Disaster solutions overview

Disaster solutions overview

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As extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, cyclones and heatwaves increase and intensify as a result of climate change, so too does the focus on ways to predict, prevent and mitigate the impacts of these events. Throughout 2021, ANU researchers made vital contributions to developing innovative solutions to disasters. With particular focus on bushfire prevention, storm protection, floods, and health, this work has built strong partnerships and networks across many sectors of government, industry and community.

The ANU/Optus Bushfire Research Centre for Excellence is focussed on evaluating a series of technologies for early detection of bushfire ignitions, with a goal of preventing catastrophic bushfires through early detection and rapid extinguishing. In 2021, the Centre commenced research to develop new drone technology to provide rapid validation of lightning strike ignitions in deep bushland, which are responsible for the majority of catastrophic bushfires. Engaging with Australian drone manufacturer, Carbonix, the project placed ANU research and development at the centre of this important field.

ANU research into the value of coastal wetlands gained international attention in 2021. In what was the first global estimate of their value in avoiding storm damages, the study showed that coastal wetlands worldwide saved over 4,600 lives and almost US$450 billion a year in storm damage costs. The study also found that coastal wetlands are the most efficient and effective coastal storm mitigation solutions. Findings of the study were profiled by media and organisations around the world, including the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Flood management has also been a focal point of 2021, following widespread flooding on the east of New South Wales early in the year. ANU researchers contributed to public debate surrounding effective flood management, with particular reference to the use of dams. Commentary also highlighted the compounding impacts of floods on ecosystems like those in NSW that have already been damaged by other disasters, in this case the Black Summer bushfires.

In addition, ICEDS has consulted widely across ANU and assembled an experienced team of researchers across water science, ecology, economics, social science, engineering, policy and modelling to assess and quantify options for increasing community resilience to coastal and inland river flooding. Engagement with rural, regional and peri-urban communities, government, the private sector and industry was initiated and will be expanded on further in 2022.

In 2021, ANU researchers led the establishment of a national research network to address the health impacts of climate change. Comprising over 100 researchers and major partners across Australia, the Healthy Environments And Lives (HEAL) network brings together researchers, practitioners, communities and policymakers to tackle issues such as urban health, bushfires, air, soil and water pollution, food security, biosecurity, heatwaves and other extreme events. Through NHMRC, the Australian Government is providing $10 million to this transdisciplinary national research network that will contribute to Australia’s preparedness and responsiveness to health threats from changing environmental conditions and extreme weather events.

The following examples are just a small sample of the work being undertaken by ANU researchers in many areas related to disaster solutions. Over the next 12 months, we are set to take our learnings from the domestic context and apply them more widely to global conversations. I look forward to providing further updates on our progress in this important field.

Dr Roslyn Prinsley
Head of Disaster Solutions
ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions