Emergency management co-ordinator Jenny Luke, Public Health Unit environmental health team leader Andrew Jones and Intensive Care Unit specialist Dr Stephen Luke. Picture: Contributed
Emergency management co-ordinator Jenny Luke, Public Health Unit environmental health team leader Andrew Jones and Intensive Care Unit specialist Dr Stephen Luke. Picture: Contributed

How we need to prepare for disasters in a COVID world

THE looming natural disaster season comes with unique COVID-19 challenges for Mackay's emergency preparation teams.

As well as local and district groups placing coronavirus overlays over their contingency plans for the season, Mackay Hospital and Health Service's eight hospitals have completed emergency management planning with a COVID focus.

Emergency management co-ordinator Jenny Luke said preparations for summer started months in advance to ensure the region's eight hospitals were ready.

"Whether it's a cyclone, bushfire, floods or prolonged power outages, the Mackay, Whitsunday and Isaac region has seen it all," she said.

"Natural disasters are unpredictable, which is why preparation is important not only for the health service, but everyone in the community."

A planning exercise this week considered how the health service would respond to a severe weather event in the context of COVID-19.

 

A pontoon near the Marian Weir washed away from the bridge near the Mackay Water Ski Club, due to Cyclone Debbie. Picture: Tony Martin
A pontoon near the Marian Weir washed away from the bridge near the Mackay Water Ski Club, due to Cyclone Debbie. Picture: Tony Martin

"Our disaster readiness happens throughout the year and this year for the first time we have had to consider how we would potentially manage a disaster with COVID-19 safety considerations," Mrs Luke said.

She said COVID-19 had an impact on individual and organisational planning for disasters.

"On a personal level, people need to ensure alcohol-based hand sanitiser and masks are part of their disaster kit just in case they have to evacuate or have limited access to soap and water.

"From a health service perspective, we need to consider how to help manage evacuation centres and other places with the need to maintain social distancing, hand hygiene and other PPE requirements.

"The needs and safety of people in quarantine also need to be considered," she said.

Ms Luke said being prepared helped the health service and our other agencies to concentrate on the response to that incident and benefit of our community.

"If you are prepared and self-sufficient at home that will not only benefit your household but keep our emergency departments free for people who need urgent care."

 

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Mackay Mayor Greg Williamson said there had been a number of table top exercises and a lot of one-on-one interaction to prepare for this storm season.

"We have been looking at, in the event of say a cyclone or flood, how we work with a COVID overlay," he said.

"The state is still in a state of emergency at the moment due to COVID so there are certain requirements in place.

"If we now are faced with say a cyclone in one of our areas, there will be some intricate arrangements in relation to co-ordination, command and control.

"It's going to be complicated but … we have an excellent number of people in the right chairs in our area.

"So across Mackay Isaac Whitsunday, I think our region will be well placed to handle the storm season, a cyclone, floods with an overlay of COVID."

 

Cyclone Debbie March 27, 2017.
Cyclone Debbie March 27, 2017.

While the coronavirus rules could, in theory, reduce the number of people allowed at an evacuation centre, Cr Williamson said public safety came first.

He said the first priority would be evacuating people in danger from nursing homes, retirement homes, the hospital or their homes and putting them somewhere safer.

"If the chips are down and we have to evacuate people to our centre, our first requirement will be public safety and then that public safety has to be augmented by enough personal protective equipment," he said.

"Our real issue coming into storm season is being able to quickly access PPE requirements to enable an evacuation centre to function.

"That might mean PPE for everybody in there."

 

The Peak Downs Higway heading into Walkerston from Mackay flooded from Cyclone Debbie.
The Peak Downs Higway heading into Walkerston from Mackay flooded from Cyclone Debbie.

Cr Williamson said he believed there was enough PPE in Mackay right now but the emergency preparation teams were working through numerous scenarios to determine what else might be needed.

He said residents should prepare like they would for any storm season.

"Know at least where you might go and know what you've got to pack - know you've got communication capability.

"One of the big things out of Tropical Cyclone Debbie was having some of our areas without power for seven days.

"There were unprecedented storms that followed Debbie. What that meant was that after 12 hours, people's mobile devices went flat.

"One of the biggest things is getting some battery packs for mobile devices and making sure they are charged.

"When you come to use them, if they are not charged recently then they are likely to be flat anyway.

"Just be aware of what is happening and that means stay in touch and make sure you can read the Daily Mercury and have the ability to listen to the radio.

"That information is critically important this time around."

 

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