With the weather heating up significantly across Victoria this week and weekend, we are reminded of the need to ensure that everybody in our community is safe from the impacts of extreme heat.
VCOSS has long argued that heatwave planning and preparation needs to accomodate the needs of people who at most at risk during extreme heat events. This includes people who are older or who suffer from chronic health conditions, people who are homeless or live in poor quality housing, and also people who lack the capacity – for a range of social and personal reasons – to change their circumstances or behaviour in extreme heat events.
With gradual improvements in the way Victoria deals with heatwave, a number of recent initiatives demonstrate that the needs of people who are particularly at risk are starting to be addressed.
The Ready2Go Early Relocation Program aims to reduce the potentially fatal impact of heat on people at risk by providing a means of transportation and early relocation in periods of predicted heatwave, storm or high bush fire danger. Piloted in Cockatoo last summer, it is now expanding to include Emerald, Gembrook and Upper Beaconsfield.
The Ready2Go program supports people living independently who are unable due to age, frailty or mental health to protect themselves adequately from the effects of heatwave conditions, bushfire threat or other emergencies such as severe thunderstorms.
Ready2Go matches participants with one or more volunteers who:
- offer support with decision-making around when to leave early
- offer assistance with planning for relocation to pre-arranged locations
- provide transport to pre-arranged areas ahead of any extreme conditions.
Ready2Go have an arrangement with Meadowvale Retirement Village in Pakenham as an alternative relocation venue and are working on securing further suitable locations in other areas.
Volunteers also encourage participants to put together a ‘ready relocation kit’ which might include items such as clothing, toiletries and medication for their relocation. The Ready2Go program provides participants with a support person from the local community who can develop a rapport with them and encourage them to be more proactive about their health during heatwaves or other emergency events.
Ready2Go is an example of the ‘all hazards, all agencies’ approach where local organisations, agencies and the community work together to better protect people at risk of heatwave and other emergency events. Participants in Ready2Go include Red Cross, Cardinia Shire Council, local Police and CFA, St Luke’s Anglican Church, MecwaCare, Monash Community Health, St Patrick’s Church Pakenham, Living Learning Pakenham and ECHO Youth Services.
In another initiative, the City of Melbourne has released a plan for responding to extreme heat periods that specifically addresses the needs of people who are homeless – Heatwaves and homelessness.
An estimated 1,343 people experience primary, secondary and tertiary homelessness in the City of Melbourne. People experiencing homelessness are highly vulnerable during periods of extreme heat, particularly within the City of Melbourne, where temperatures can be up to 7°C higher than in less urbanised environments due to the urban heat island effect.
The City of Melbourne is working with six participating agencies to strategically build awareness and preparedness amongst the diverse homelessness population in the City of Melbourne. A number of initiatives are being piloted this summer that aim to ensure people experiencing homelessness have access to important heat health information and a range of appropriate heat respite options during the day and at night. This includes free pool and movie passes, access to after-hours cool spaces, improved access to health, social, recreational and nutritional services for rooming house residents and drinking fountain and cool places maps.
Heatwaves are known to increase the incidence of illness and death, particularly among vulnerable population groups. A study by Monash University found that the geographic areas in Australian cities most vulnerable to heatwave included those with high proportions of elderly residents, non-English-speaking homes and hot urban areas that lack vegetation. Other vulnerable population groups include the following:
- older people (65 years and older)
- children under five years old
- pregnant or nursing mothers
- people with a pre-existing medical condition, such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or mental illness
- people with a condition that impairs the body’s abilities to regulate its own temperature like Multiple Sclerosis
- those living alone with little social contact
- people taking certain medications, such as those for depression or insomnia
- people with a disability.
If anyone you know is likely to be at risk during a heatwave, help them get the advice and support they need. Vulnerable people living on their own should be visited daily to check whether they are OK and should be checked for heat stress. In an emergency,
- Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance
- Your doctor or pharmacist
- Nurse-on-Call, telephone 1300 606 024
The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services provides a wide variety of information and resources on heatwaves. This includes the Heatwave plan for Victoria: Protecting health and reducing harm from heatwaves which is Victoria’s plan for heatwave responses.
The Department offers a Heat Health Alert System that notifies local governments, departmental program areas, hospitals, and statewide or major metropolitan health and community service providers of forecast heatwave conditions which are likely to impact on human health. You can register for alerts here.
There is also a suite of staying healthy in the heat communication resources including brochures, posters and other resources, with a number translated into community languages, for downloading or ordering.
The Department also provides a planning resource to support residential aged care service providers put heatwave plans in place.
Your local council can also provide advice and information on local heatwave plans – contact your local council’s office for details.