Another flood meeting
This week we attended another SES convened meeting on preparation for flood. Once again, I really came away thinking we are missing the point. While I can agree with all the words about using the Bureau of Meteorology and that these events are stressful, I find myself coming back to the same question, “Why were the losses in 1989 or 1974 so little compared to the devastation of 2017?”
I think there are two major issues that need attendance.
Firstly, the theme of response of authority regarding 2017 was that people didn’t respond to what was happening. There is a suggestion that so many new business operators in town weren’t familiar with flooding because the levee stops so many minor floods now, but that is a small number of businesses. What about most of us that have been here before the levee was built? Those that had proven flood management plans that had worked numerous occasions previously. What message were they getting? I can only say that 5 hours before we were forced to evacuate the CBD, the mayor stood in front of our shop in an interview with press, and declared the event was of moderate scale and suggested wait on acting. Post the flood, there has been no discussion of this issue of “the message”. I think a major improvement might be to offer a single and official voice via the radio (that everyone has and is reliable), that gives advice on the current river height, the rate of rise, an best estimate of the chance of over topping of the levee and the prediction of timing. There should be no advice about when or if to act, especially if the blame for loss is going to be laid at the feet of the businesses. In summary, people didn’t act because the message was confused and wrong.
Secondly, the issue I want to raise is the timing of evacuation of the CBD. I can only recall history, when, with the power to manage your own welfare, business operators kept packing when water was at their feet. Now I know the levee provides for fast flowing water and there is a need to manage people in this context, but there was a time when the water overtopped the riverbank and flowed through town and I don’t recall any life lost. Either way, on the advice of authority in a meeting during December 2016, when we were advised that notice of overtopping, and what we thought was evacuation, would come two or three hours ahead. Not eight hours. Precious time lost when we could have finished packing. If in fact in the future, we are to assume evacuation eight hours before over topping of 12 before water comes in the door, then we need to pack another eight or 12 hours before we would normally choose. In which case, we must pack whenever any threat comes, and the value of the levee is in part lost. I would have thought that this issue would have generated some consideration and notice from the authority of policy on the timing of evacuation next time.
There are other issues I have like the complete absence of traffic control the morning when the water came, after there were police and SES were all over us during the night before. There is also the potential for allowing businesses to continue work right up to an hour before overtopping if safe refuge in a two story building can be offered to workers.
Anyway, very disappointed that the only offering of post event review is that our losses of couple of hundred thousand dollars was out own fault. That’s despite attending pre event meetings and making a flood plan only to have the goal posts changed.
The only thing we can be sure of is that once upon a time floods were a nuisance and hard work. Now I think another flood would nearly spell the end of the business centre. I know I can’t afford to lose like that again.
…and I'll just add, why not grow a few trees in the catchment or construct some small weirs to stop the water running off so quickly. Maybe we can slow the rise rate and reduce the peak heights. Maybe we can have a little more time to plan and act.