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
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
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
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
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.