The City of Melbourne is currently working on a four-year initiative on community disaster resilience known as Prepare Melbourne. The stated aim is to engage and prepare residents and communities to enhance their resilience to hazards, disasters and the health impacts of climate change.

With regard to what is meant by “resilience”, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a resilient city has the ability to absorb, recover and prepare for future shocks (economic, environmental, social and institutional). It recommends a focus on three aspects:

  • Climate resilience, which refers to the ability to contend with extreme weather events;
  • Energy resilience is about ensuring safe access to affordable and stable power; and
  • Water resilience, which involves a holistic approach to ensuring affordable and safe water supply and also the mitigation of water-related shocks and stresses, ranging from drought to flooding, storm surges, pollution and sea level rise.

Unsurprisingly, all three – climate, energy, and water – have great significance for Docklands.

In terms of climate, weather forecasters warn of severe and extended heat this summer. One impact for Docklanders is for those with floor-to-ceiling, single-pane glass, and regrettably, far too many apartments have single glazing.

As retrofitting double glazing is expensive, residents without adequate insulation will “feel the burn” during these severe heat events, with their only recourse being to pump up the air-conditioning.

This highlights our second area of vulnerability – energy. The Docklands Representative Group (DRG) has previously highlighted the energy consumption challenges of our high-rise residential sector and the lack of understanding of our circumstances by policy makers.

The third area of resilience – water – is also a concern for Docklanders due to our exposure to flooding, with multiple local sites identified in recent modelling, including Harbour Esplanade.

In order to build a city’s resilience, the OECD advises giving attention to four areas, namely the economy, society, governance and environment, with specific action required for each category.

In terms of the City of Melbourne’s resilience initiative, Community Resilience Assessment workshops have been held in Southbank, Kensington, and Carlton. The next round will include Docklands.

The concern for the DRG is the focus of these sessions, which seem to limit community contribution to gauging awareness about what residents would do in a crisis. For example, the key feedback from Southbank participants pertained to “building relationships” (i.e. know your floor meet-ups and local community events) and “building-manger communication with residents” (e.g. evacuation protocols).

Surprisingly, there seems little focus upon mitigation. Absent are responses pertaining to building structural capability to help lessen or modify climate, energy, or water challenges (or disasters). Rather, the sessions seem focus on assessing resident’s awareness on what to do, where to go and opinions as to whether they could seek help from neighbours.

While undoubtedly greater awareness and a more connected community are important factors in withstanding and recovering from disasters, it is arguably more critical to build capacity to circumvent, mitigate or better prepare for dealing with emergencies. In a nutshell, community involvement should not be confined to building better escape routes.

Members of the DRG will be participating in the forthcoming resilience workshop and will raise questions regarding structural approaches to building a more resilient Docklands. •

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