I’m sitting here writing this on a relatively cool day for Brisbane – it’s only 23 degrees, but I think it’s only a short reprieve. We’ve already had some pretty hot days and that was spring.

The Queensland Bureau of Meteorology State Manager, Bruce Gunn, said that although severe weather can occur at any time in Queensland, October to April is the peak time for heatwaves, flooding, tropical cyclones and severe thunderstorms.

So, with the long-range weather forecasters predicting it will remain hot and dry for some time yet, potential risks from heatwaves and other adverse weather events are something we need to keep in mind when supporting vulnerable clients.

Wild bushfire burning out of control in native bushland, text says "Be prepared for summer emergencies"

This is the time of the year we need to make sure our emergency planning is completed. For those service providers up north where cyclone season is in play, you've probably already updated emergency plans and are now ensuring that orders are placed for emergency supplies in case of being cut off by adverse weather events.

With the recent spate of bushfires that have broken out over the spring, the need to plan year-round for dealing with this type of natural disaster has been brought to our attention. We live in an amazing country and we value the native forests and bushland that surround our towns and cities. However, we can’t ignore the risk that having all this vegetation close to our homes and workplaces brings. If you’ve never experienced the roar of a bushfire as it races up a slope towards your home, count yourself as fortunate. It’s not a nice experience.

We also have a fantastic climate that many envy; long hot summers where we can enjoy our beaches and parklands, but again this carries an inherent risk of heat exhaustion and dehydration if we don’t take care.

The extreme heat can also have an impact on electronics, so security systems and computers may be adversely affected. And what about your staffing levels? What if fires impact on the ability of your staff to get to work?

When we are caring for the frail elderly or younger people with a disability, we need to look at managing and mitigating these risks as much as possible.

For organisations that operate a residential facility which may be impacted by adverse weather conditions or events such as cyclones or bushfires, now is the time to carry out an audit of your Centre and ensure anything that needs to be addressed is done so. This could include:

  • ensuring all your emergency contact details, such as Emergency Services numbers and contacts, are up to date;
  • checking that your facility grab and go bag is ready and contains key supplies and information, such as an up to date first aid kit, resident identification tags, and relevant resident documentation;
  • checking your backup generator has been serviced and is working;
  • checking that you have sufficient fuel to operate your generator and that any spare fuel is stored appropriately;
  • ensuring the grounds are tidied up so there are no loose items lying around in cyclone areas, or dead leaves and other fuel that would feed a bushfire;
  • clearing gutters of debris in fire prone areas;
  • checking with evacuation points, such as the local hospital or alternative care organisations in the event you need to evacuate the facility;
  • training staff in emergency procedures, including evacuation drills, so that everyone is aware of the appropriate response in the case of an adverse event;
  • conducting an audit of emergency supplies in case the facility or service is cut off from normal suppliers for an extended period of time;
  • meeting with external emergency service organisations to review agreed protocols and procedures in the event of a natural disaster – updating contact details and advising them of any changes in your service that may be relevant for them if they are to assist with evacuation;
  • planning options and alternatives for maintaining adequate staffing levels in the event of a natural disaster such as a bushfire or cyclone;
  • have the Department’s phone number readily available in case you need to seek assistance with alternative accommodation, or advise them of the event.

For organisations who support clients living in their own homes, there are other considerations.

You may still need to check some of the above areas that relate to the operation of a day centre or meals on wheels program, but there are also other considerations when supporting clients to be safe in their own home. These may include:

  • reviewing individual client emergency support plans – are they up to date with contact numbers and agreed actions?
  • do clients need assistance to clean up around the home to improve safety, such as cleaning gutters and tidying up the yard of loose rubbish?
  • identifying ‘at risk’ clients, such as those who live in heavy bushland at the end of a gravel road and work out a response strategy in the event of a bushfire in their location;
  • for clients living in bushland and high risk fire areas, consider assisting or prompting them to prepare their ‘grab and go’ bag in the event of an emergency evacuation. They may also need help with working through their personal fire/evacuation plan;
  • identifying ‘at risk’ clients who may require regular monitoring, perhaps those who are less mobile and unable to access cool drinks easily;
  • changing service delivery times to limit the time that clients and staff spend out during the heat of the day;
  • changing the activities offered from those that require people to be outside in the heat of the day to activities that take advantage of cooler locations.

And don’t forget that part of your planning should include what to do after the event. It’s important that care and support continues for clients with as little disruption as possible and that things get back to normal as soon as possible.

Click here for more information and resources on emergency planning and Departmental expectations.

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