Featured News Residents urged to prep for disasters

Media Releases

Thu, 16 Nov 2023

Residents urged to prep for disasters

Northern Queensland residents are being urged to make preparations before a natural disaster strikes.
Northern Queensland residents are being urged to make preparations before a natural disaster strikes.

Complacency could be a killer if people are unprepared to face the next natural disaster in northern Queensland, according to a James Cook University expert.

JCU Centre for Disaster Studies researcher Dr Yetta Gurtner said the increasing frequency and unpredictability of extreme weather events meant households now needed to be prepared year round.

“People assume that because we’re going into El Nino, it’ll be a drier wet season and we’re not as likely to experience much rain. But in terms of cyclones, it doesn’t mean there won’t be any,” she said.

“While many may not be familiar with local hazards, we are also concerned about those members of the public who go ‘She’ll be right, mate. We’ve had cyclones before’. They’re not willing to do anything to prepare until the last minute.

“If you’ve made disaster preparations yourself, emergency services, such as the SES, can focus on helping people in houses that have lost roofs, experienced flooding and things like that.”

With cost-of-living pressures continuing to bite, Dr Gurtner said outside of items like medication, the bare essentials did not need to be expensive when it came to putting together a disaster kit.

“A 10kg bag of rice, while not gourmet, can keep you from going hungry. You don’t even have to cook it, you can soak it over several hours,” she said.

“Likewise, you can buy a cheap AM/FM radio at places like Kmart, which are an important backup if you lose phone signal or your battery goes flat. Even having candles will work in place of a torch and batteries.

“Empty plastic cordial or milk bottles can be filled up with water and put in the freezer, so if the power does go out, it will not only keep your freezer cooler for longer but it’s water you can drink afterwards.

“You don’t want to be waiting up to three to five days for someone to come and help you when you can have those supplies ready to go.”

JCU Cyclone Testing Station Chief Engineer Dr David Henderson said it was important residents followed the advice from local council and the SES in preparation, such as pruning trees and clearing yards of any debris - which could turn into potential missiles if a cyclone hit.

“Even things that you think are tied down can become quite dangerous, such as shade sails. It’s important to pack those away in the event of a looming cyclone because they can become massive flags which can whip around and break windows,” he said.

“One of the big things a homeowner really needs to pay attention to is maintenance. Like you get your car maintained, you have to maintain your house. It’s a big machine with a lot of components in there, so ensuring there’s no rust, rot, insect damage or leaks getting into the roof is important.

“Garden and carport sheds should be rated for cyclonic areas. For ones that aren’t, you can look into getting tiedown kits to anchor them into the slab to make sure they don’t blow away.”

Dr Henderson said houses that were built before the 1980s may not be as structurally robust as a modern house, with State Government grants like the Household Resilience Program able to assist with the cost of upgrades.

“Things like increasing the strength of your roof tiedowns and installing robust shutters and screens to reduce debris and wind-driven rain from getting in can be helpful,” he said.

“It’s all about protecting the building envelope and making sure it remains intact to protect you inside it.”

Dr Gurtner added it was important families or households discussed what they would do in scenarios where they might become separated in the event of a natural disaster.

“Working out where you would go, where you would meet and a communication plan is a good way to get you and your family or household mentally prepared for that what-if scenario,” she said.

“After the 2019 floods, people became aware of the fact that you may need to evacuate the home, so you should have an evacuation plan. Particularly if you have pets, have you considered their needs because many evacuation centres cannot take pets.”

Both Dr Gurtner and Dr Henderson urged residents to stay up-to-date with the latest news, weather warnings, road conditions and power outages via Townsville City Council’s online Emergency Management and Disaster Dashboard or Cairns Regional Council’s Disaster Dashboard.

For a Homeowner's Guide, which provides a checklist to keep your house in good condition in readiness for the cyclone season, head to www.jcu.edu.au/cyclone-testing-station/education.


Media enquiries: michael.serenc@jcu.edu.au