The recent emergency situation on the islands brought about by a break in the main SEQ water line that connects three islands, revealed a number of things that worked well in supporting the islands’ community but also highlighted gaps or improvements that could be made.
As the Division 5 Councillor, I was the first point of contact for a Karragarra resident who lost water.
It soon turned from an isolated problem to one which spread to Macleay and Lamb Islands and on that Sunday night there was no explanation for the water failure. It became a serious event that occupied Redland City Council’s attention for several days.
Whilst the problem was not of council’s doing, Council was left with the human difficulties that resulted: how to get drinking water to three islands involving thousands of people.
Because SEQ Water advised Council on the Monday morning that the repairs would take between 10 to 12 hours to fix, Council initiated actions to supplement drinking water only and shipped over 7000 bottles of water for people to collect free of charge.
There was a limit of two bottles per person as according to SEQ Water advice, the water would be flowing to all homes that afternoon. It was a severe problem that would be fixed early afternoon. Unfortunately it was not until late in the afternoon that SEQ Water finally advised Council the true extent of the problem and they could not advise a timeframe to repair the problem.
From my point of view, this was a failure of SEQ Water. They failed to understand the isolation of the islands; the importance of early notification of the problem; and the impact of their attitude to leave the problem with Council rather than taking the lead themselves.
Getting water to the three affected islands, Karragarra, Macleay and Lamb islands that late in the day was a logistic nightmare and an expensive exercise.
That afternoon Council had to organise and pay for special barge transport to ferry water tankers to each of the islands’ fire stations to ensure water was available for fire fighting.
Council also declared an emergency situation that drew together agencies of all levels, police, ambulance, firies, SES, health services and more. Council also ordered around 28,000 bottles of water and had them distributed to the three islands.
Emergency situations can occur at any time and anywhere; but in this situation, if SEQ Water had advised Council earlier of the seriousness of the pipe failure then more could have been done, earlier.
On the mainland, the options for residents to relocate, restock or review their options are different to the islands’ community, where the options are greatly reduced.
With this in mind, island residents need to bolster their individual resilience and service providers to the islands need to develop contingency plans that support the islands.
The recent water failure is the latest example of an emergency situation that arose, and one that provides an opportunity from which we can all learn.
A recent debriefing meeting with island volunteers showed the advances in what is working well and also identified what needs to be improved.
Every step we can take forward to make the islands more resilient in emergency situations is of benefit.
What we do know is that emergency situations will continue to arise on the islands: cyclones, water failures, power outage, telecommunications, and the thing that keeps me awake at night, bush fires!
When a problem arises such as water failure, people look to Council to provide the solutions even if the event is outside of Council’s control.
I’m okay with that as we all have a part to play. It’s about restoring the community but we shouldn’t let other service providers off the hook.
In my opinion, what we need to do is to get all the agencies that deliver services to the islands to re-evaluate their contingency plans when problems arise.
• Should SEQ Water consider building water reservoirs on all the islands so that in the event of a water pipe failure, everyone has a collection point of gravity-fed drinking water that can sustain each island for at least a week?
• Should Energex build a solar station with battery storage that residents can recharge their phones and mobile devices when the power is out?
• Should Telstra and Optus provide satellite communication phones at the island halls when the network goes off line?
As for Council, the community halls have been upgraded with equipment and generator back-ups are being installed in the coming year.
However, there are still improvements in the processes that Council could do, as identified in the recent debriefing exercise.
One of the on-going complaints is the communication of messages.
“Council uses Facebook, Twitter, website, text and other electronic messaging systems to advise and inform.
How about (and this is old school) having a whiteboard at all jetties and community halls being updated regularly on what is happening and what is planned to happen later in the day? Just a thought.
Finally, and this is probably more important than everything: Look at ourselves.
We live in one of the best locations anywhere; and the relative remoteness and seclusion is part of the appeal for us to live on an island.
We know we are remote and face challenges when problems arise, so we need to prepare for an island resilience level, not a mainland resilience level.
If everyone prepared themselves for a 5-day self-sufficient camping trip, then most of us would cope. Having food, water, fuel, lighting and medication prepared as a back up would get most of us through.
Having a mobile phone charger in your island car, could also help when it comes to charging your phones.
Fire, however, requires an extra level of preparedness.
Clean up around your yard and prepare to defend or evacuate your property.
Ask the local fire brigade on measures you can take.
Bush fire is an Australia-wide risk, no matter where you live, on the islands; or people living on the mainland in bush and forest areas, all share the same risks.
It is those people that prepare well, have their plans in place, look to themselves rather than relying on others, that tend to fare the best.
If you do nothing, fail to plan and just whine about others not doing things for you, then maybe . . . . ? In summary, the reality is to expect more critical events to occur and everyone needs to do their part.
Whilst 612ABC is the radio station charged with emergency news, one recent new innovation is the start-up of Radio FBI (Radio Friendly Bay Islands) by the Friendly Bay Islander. It is able to put out emergency information immediately specifically focused on the Moreton Bay Islands and will prove invaluable in the future.
• Lining up for water on Macleay Island