Heatwaves pose a more deadly and destabilising threat to the Sydney metropolitan area than all other potential natural or unnatural disasters, with Sydney’s Chief Resilience Officer Beck Dawson calling for a greater level of planning and preparation to combat future heatwaves.
Following Sydney’s hottest calendar month on record, Ms Dawson has warned that heatwaves will increase in their frequency and intensity over the coming decades and that it’s time for Sydney’s decision-makers to have a serious discussion about heat.
“Our risk assessment for Sydney ranked extreme weather as the biggest potential shock, ahead of financial institution failure, infrastructure failure, disease pandemic, water crisis, digital network failure, cyber-attacks and terrorist attacks,” Ms Dawson said.
“Within the extreme weather category, heat impacts contribute to more deaths than bushfires, floods and storms combined. We classify heat as Sydney’s silent killer. It sends more people to hospital than any other risk Sydney is threatened with yet doesn’t seem to command the level of public concern that is should.”
The City of Sydney is hosting the Resilient Sydney team at Town Hall House, with Lord Mayor Clover Moore describing heat as a danger that had to be dealt with now.
“The strains on our global city have never been more immediate than today. We’re in the middle of what is shaping up to be our hottest summer on record and sustained heatwaves keep on returning,” the Lord Mayor said.
“The prediction for the next few days is temperatures of more than 40 degrees across much of Sydney. This will place enormous strain on our hospitals, public transport system and our power grid as it gets overloaded by air conditioning machines being switched on during peak times.”
“As our city gets bigger and becomes more efficient, it also becomes more vulnerable. There has never been a greater need for Sydney’s many decision-makers to work collaboratively than now.”
The Lord Mayor said regardless of political affiliation, Sydney’s Mayors and councillors were united by a desire to ensure Sydney gets back on track as soon as possible in the aftermath of a disaster.
“Our ability to bounce back from disaster will come to define us and the only way we’ll recover quickly is by having a clear plan. The resilience strategy being prepared by Beck Dawson will become an incredibly important document, and I look forward to working with my colleagues across Sydney to make it happen,” the Lord Mayor said.
Ms Dawson is currently working with the NSW Government, Sydney’s metropolitan councils, major corporations, businesses and community groups to prepare Sydney’s Resilience Strategy, a plan which will outline how Sydney responds during a time of crisis.
“Before 1980, Sydney experienced an average six heatwave days a year. From 1980–2011, Sydney experienced nine heatwave days a year,” Ms Dawson said.
“Since 1 December 2016, Sydney has already experienced nine days with a maximum of 35 degrees or higher, with the next three days forecast to be more than 40 degrees. Penrith had 27 days at 35 degrees or higher and ten of those have been over the 40 degree mark.
“We’ve recently seen the creation of a new state government portfolio specifically dedicated to counter-terrorism. Perhaps it’s time we also have a portfolio dedicated to heat mitigation strategies and resilience, because it’s an issue that will not go away.
“We can be certain that heatwaves will affect 100 per cent of the Sydney population every year, in some way. Heatwaves will continue to strike and we are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the effects.
“We are seeing a dangerous domino effect occurring every time the mercury rises for sustained periods. Over this summer, we’ve seen blackouts in Punchbowl, Bankstown and Crow’s Nest, train lines buckling and hospital emergency rooms swelling as a result of heat.
“More than 1200 people presented themselves to the emergency ward at Westmead Hospital in December and January with possible heat-related illnesses.
“A number of ideas to deal with heat are being examined as part of the strategy, including reflective roofs, cooler streets and increased tree canopy cover. We need to change our city buildings, transport and infrastructure to perform in the heat.
“It’s great to see the CSIRO partnering with the Sydney Science Park to look at features that will reduce temperatures inside new homes being built across Sydney.
“Councils across metropolitan Sydney are working together to provide practical ideas to residents and businesses, as well as consider new community heat plans. We need everyone to take action to make it easier to live with heat.
“The Resilient Sydney team will be visiting business groups, community groups, councils, government agencies and many more over the coming weeks. We are working towards a Metropolitan solution.
“Disasters aren’t restricted by council boundaries – that’s why it’s so important everyone works together to plan for a more resilient Sydney.”
The Resilient Sydney Team is funded by 100 Resilient Cities, a global initiative pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. The team works with all of Sydney’s metropolitan councils, the Greater Sydney Commission and the NSW Government.
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