recommendation 11: The Department of Housing and Public Works should be included within Local Disaster Management Group evacuation centre planning and plans and assist with decision making around the relocation of evacuees from evacuation centres.
Recommendation 12: The progress of recovery for this event be reviewed incrementally over the next 2 to 3 years, with a formal, independent report provided on the effectiveness of the recovery after 3 years.
Recommendation 13: Local groups should plan for and establish clear arrangements to effectively manage offers of assistance including the management of goods, services and volunteers.
Recommendation 14: Councils should formalise arrangements with entities that have the skills, capability and capacity to effectively manage spontaneous volunteers. These should be documented and integrated into planning and exercising.