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Four big problems for Melbourne’s $478,088 chief resilience officer

Date

Aisha Dow

It's a job that comes with a curious title and a generous $236,544 yearly salary, but Melbourne’s first 'chief resilience officer' could have the toughest gig in town.

Once the new recruit is announced later this year, they will have two years to help prepare Australia’s second-largest city to bounce back from future shocks and stresses inflicted by extreme weather.

Think back to January’s heatwave to get a taste of what they could be in for; a buckling transport network, outbreak of heat-induced illness and wilting economic productivity. 

Yet come 2070, Melbourne City Council says the number of hot days to reach over 35 degrees in Melbourne is predicted to at least double and the heatwaves could stretch on for weeks instead of days.

Environment chair Cr Arron Wood said Melbourne would have to undertake major reforms and retrofitting of infrastructure such as train lines to heed off the looming issue of multiple system failures.

“I make no bones about it, it’s a monumental task and also an expensive task, but maintaining your status as the world’s most liveable city doesn’t come cheap,” he said.

Melbourne is one of 33 global cities who have received funding from the prestigious Rockefeller Foundation to employ a chief resilience officer. At the end of the officer's tenure, they will have created metropolitan Melbourne’s first “resilience strategy”.

The successful applicant will be paid a total salary of $473,088 over two years, a sum that Melbourne City Council says “accurately reflects the importance and seniority of the responsibility”.

Likely to be high on the agenda of the top-level advisor will be the impact of longer and harsher heatwaves on the city, including these four big challenges:

1) Death and illness

Death

Ambulance Victoria’s manager of emergency management, Paul Holman, said heatwaves kill more Australians than any other natural disaster; but a flurry of deaths often fails to make headlines because victims tend to be poor people who die alone.

“Nanas are dying in their hundreds in isolated buildings, like the Hoddle Street flats,” he said.

Paramedics have also noticed that for months after blistering hot spells elderly people continue to die at higher rates because their bodies never fully recover. Mr Holman said a big challenge for Melbourne’s new chief resilience officer was to make city dwellers take heat far more seriously - because sometimes when an ambulance arrives it is far too late.

2) A suffocating economy

Heat

During just four days of 40-degree-plus temperatures in January this year it is estimated businesses in Melbourne’s city centre lost $37 million in revenue, as one in 14 air-conditioners broke down.

The effect on the city’s construction industry during this period is expected to have been even greater, as workers were forced go home early when the mercury hit 35 degrees by mid-morning.

Cr Wood said city-wide hot-weather policies may have to be considered for Melbourne in the future similar to “snow days” in the northern hemisphere. He said some people may work from home to avoid nightmare commutes.

3) Threats to vital infrastructure

Infrastructure

The city’s transport network was crippled as tram tracks buckled and power outages and fires played havoc with train timetables, during January’s heatwave. To prepare for more extreme weather, Cr Wood said “every railway line, every carriage and every signal” may need to be tested to see if it could cope with heat, storms and floods.

“If it doesn’t, there needs to be some serious retrofitting done,” he said.

Retrofitting could include building apartments over the top of train lines and creating new tunnels to help protect the transport system from the elements.

Water and sewerage utility City West Water has already started reviewing the impact of climate change on its infrastructure amid predictions new areas of Melbourne will become flood-prone. Managing director Anne Barker said they may have to design their sewerage system.

4) Civil harmony

Unrest

Professor of Criminology at the University of Tasmania, Rob White, warns Melbourne is facing a future crime threat created by a battle over scarce resources, including food and water.

These new tensions will widen class divides, as cities face a wave of climate-induced migration, he said.

“You’re going to have a lot of social conflicts and they’re not going to be resolved nicely for a whole range of reasons,” he said.

“The tendency will be to retreat into our different enclaves, when the only way to get through this crisis is through solidarity.”

United States studies have already found that higher temperatures can go hand-in-hand with increased crime, with the incident of riots, assaults, family violence and burglary increasing on days over 32.2 degrees.

Chief executive of environmental resilience group Green Cross, Mara Bun said along with the physical reforms to the city, it was critical to build stronger communities so Melbourne could successfully weather disasters. That means getting to know your neighbours.

What looming problems do you think Melbourne's first chief resilience officer should solve? Make your suggestion in the comments section below.

11 comments so far

  • Great - another pointless climate change inspired scare that will no doubt infiltrate other councils. Rates are high enough as they are.

    Commenter
    brian
    Date and time
    July 30, 2014, 2:53PM
    • Dealing with the dwindling number of influential people who continue to claim that there is no problem, and hence refuse to plan seriously to deal with it.

      Commenter
      Peter
      Location
      frankston
      Date and time
      July 30, 2014, 2:58PM
      • How about starting with the price of beer and food at the footy?

        Commenter
        Hopper
        Date and time
        July 30, 2014, 3:14PM
        • Forgot to mention the inevitable zombie apocalypse!

          Commenter
          PeterT
          Date and time
          July 30, 2014, 3:18PM
          • Wonderful Idea, but we all know this job will go to a political budgie as a favour. Somebody with knowledge, contacts and skills could produce a workable plan and solid implementable goals out of this project, but it's likely to be politicised waffle based both on the level of lobbying they will receive and the nature of the likely candidate to be appointed.

            Commenter
            NightFallTech
            Location
            Melbourne
            Date and time
            July 30, 2014, 3:24PM
            • Build green spaces above the train tracks! And put green areas atop buildings. More parks with drought resilient plants, preferably natives. More buildings and concrete would surely only increase the heat island affect.

              More communal open spaces so that communities can actually mingle.

              Storage and retention of rain and storm water run off is a great idea too.

              So when can I apply for the job?

              Commenter
              Darren
              Location
              Melbourne
              Date and time
              July 30, 2014, 3:29PM
              • Life's a bake.

                Commenter
                Jeremy
                Location
                West Footscray
                Date and time
                July 30, 2014, 3:34PM
                • Melbourne's most pressing problem is obviously finding a successor to Paul Roos. Then getting some good high draft picks. After that they could take a quick look the methane releasing sink holes opening up in Siberia, the pending demise of the human race and how we are going to get a good latte after all the barista's have gone. That should keep him busy.

                  Commenter
                  DeeDeeDum
                  Date and time
                  July 30, 2014, 3:44PM
                  • An interesting initiative and good for the Rockefeller Foundation for funding it. Its not a job I'd want - I'm not resilient enough myself! The stress of it have me buckling!

                    As for other things to be reviewed, there was no mention of flooding - either due to rain storms or tidal surges both of which are more likely with global warming.

                    Another possible action might be to look at having back up centres in the regions for critical services/ government services in the case of a crisis in Melbourne. This would provide much needed jobs to country towns and cities.

                    In the coldest winter for some years we also need to be aware that the cold is also a killer. With heating and electricity prices at record levels many people are having to decide whether to eat or heat and that is of grave concern to the sick and elderly.

                    Whoever gets the job - the best of luck - you're going to need it!

                    Commenter
                    Neil C
                    Location
                    Country Victoria
                    Date and time
                    July 30, 2014, 3:53PM
                    • Traffic along inner suburb feeder roads is becoming more congested. I'm not sure why we allow roadway, designed to move cars, to be used as parking lots for most of the day.

                      Tram stops should also be moved back from intersections to ease traffic and tram flows. Tram stops within a hundred meters or so should be moved - too bad if people have to walk an extra 50 meters. (Perhaps that will help the obesity rates)

                      Commenter
                      John
                      Date and time
                      July 30, 2014, 4:10PM

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