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North Queensland flood survey finds more than half of people did not evacuate or have safety plan

Sofie Wainwright, Friday February 22, 2019 - 06:16 EDT
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Authorities conducted dozens of swift water rescues and hundreds of evacuations during the flood. - ABC

More than half of the people affected by north Queensland's unprecedented flooding event chose not to evacuate and were not prepared, according to preliminary survey results.

In the last week, about 500 people have responded to James Cook University's (JCU) survey, conducted to better understand community preparedness.

More than one metre of rain that fell on Townsville in a week that led to flooding, which forced dozens of swift water rescues and hundreds of assisted evacuations and damaged more than 3,000 properties.

JCU's Centre for Disaster Studies researcher Dr Yetta Gurtner said almost 80 per cent of respondents were advised to evacuate by a door knock, text message, friends and family, or a general warning from the media but only half of all respondents chose to leave.

"If they've been in a previous event and nothing has happened, they tend to become much more complacent and apathetic," Dr Gurtner said.

"People were concerned about looting, they were concerned about losing their homes, they were concerned about their pets."



More than 60 per cent of the respondents said they had a disaster kit but not an evacuation plan.

"Most felt they were prepared or familiar with the idea of a storm surge or a cyclone but very few had actually considered a sustained flooding event," Dr Gurtner said.

Lessons to learn

Dr Gurtner said some respondents felt the notifications were sent too late, while others appreciated the advice but chose to ignore it.

She said there was also some confusion about flood maps and the capacity of evacuation centres.

Dr Gurtner said emergency services and disaster management groups should look at better ways to encourage people to act on evacuation messages earlier.

"How do we get the messaging out earlier and … how do we then get people to act on that message?" Dr Gurtner said.

"We need to get into the community the idea of being more self-resilient and self-reliant — don't wait for the army to come to move you out."



The Inspector-General Emergency Management was undertaking a review into the north and north-west Queensland floods.

State Emergency Service northern region area controller John Forde said there were lessons to learn from every situation.

"No one can really predict the nature of the weather and we just have to adapt accordingly so we're learning as we go," Mr Forde said.

"With technology these days, it's helping us to establish responses quicker, we're increasing our training knowledge [and] helping the community become more resilient through education and information."


He said people should heed emergency warnings and advice, and wanted more residents to have emergency evacuation plans.

"Some of the people that were rescued said they did receive the warnings but they thought it would never happen to them," Mr Forde said.

"We face that situation a lot where people underestimate the forces of nature … and that causes some of us, emergency services personnel, to put our lives in danger.

"Have an emergency evacuation plan, look at various routes away from your location, whether it be higher ground, locating where the evacuation centres are."


Lack of insurance



About one in four respondents to the survey said they did not have any household or contents insurance.

"One of the things is the cost," Dr Gurtner said.

Some insurers won't insure our location.

"There's so much damage [in Townsville, it] suggests that there is certainly going to be some implications financially."

Politicians from many sides are calling on

Nearly 90 per cent of respondents said they relied on Facebook for their primary source of emergency information, though Dr Gurtner said most respondents believed they were discerning.

The survey remains open and a full report is expected to be published by mid-year.


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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