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Chapter 4: Supporting better decision


4.1 Good decision making needs to be based on good information. Decision-making for national coordination of disaster management requires knowledge, data and information to be shared, consistent and up to date. Decision-making extends well beyond the immediate crisis or operational phases of a disaster.

4.2 Since at least 2002, there have been repeated calls for national consistency in disaster information and data. Australian, state and territory governments should progress their in-principle support for consistency, and agree a practical path forward to implement it.

4.3 The Australian Government has acknowledged that it can, as it should, play a national leadership role in coordinating national data, information and standard setting, in consultation with states and territories. Australian, state and territory governments should prioritise the implementation of data harmonisation, and national data standards, create common information platforms and share technologies. This will enable collaboration in the production, analysis, access, and exchange of information, data and knowledge about climate and disaster risks.

4.4 There are a number of opportunities to improve the risk and impact information used to inform strategic and operational decision-making.

4.5 An ongoing capability in national climate and weather modelling and improved national climate and weather intelligence will support Australian, state and territory governments to implement, assess and review their disaster management and climate adaptation strategies. Australian, state and territory governments should produce downscaled climate projections to inform the assessment of future natural disaster risk.

4.6 Australian, state and territory governments should explore the feasibility and practicalities of developing and maintaining nationally consistent assessments and projections of the frequency, intensity and spatial distribution of natural hazards in Australia. Exposure and vulnerability information, at a localised level, is also required to give a more complete understanding of disaster risk and impacts.

4.7 Australian, state and territory governments should also work together to develop consistent data standards to measure disaster impact and should continue to develop a greater capacity to collect and share standardised and comprehensive natural disaster impact data.

Informed decisions for natural disaster arrangements

4.8 In Chapter 3: National coordination arrangements we canvassed the importance of national arrangements for coordinating disaster management. We make recommendations for mechanisms to:

  • enable timely and informed decisions that have national implications
  • provide strategic advice, and
  • enhance national coordination.

4.9 To operate effectively, these mechanisms, for strategic and operational decision making, require knowledge, data and information to be shared. Strategic and operational decision making, including at a national level, requires a consistent and contemporary understanding of disaster risks and impacts and relies on credible, accessible and up to date data and information. National information systems can support and facilitate these ends:

A rigorously safe, streamlined, transparent and accountable framework for sharing data between government agencies and the private, research and non‑profit sectors can deliver significant benefits to the Australian community. [304]

4.10 Information systems do not exist for their own purpose; they are created to provide information to support decision making. Any national information system should be evaluated on the basis of whether it provides the information needed by decision‑makers in a timely and effective manner.

4.11 The requirement for knowledge, data and information extends well beyond the immediate crisis or operational phases of a disaster. Figure 15 provides some examples of common data and information needs across different phases of a disaster.

Data and information to understand disaster risk

4.12 In Australia, multiple agencies across all levels of government and the private and research sectors are involved in collating and producing disaster risk and impact related information. They use a range of information systems, tools and technologies to do so, and continued research and investment will be vital to maintaining and extending these capabilities. This is a matter we explore further in Chapter 23: National research and emerging technology.

4.13 In 2015, Australia adopted the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 – 2030 (the Sendai Framework). The National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework (NDRRF) seeks to implement the Sendai Framework in the Australian context. In 2017, the Australian Government’s National Resilience Taskforce (the Taskforce), in presenting a case to enhance national disaster preparedness, spoke to the value of a national level understanding of disaster risk:

The availability of information at the national level is important to Australia’s overall ability to prepare for the impacts of, and disruptions caused by, severe to catastrophic events. [305]

Information needs for strategic and operational decision makers

Figure 15: Information needs for strategic and operational decision makers

4.14 The Taskforce noted that official national information on hazard intensity, exposure trends and underlying vulnerability is not available.

4.15 In 2018, the Australian Government commissioned Deloitte Access Economics to undertake a ‘data mapping exercise’ to ‘assess the current suitability of Australian data for current and future reporting’ of ‘38 indicators across the seven targets set out in the Sendai Framework’. [306] Figure 16 shows the proportion of indicators Australia could report on at that time. [307]

4.16 The review made observations including that:

  • from a quality standpoint, data consistency was ‘essential to facilitating effective monitoring, reporting and informed decision-making’ and using a national dataset ‘where possible’ ensures that data has ‘agreed definitions, methodologies and standards to allow comparisons’, and
  • there were a number of gaps including that data may be available but access to the data was impeded and the data was not available for all states and territories. [308]

4.17 The NDRRF was endorsed by Australian, state and territory governments in March 2020. It emphasises the importance of understanding disaster risk. It notes that a wealth of disaster risk data, information and knowledge already exists across governments and the private sector, however much existing data relate to historical natural hazard patterns, and while useful, they cannot be relied on as a predictor of future risk. Further, it notes that, to make sensible long-term policy decisions and prevent new risks being created, Australia needs to understand possible future disaster risks and impacts. [309]

Proportion of 38 indicators across the seven targets set out in the Sendai Framework that Australia could report on in 2018.

Figure 16: Proportion of 38 indicators across the seven targets set out in the Sendai Framework that Australia could report on in 2018. [310]

4.18 There are, of course, challenges and limitations in pursuing a national understanding of disaster risk. Disaster information is generated at a variety of scales, including national-scale products produced through satellite imagery and modelling, down to local and state-scale data generated using field-based techniques, remote sensing and modelling.

4.19 Bringing this data together, at a national scale, can result in a patchwork of inconsistent data of variable quality, at different scales and related to different periods. For example, risk assessment methodology used by the states and territories, while generally informed by the National Emergency Risk Assessment Guidelines framework, [311] varies. This variability limits the ability to bring together the outcomes of these risk assessments in a meaningful or comparable way. A further limitation is that disaster risk assessment is most effective when undertaken at a localised level, recognising context and specific details around hazards, vulnerability and exposure. When aggregated to a national level, the context and meaning is largely lost. [312]

4.20 Existing risk assessment and management approaches are useful for some sorts of natural hazards and categories of risk, but are inadequate when dealing with cumulative and cross scale issues, or situations where the likelihood is low but the consequences are catastrophic. [313]

4.21 We also heard of barriers in collating broad-scale disaster risk and impact data and information, including a reluctance to share data, restrictive licensing arrangements, cost of collection, cost of providing accessibility and transparency, lack of coordination and harmonisation or standardisation of data, and that a national approach will adopt the ‘lowest common denominator’ and have limited potential for practical application. [314]

Nationally consistent and nationally comparable data

4.22 Nationally consistent data and nationally comparable data can facilitate the sharing of information and the development and implementation of national information systems.

4.23 For example, from early in our inquiry, we struggled to obtain consistent burnt area data on a national scale. After the 2019‑2020 bushfires, data were collected by the states and territories using a variety of means. The national burnt area data we received ranged from 24.3 million hectares (the sum of the burnt area data provided by each affected state and territory) [315] to 33.8 million hectares from the Australian Government (from the National Indicative Aggregated Fire Extent Data Set). [316]

4.24 The pursuit of nationally consistent data has been raised by a number of reviews and inquiries. Since at least 2002 there have been ongoing calls for national consistency in disaster information and data. For example:

  • 2002 Natural Disasters in Australia: reforming mitigation, relief and recovery arrangements (COAG)
    • Establish a nationally consistent system of data collection, research and analysis to ensure a sound knowledge base on natural disasters and disaster mitigation. [317]
  • 2004 National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management (COAG)
    • Develop national consistency in data sets relevant to bushfire mitigation and management under the Australian Spatial Data Infrastructure framework, and within this context, identify and resource national bushfire data set coordinators. [318]
  • 2012 Enhancing Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment Roadmap (National Emergency Management Committee)
    • The mapping of risks and priority hazards must be undertaken using nationally accepted conventions and standards to ensure consistency and effective sharing of ‘like’ data across jurisdictional boundaries.’ [319]
  • 2015 Inquiry into National Disaster Funding Arrangements (Productivity Commission)
    • Governments should task the Australia–New Zealand Emergency Management Committee with leading the development of guidelines for the collection and dissemination of natural hazard mapping, modelling and metadata. Guidelines should be developed for all hazards that need to be modelled and mapped at the local/regional level and where consistency across regions is desirable. [320]

Box 4.1 Opportunities for improving disaster-related data and information [321]

We heard from Australian, state and territory government departments and agencies on a multitude of opportunities to improve disaster-relevant data and information. By way of example – and by no means exhaustive – respondents to our initial notices identified the following opportunities for improvement:

  • Improved access to information and data sharing (raised by NSW, SA, WA, QLD, VIC, Emergency Management Australia (EMA), Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE)).
  • Improved capability of existing institutions / tools to provide data and/or research (raised by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), WA, NSW, WA, ACT, VIC)
  • Improved data capabilities, including:
    • Weather (incl. seasonal forecasts) (raised by the BoM, CSIRO, EMA, QLD)
    • Earth observations (LiDAR [322], Satellite, air quality etc) (raised by BoM, CSIRO, WA, NSW, NT, SA, EMA, ACT, QLD, VIC)
    • Simulations and/or scenarios (raised by BoM, CSIRO, DAWE, NSW, SA, VIC)
    • Climate information (raised by BoM, CSIRO, DAWE, QLD, SA, VIC)
    • Risk information (raised by NT, ACT, BoM, SA, CSIRO, VIC, DAWE, QLD, EMA, ACT)
    • Impact assessments (raised by CSIRO, SA)
  • Improved national data consistency, including:
    • Standards (raised by BoM, CSIRO, NSW, ACT, SA)
    • Harmonisation (raised by CSIRO, DAWE, SA)
    • Undefined consistency (raised by NSW, WA, EMA, NT, QLD)
  • Improved community messaging and warnings (raised by BoM, WA, QLD, VIC, NSW)
  • Improved availability of data to emergency services (raised by CSIRO, NSW, WA)

4.25 Geoscience Australia, CSIRO, local governments, peak bodies, and the insurance industry have also all advocated making natural disaster information data nationally consistent. [323]

4.26 State and territory governments have shown a strong interest in understanding and developing or adopting best practice, including by sharing and learning from each other. [324]

4.27 The Australian Government supports improved data governance and greater harmonisation of standards and technologies to enable collaboration in the production, analysis, access, and exchange of information, data and knowledge about climate and disaster risks. [325] Various Australian, state and territory agencies support improvements in consistent risk data in one domain or another, with some referring specifically to national standards, some noting support for harmonisation and others focusing on the outcome of consistency, rather than how they get there. [326]

4.28 State and territory governments expressed the following reservations regarding national information systems:

  • there should be an identified need for any national information system
  • any national information should not duplicate or undermine the information systems currently used by each state and territory
  • local and downscaled information should be available to local decision makers
  • collaboration to develop or implement any national information system should extend to state and territory agencies with relevant expertise and knowledge, and
  • national information systems, and the work required to create and maintain these systems, will be expensive. [327]

4.29 Australian, state and territory governments should progress their in-principle support for consistency, and agree a practical path forward to implementation.

Pursuing consistent data: harmonisation versus standardisation

4.30 There are multiple ways of pursuing consistent data. Two common ways are through data harmonisation and data standardisation.

4.31 A harmonisation approach brings together various types, levels and sources of data such that they can be made compatible and comparable. A standardisation approach relies on agreed minimum standards as to how data are recorded, collated and stored.

4.32 Harmonisation differs from standardisation in that it does not impose a single standard, methodology or norm, but rather seeks to find ways of integrating information gathered through disparate methodologies. A harmonisation approach allows information systems to be brought together to ensure comparability of the data delivered by those systems and provide a broader picture. It also allows for the integration of the best parts of each system, without replacing the systems already being used by each state and territory.

4.33 We heard that state and territory agencies have ‘different levels of maturity, different levels of expertise and in many cases…use different systems and tools’. Some of these systems and tools are ‘absolutely cutting edge’ and ‘incredibly valuable work’ is being done and ‘very high resolution data being delivered’. However, ‘that often means that a neighbouring jurisdiction is not using the same data or the same platform, and that’s where we run into challenges for how collaboration takes place’. Having ‘harmonisation’, rather than ‘standardisation’, allows ‘comparability of those systems and the potential to integrate the best parts of them, without replacing the very fine work that’s being done within those jurisdictions’. [328]

4.34 Dr Dan Metcalfe, CSIRO, highlighted to us how national consistency of data and information could be pursued gradually, without requiring significant reform in the short-term. Dr Metcalfe put to us that if Australia were to set a ‘lowest common denominator’ standard to bring data together, Australia could then integrate the data nationally, interrogate it and provide a product back at the national scale. He noted that setting minimum standards to start with would allow jurisdictions which collect data to a higher resolution to keep doing so and, over time, jurisdictions could gradually work towards a ‘best practice’ national standard. [329]

Moves toward better data and information are occurring

4.35 The Australian Government has acknowledged that it can, as it should, play a national leadership role in coordinating national data, information and standard setting, in consultation with states and territories, to ensure that authoritative, useful information is available to decision makers and to support innovation. [330]

4.36 As at October 2020, a number of projects are underway to deliver improved data and information at the national level, including through pursing national consistency where appropriate. These projects are occurring in the Australian Government, including national organisations such as the BoM, Geoscience Australia and the CSIRO in collaboration with and between state and territory governments, in research institutions, and within the private sector. [331]

National Disaster Risk Information Services Capability

4.37 The National Disaster Risk Information Services Capability (NDRISC) is an initiative of the Australian Government to support decision makers across public and private sectors. A pilot project was undertaken in 2019 to explore the feasibility and benefits of NDRISC, using freight and supply chain case studies. A report of the pilot project is due to be released in late-October 2020. We have had the benefit of reviewing the report in advance of its release. The report of the pilot project:

  • confirms the need for a national capability to provide decision makers across the entire economy with the information and advice they need about climate and disaster risk
  • notes that a national capability should unite information, analytics, risk assessment processes and networks of collaborating scientists, technical specialists, decision makers in government, industry and citizens and address complexity, uncertainty and systemic risk

Box 4.2 Climate Measurement Standards Initiative

The Climate Measurement Standards Initiative (CMSI) is an industry-led enterprise to develop standards to help enable business to consistently and comparably report and disclose climate-related financial risks. [332] It is a collaboration between insurers, banks, scientists, reporting standards professionals, service providers and others including CSIRO and the BoM. [333]

It is an Australian initiative seeking to align with the international recommendations by the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures to develop voluntary, consistent climate-related financial risk disclosures for use by companies in providing information to stakeholders. [334]

The first phase of the CMSI was the development of financial disclosure guidelines and specifications for scenario analyses. Guidelines and specifications are open-source and voluntary. Over the long-term, the CMSI aims to develop open-source standard and guidelines which will:

  • enable consistency and comparability in the disclosure of climate-related risks
  • improve confidence in the accuracy of these disclosures by an expert-led design process
  • reduce costs associated with companies going their own way in developing disclosure approaches (eg it may enable a cost-effective path for small companies to disclose climate-related risk)
  • improve transparency of disclosure by making data sets and tools publicly available, and
  • enable businesses to make informed decisions to manage climate-related risk, and thereby improve the collective capability of Australia to address climate-related risk. [335]

The CMSI argue that for the full value of this initiative to be unlocked, ‘improvements to weather and climate data, information and services are needed’ [336] including in nationally consistent high-resolution climate projections that are comparable across regions. [337]

The CMSI illustrates that the private sector is taking action on the issue of climate‑related risk by developing expert-led processes to assist in managing the cost of this risk. By its collaborative nature with institutions such as CSIRO and BoM, and advocacy for improved climate data, it also shows the value of the public and private sectors working together toward a common goal.

  • recognises that a national capability is critical to understand and collectively manage risks from a variable and changing climate and is central in realising a sustained policy posture to build climate and disaster risk reduction considerations into decisions and actions taken by the Australian Government
  • notes that the concept of a national capability aligns with international best practice – national platforms are recognised by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction as playing a key role in providing and mobilising knowledge, skills and resources required for mainstreaming disaster risk reduction into development policies, planning and programs, and
  • notes that Indigenous knowledge systems embody deep knowledge of natural systems and land management practices that can be used for disaster risk reduction, and that a key challenge for a national capability is to improve the connections between these practices. [338]

4.38 The Victorian Government has told us that implementation of the NDRISC, and aligned adaptation initiatives, should occur through engagement and consultation with individual jurisdictions during the design phase, to ensure that potential negative impacts on jurisdiction-level risk analyses and predictive services are avoided. [339] The SA Government is supportive of common standards, definitions and interoperability. [340] The NT Government told us that the particular and inherent limitations faced by smaller jurisdictions with respect to personnel and resources should be taken into account. The Tasmanian Government had a similar concern and is ‘further considering’ the NDRISC. [341]

Data and information access

4.39 The Australian Government has told us that information on climate and disaster risk should be made accessible and usable for all. They note that there is an opportunity to consolidate, harmonise or connect data sets across the Commonwealth and with other sectors, to make climate and disaster risk information more useful and available. [342]

4.40 Examples of Australian Government initiatives to improve coordination of data and information include enabling new information products, such as releasing disaster and emergency management data to and NationalMap. [343] As of July 2020, has over 89,000 datasets, including 244 datasets relating to disasters and 248 datasets relating to emergency management. [344]

4.41 The Australian Digital and Data Council (ADDC), made up of a ministerial representative from each jurisdiction, was formed in 2018 to progress a strategic data and digital agenda. In response to the 2019‑2020 bushfires the ADDC established two projects:

  • Project 1 – Experiencing a disaster life event. This project is being developed by the Digital Transformation Agency, in collaboration with representatives from the Victorian, Queensland, NSW, WA and SA governments. It is working to understand people’s end-to-end experience of natural disasters (with a focus on bushfires), uncover common ‘pain points’ and identify opportunities for whole-of government service improvements.
  • Project 2 – National all-hazards service. This project is investigating integration and tactical sharing of all jurisdictions’ hazards information, including relating to fires, floods and cyclones. The project is led by the NSW Government in collaboration with the Queensland, Victorian and Australian Governments. [345]

4.42 In September 2020, the Australian Government released an exposure draft of a Data Availability and Transparency Bill 2020 and consultation paper. The bill seeks to create a scheme for the Australian Government to share public sector data by providing access to relevant people as needed. [346] The consultation paper notes that the 2019‑2020 bushfire season demonstrated that the need for a safe, modern, and streamlined approach to data sharing is more pressing than ever. [347] The consultation paper also acknowledges that data are crucial to effectively manage, respond to and learn from crises. Data access allows various government services to pre-populate information, saving citizens time and effort; policies and programs are fit for purpose and unintended consequences are reduced; and researchers are able to help shape government policies and better understand their impact. [348]

4.43 Although there are clear benefits in nationally coordinated data and information, we also acknowledge that the best level for making decisions can be at a local level – national harmonisation of data and technology should not be at the expense of relevance to local communities, nor compromise local community responses.

Recommendation 4.1 National disaster risk information

Australian, state and territory governments should prioritise the implementation of harmonised data governance and national data standards.

Recommendation 4.2 Common information platforms and shared technologies

Australian, state and territory governments should create common information platforms and share technologies to enable collaboration in the production, analysis, access, and exchange of information, data and knowledge about climate and disaster risks.

Recommendation 4.3 Implementation of the National Disaster Risk Information Services Capability

Australian, state and territory governments should support the implementation of the National Disaster Risk Information Services Capability and aligned climate adaptation initiatives.

Recommendation 4.4 Features of the National Disaster Risk Information Services Capability

The National Disaster Risk Information Services Capability should include tools and systems to support operational and strategic decision making, including integrated climate and disaster risk scenarios tailored to various needs of relevant industry sectors and end users.

Improving climate, disaster risk and impact information

4.44 There are a number of opportunities to improve the risk and impact information used to inform strategic and operational decision making and interests. These include improving:

  • climate and weather capabilities
  • climate information for risk assessments and scenarios
  • risk information from hazard, exposure and vulnerability, and
  • disaster impact information.

Climate science capabilities

4.45 Australia’s weather and climate research capability is considered world-class and is highly respected internationally but, as articulated in the recent Report on Climate and Disaster Resilience to the Prime Minister, requires ongoing effort to remain as best practice. [349]

4.46 While the observed climate over the last decade is consistent with changes described in early projections, [350] each iteration draws on Australian and international advances in climate modelling to bring in the latest science and enable a cycle of continuous improvements. [351]

4.47 It would be useful to tailor the next set of climate projections to sectors with the greatest need to adapt and respond to changes in natural disaster risk.

4.48 Integrating up-to-date climate and weather intelligence into scenario planning will reduce the risk that future extreme seasons are outside the realms of expectations. To date, regional climate modelling in Australia has been done on an intermediate scale, on an ad hoc basis, and would benefit from a more coordinated national approach: [352]

At the climate change scale, acceleration of CSIRO’s current aim to move towards coordinated, nationally consistent, high resolution climate modelling of future climate scenarios, using best practice multimodal ensemble techniques, would result in an improvement on the current ad hoc set of modelling studies. [353]

4.49 We also heard that climate services for Australia, particularly those pertaining to longer term risk and future projections, are provided by a mix of agencies and research groups, leading to ‘consistency, reproducibility and sustainability issues that may hinder future planning and resilience activities.’ [354] We were told that:

…at the moment there is no best set of data or techniques to be able to draw upon…. We’ve got lots of different approaches. [355]

4.50 In addition, a 2018 review of the National Environmental Science Program’s Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub (ESCC Hub) found that:

…overwhelmingly [survey participants] agreed that the current level of climate change science capability in Australia is not appropriate for the task of monitoring, analysing and responding to climate change’ and ‘the reality of climate change is generating increasing needs for evidence-based and science-based assessments of climate change risk. [356]

4.51 To understand and manage hazard risk, Australia needs to maintain a strong ongoing science capability. [357] The Australian Academy of Science reviewed Australia’s climate science capability in 2017 and recommended ‘implementation of an enduring arrangement for the coordination, facilitation and assessment of climate science and research in Australia’. [358]

4.52 In July 2019, the National Climate Science Advisory Committee published a report, Climate Science for Australia’s Future. [359] The report noted that Australia’s prosperity and security depends on our ability to anticipate, manage and prevent the economic, social and environmental impacts of climate change and variability. [360] The report identified six essential elements needed for decision makers to have the information they need to understand climate change and manage its risks and impacts:

  • observations, data, analysis and infrastructure
  • climate process studies
  • climate modelling and projections
  • climate risk, adaptation and services
  • international engagement and dependencies, and
  • research coordination and funding. [361]

4.53 The report identified several actions with a view to ensuring Australia is prepared for the impacts of climate change and variability in the decades ahead, informed by robust climate science and projections that are integrated into decision making across all sectors of society and the economy. The intended outcomes of these actions include:

  • an enhanced national weather and climate model platform
  • next-generation climate projections for Australia
  • a national climate service capability that provides decision makers with climate risk information tailored to their organisations and sectors, and
  • improved coordination and prioritisation of Australia’s climate science and research effort. [362]

4.54 Following on from this report, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Technology Sydney in partnership with the ESCC Hub and the CSIRO Navigating Climate Change Mission mapped the current climate services capabilities in Australia. [363] The study, based on surveys from providers and users of climate services, found that climate information and associated services in Australia are sourced primarily from national climate service providers (CSIRO and the BoM), universities, the Climate Change in Australia website, Geoscience Australia and some international climate service providers, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The study also found scientific validity, trust and accessibility were key reasons for selecting sources of climate information.

4.55 Researchers developing climate projections should seek opportunities to work closely with end-user groups and developers of climate services and decision support tools, to ensure their modelling outputs are targeted to support decision‑makers and planners.

Climate data for adaptation, risk assessments and scenario planning

4.56 CSIRO has been undertaking long-term, regional climate projections since around 1992. [364] The most recent set of nationally consistent climate projections for regional Australia was delivered by CSIRO and BoM in 2015 through the Climate Change in Australia project. [365]

4.57 We heard from CSIRO that regional climate models can be used to better understand and simulate potential disaster extremes at a regional and local scale. [366] These climate projections are tailored to enable impact assessment and adaptation planning, especially in the natural resources management sector. [367] This is sometimes referred to as ‘down-scaling’.

4.58 Climate projections ‘rely on first and foremost global climate modelling, because the climate system is a global system’. Global climate modelling ‘relies on multiple models from around the world, run through specialist modelling centres and the best practice is to assess and use the entire set, rather than pick one winner’. Global climate modelling produces at a ‘very coarse resolution’ of ‘approximately 100kms grid cells’, providing ‘a continental view of climate and climate change’. [368]

4.59 We heard that ‘down-scaling’ of climate projections refers to any method that takes the existing very coarse resolution to add resolutions spatially and temporally, and make it locally relevant down to a local scale, for example five kilometres or less. [369]

4.60 We heard that regional modelling has the ‘potential to give a lot of insights … at the local scale such as mountain ranges, coastlines and so on, and also simulate and then show the effect of climate change on extreme events, which happen through processes that operate at very fine scales’. [370]

4.61 A number of state and territory governments have produced down-scaled regional climate projections for risk assessments and adaptation planning to meet the needs of their own state or territory. For example:

  • The NSW, SA and ACT governments have partnered with the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of NSW to produce regional climate projections for south-eastern Australia. This collaboration is known as the NSW and ACT Regional Climate Modelling (NARCliM) Project. [371]
  • The Victorian, Queensland and Tasmanian governments have each partnered with the CSIRO to produce downscaled climate projection datasets. [372]
  • The Tasmanian Government has also partnered with the School of Geography and Spatial Sciences at the University of Tasmania to develop down-scaled scenario modelling of future climate projections and extreme events. [373]

4.62 There is a patchwork of climate datasets across Australia. [374] Australia does not have an authoritative agreed set of climate change scenarios for the nation nor standardised guidance on how to interpret and use these scenarios consistently. [375]

4.63 There is growing national and international interest in understanding and disclosing the impacts of climate change, including hazard and disaster impacts. The finance sector is perhaps the strongest example – where the impact of a changing climate on assets and investments, coupled with changing consumer interests as the world transitions to a lower-carbon economy, mean that the viability of businesses may be at risk. [376]

4.64 There is a substantial body of published Australian and international literature demonstrating that decision makers need support, in the form of decision tools, scenarios and other climate services, to use data on future climate and risk effectively. [377] The Climate Measurement Standards Initiative (CMSI) is an industry-led enterprise that demonstrates collaborative efforts to manage and disclose future risks. See Box 4.2 Climate Measurement Standards Initiative.

4.65 End users may need education and support to use data on climate trends effectively, including scenarios for stress testing disaster response and resilience. Tools should be co-developed and tailored to meet the needs of particular end-users [378] such as land‑use planners or emergency managers. State and territory governments should also build capacity and tools to better integrate climate and weather intelligence into disaster planning mitigation and response, and provide support for local governments to use this intelligence. [379]

Adapting to a changing climate

4.66 In December 2015, the Australian Government released a National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy. The Strategy articulates how Australia is managing the risks of a variable and changing climate. It identifies a set of principles to guide effective adaptation practice and resilience building, and outlines the Government’s vision for a climate-resilient future.

4.67 Each state and territory also has state-wide climate adaptation strategies. Some jurisdictions also take a ‘region-based’ approach to climate change adaptation. All adaptation strategies rely on an understanding of how the climate will affect jurisdictions or regions in order to inform what adaptation efforts are required.

4.68 An ongoing capability in national climate and weather modelling and improved national climate and weather intelligence relating to natural hazards and disaster risk will support Australian, state and territory governments to implement, assess and review their disaster management postures.

4.69 There is an opportunity for the Australian Government to review and update the National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy, taking into account the initiatives that have been proposed since it was adopted in 2015.

Recommendation 4.5 National climate projections

Australian, state and territory governments should produce downscaled climate projections:

  1. to inform the assessment of future natural disaster risk by relevant decision makers, including state and territory government agencies with planning and emergency management responsibilities
  2. underpinned by an agreed common core set of climate trajectories and timelines, and
  3. subject to regular review.

Natural hazard risk information

4.70 Hazard data in respect of different natural hazards are at different stages of maturity in consistency and coverage. For example, bushfire hazard mapping is produced by state fire authorities and typically has full state-wide coverage. Discrepancies in modelling methods between states are most apparent when comparing hazard mapping at the state borders. These discrepancies in methods make it difficult to measure risk at a national scale or to undertake comparative risk between regions. [380]

4.71 We recognise that state and territory governments have developed, to varying degrees and for various purposes, regional and local natural hazard risk assessments, projections and maps, and some of these resources are publicly available - for example, the Tasmanian Government’s ‘Risk Ready’ website. We also recognise that significant capabilities already exist in the commercial sector. Any national capability should leverage these existing capabilities, rather than duplicating them.

4.72 NSW, Victoria, SA, ACT and the NT have all expressed a desire for higher resolution data on hazards and factors that influence hazards such as fuel loads, including using technology such as Light-Detection and Ranging and satellite imagery. [381] The CSIRO notes that ‘improving weather forecasting and climate projection capability is important to improve the ability to predict or estimate the likelihood of extreme bushfire conditions’, [382] and ‘improvement in temporal and spatial resolution of forecasting is of great utility but is extremely challenging’. [383]

4.73 Australian, state and territory governments should explore the feasibility and practicalities of developing and maintaining nationally consistent:

  • assessments of the frequency, intensity and spatial distribution of natural hazards in Australia, and
  • projections of the frequency, intensity and spatial distribution of natural hazards in Australia.

Box 4.3 ‘Preparing for a Changing Climate’ – research by the Climate Change Authority

In March 2020, the Australian Government’s independent Climate Change Authority published a report Prospering in a low-emissions world: an updated climate policy toolkit for Australia. Chapter 7 of the report, ‘Preparing for a Changing Climate’, focuses on climate adaptation needs. It notes:

  • Research on impacts and adaptation strategies, and the effective communication of information and advice produced, is vital for improving resilience to and preparedness for climate change.
  • Research is recognised as a priority under the National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy, although the Government’s investments have been sporadic.
  • Some parts of the Australian economy need a greater focus on adaptation, as they are more exposed to the physical risks of climate change (for example, long-lived infrastructure, coastal environments and agriculture) or because they need to respond to the impacts of climate change (for example, health systems and disaster response).
  • The scale and complexity of climate modelling and projections means that forming useful information is an activity beyond the capability of individuals and all but the largest of businesses. Locally relevant information on climate change impacts is required to allow people and organisations to adequately prepare for and optimally adapt to climate change impacts.
  • The need for relevant, granular climate information has been raised repeatedly. As firms are increasingly looking to manage their climate risks and local communities experience the impacts of climate change, the requirements for high-quality information will increase.
  • To effectively guide mitigation and adaptation efforts, Australia will need to retain an expert capacity to model climate change impacts at local levels and develop capability in customising information for the needs of communities and organisations.

The report recommendations include:

  • a collaborative review and update of the 2015 National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy to ensure a coordinated and integrated approach, with clear roles and accountabilities, to enhance Australia’s climate resilience
  • improved integration and consideration of climate change risks in decision making about government programs, assets and services, and
  • implementation of the strategic actions in the National Climate Science Advisory Committee’s Climate Science for Australia’s Future report.

Exposure information

4.74 Exposure is used to describe what might potentially be at risk from a hazard or event – such as people, buildings or infrastructure, businesses, public facilities, agricultural commodities, or environmental assets. [384]

4.75 The nature of exposure information required for risk assessment is dependent on decision context. However, there are critical, commonly used products on exposure information that are required to support climate and disaster risk assessment across multiple decision contexts. Among the most important of these are products characterising the built environment. These include buildings, infrastructure and services supported by infrastructure. [385]

4.76 Understanding the relationship between infrastructure and the services supported by it is a complex undertaking, and would require significant investment to model these complex systems. However, it is a critical task as it underpins the ability to assess and address both component and system vulnerability through risk reduction measures. [386]

4.77 Australia has already benefited from some development of information systems to capture exposure information on a national scale.

4.78 The National Exposure Information System (NEXIS), a national information system developed by Geoscience Australia made up of databases and data processing software, which captures and manages information that describes the location and the characteristics of communities, infrastructure and businesses anywhere in Australia. NEXIS was developed to address gaps in Australia’s ability to manage natural disasters, in response to a COAG reform commitment in 2002. [387] SA noted the utility of this system, but also that the availability and accuracy of its data can be improved. [388]

4.79 The Australian Exposure Information Platform (AEIP) is a web-based delivery platform that makes exposure information from NEXIS available to the public. AEIP was released in 2019. It was developed by Geoscience Australia in collaboration with the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre (BNHCRC). A decision maker can use AEIP to generate an exposure report for any area in Australia. AEIP does not currently provide exposure information in the form of a geospatial mapping layer.

4.80 Australian, state and territory governments should identify all existing data collected and maintained by them in respect of the elements that may be at risk of a natural hazard event now and in the future, including:

  • individuals
  • dwellings or households and communities
  • buildings and structures
  • public facilities and infrastructure assets
  • agricultural commodities
  • environmental assets
  • cultural assets, and
  • business activity.

4.81 Australian, state and territory governments should take steps to harmonise, at a national level, exposure information.

4.82 NEXIS and AEIP should be maintained and improved.

Vulnerability information

4.83 The NDRRF speaks to the long term and complex nature of disasters, including natural disasters:

The impacts of disasters can be long term, complex, and intangible. Collectively, we are only now beginning to fully understand indirect, flow on and cumulative effects of disasters. We do know that disasters can trigger long-term challenges across a range of areas, including reduced education and workforce participation, increased crime, and physical and mental health and wellbeing. [389]

4.84 The Department of Home Affairs released Australia’s Vulnerability Profile in 2018. [390] It was a precursor to the NDRRF. Australia’s Vulnerability Profile identified whole-of-community influences on vulnerability regarding disasters, including:

  • placement of communities, infrastructure and assets, and
  • access and supply of essential information, goods and services.

4.85 CSIRO, in its technical report supporting the development of Australia’s Vulnerability Profile, noted that the complex nature of climate and disaster risk is not assisted by a ‘response and recovery’ focus on risk management: [391]

Much of the existing effort in disaster risk reduction, or disaster resilience, is focused on improved characterisation or quantification of risk – particularly the elements of likelihood, and impact (or consequence) through a standard risk assessment lens.

4.86 We heard that a more mature understanding of the root causes and effects of disaster risk and, in particular, systemic vulnerability is needed, so that our efforts to mitigate the risk and build resilience can meet the challenges of the future.

4.87 Vulnerability can be physical and relate to the susceptibility to damage of the built environment. This not only includes the vulnerability of physical infrastructure but also the vulnerability of infrastructure systems where damage to components disrupt service delivery. Vulnerability also includes the vulnerability of people and the likelihood of injury or death in a natural hazard event. [392] Vulnerability of the built environment is discussed in Chapter 19: Land-use planning and building regulation.

4.88 For the most part, our existing lifestyles and daily activities are heavily dependent on interconnected systems for the delivery of essential services when we need them (eg energy, water, food, health and education services, transport, and communications).These complex and interconnected systems support our society and influence our resilience or vulnerability to disaster. [393]

4.89 Mr Sharanjit Paddam, Actuaries Institute, noted that ‘in order to manage climate and disaster risk, we need to better understand vulnerability’. [394] Geoscience Australia told us that ‘system vulnerability and risk needs to be studied to identify vulnerabilities and the most effective measures to mitigate them’. [395]

4.90 In a Review of Emergency Management for High-Risk Victorian Communities dated October 2019, the Inspector-General for Emergency Management in Victoria found that:

  • the development of an index of vulnerability provides a strong basis for targeting resources to groups who are vulnerable, and
  • this approach will highlight the strengths and deficiencies of current emergency management arrangements so that capacity building initiatives can be developed, targeted and continuously improved over time. [396]

4.91 Relevant data sources for vulnerability information include socioeconomic statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, data held by the private sector and small-scale localised datasets produced through targeted surveys. However, much of the required understanding of vulnerability is also based on values, attitudes and perspectives of citizens, businesses and government stakeholders. [397]

4.92 As noted in Chapter 2: Natural disaster risk, the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre and the University of New England launched the Australian National Disaster Resilience Index. The Index provides a tool to understand, at a national level, how resilience varies in different regions of Australia, providing a means to track change over time and to allocate resources accordingly. [398] The Australian Disaster Resilience Index assesses resilience based on two sets of capacities—coping capacity and adaptive capacity, through a combination of social, economic, natural environment, built environment, governance and geographical factors. [399]

4.93 Australian, state and territory governments should take steps to develop tools, methods and guidance to identify and assess the vulnerability of individuals and communities to natural hazard events.

Disaster impact assessments

4.94 Impact data can be used to judge the success of recovery services and programs, to evaluate the effectiveness of mitigation measures like building regulations and fuel management, and to better plan for the next event. We heard that there is a ‘keen appetite across a broad range of audiences for this type of information to inform decision making’. [400]

4.95 The collection and assessment of data on disaster impacts usually occurs in two phases:

Phase 1 – ‘rapid damage assessments’ or ‘initial impact assessments’, occur soon after the natural disaster event, most commonly performed by the emergency agency that led the response to the natural disaster. These assessments look at impacts such as the number of houses destroyed, and with a view to reducing further risk to individuals and communities by identifying dangerous areas.

Phase 2 – ‘secondary impact assessments’ are conducted after the risk from the event has subsided, and can be conducted by local governments, contractors or state and territory agencies. [401]

Bushfire History Project contribution Gavan Willis NSW_5 January 2020

Figure 17: Contemplating the impact of bushfire [402]

Consistency of impact information

State and territory processes

4.96 We heard that there are limitations to the utility of information that is currently derived from impact assessments due to insufficient levels of accuracy and lack of consistency of the data collected, [403] data not being suitable or of a high enough quality to inform decision-making [404] and failure to collect all relevant information. SA suggested that a contributing factor to the quality of data may be the lack of experience and knowledge of staff called in at short notice during a large‑scale emergency. [405]

4.97 States and territories collect different disaster impact information, and that collection occurs in different ways. We found it difficult to obtain a consistent understanding of the impacts of the 2019‑2020 bushfires across the states and territories. [406] For example, in Tasmania, the collection of economic impact data draws on businesses reporting impacts to the Business Tasmania Hotline or to recovery centres. [407] In WA, economic impact data is sourced through the Small Business Development Corporation, which receives anecdotal information directly from impacted local service providers and local governments. [408]

4.98 We also observed that states and territories do not have a consistent approach to collecting and using impact data from industry and non-government organisations. [409] This is in part because organisations outside government have their own methods for assessing the impact of a disaster on their business or their customers. [410] Some organisations hold data that is not publicly available and others will share data at a cost.

4.99 These delays and limitations can have compounding effects. For example, the Insurance Council of Australia indicated that the insurance industry’s ability to provide financial assistance to residents impacted by disaster is frequently delayed by the lack of access to government impact assessment data. This requires insurers to wait until access to the property is available. [411]

National consistency

4.100 During our inquiry, we heard that to create a consistent set of impact information on the 2019‑2020 bushfires, the National Bushfire Recovery Agency (NBRA) manually analysed data from states and territories. [412] While some jurisdictions provided certain kinds of impact data under reporting arrangements or through established committees, other kinds of data were only provided on request. [413]

4.101 A National Impact Assessment Framework (NIAF) and the National Impact Assessment Model (NIAM) have been developed by a sub-committee of ANZEMC. [414] The NIAF seeks to provide high-level guidance to states and territories to achieve consistency of impact assessments. [415] The NIAM is a component of the NIAF, being the model used to guide the collection of quantitative and qualitative data on the severity of an event. [416] It does this by providing 50 high-level indicators across four recovery domains (social, built, economic and environment). [417]

4.102 We heard that, in their current form, the NIAF and the NIAM may not facilitate the creation of comprehensive and consistent impact data across the states and territories. A number of state and territory governments raised concerns with the current form of the NIAM, particularly about the validity of the scoring system [418] and the potential to produce inaccurate [419] or misleading results. [420] Some state and territory governments expressed support for reviewing the NIAF and NIAM, [421] stating that there is scope to improve them [422], and suggested that some impact indicators from the NIAM could be used in the development of a new national platform. [423]

4.103 The NBRA has created the Bushfire Recovery Data Working Group to identify and develop a series of nationally consistent reporting metrics, produce an agreed set of data sharing principles, and facilitate all jurisdictions in communicating and referencing the same foundation datasets. [424] By September 2020, this working group had developed a set of consistent key impact metrics that can be used in the future to provide more complete impact data. [425] NSW, Victoria and the NT drew our attention to the work of the ANZEMC’s Community Outcomes and Recovery Sub-committee data sharing project [426] which seeks to develop a methodology for collecting and assessing data on recovery needs and to develop a mechanism to share recovery needs assessments. [427] It is unclear to what extent both pieces of work overlap and care should be taken to avoid duplication of effort.

4.104 To provide a sound basis for short and long term decision-making, impact data needs to be comprehensive, accurate, consistent and timely. Nationally consistent reporting metrics, and an agreed set of data sharing principles between states and territories, which apply across different hazards, should be pursued.

Platform for collecting and sharing information

4.105 States and territories have different platforms and systems for recording disaster impact data. [428] Some of these systems may need updating. For example, SA noted that a challenge it experienced was the limited capability of its data collection system, requiring it to expand its data collection process to accommodate its disaster waste management program. [429]

4.106 We also heard of similar issues in other states and territories. There were instances where agencies had different data collection methods, [430] and were not able to efficiently share information. For example, Victoria acknowledged that difficulties with interoperability and integration between impact assessment platforms with broader emergency management systems had an effect on the timely provision of impact assessment data within the state. [431] We note that Victoria has since undertaken work to improve information sharing. [432] Separately, the SA Department of the Premier and Cabinet has said that, within the state, ‘…consolidating the data is naturally complex as much of it comes from systems that are not sufficiently integrated’. [433] The Department has also identified that using enhanced information systems that allow information exchange between systems would improve its information gathering process and be beneficial for recovery activities. [434]

4.107 We heard of a range of work to improve information platforms in some states. For example, Resilience NSW has developed an online reporting platform to allow agencies to update information in real-time, creating a single source of information for recovery agencies within the state. [435] Similarly, Emergency Management Victoria has been looking to streamline data-sharing in Victoria, focused both on the data collected for impact assessment and the mechanisms for sharing data. [436]

4.108 Some state and territory governments have expressed support for a consolidated platform which could collect uniform datasets and allow sharing, under strict guidance, [437] and greater nationally consistent guidance for, and coordination of, the impact assessment processes. [438] Some states have also suggested that sharing of personal information with key government and charity organisations through a consolidated platform could be beneficial in providing better services to affected community members. [439] Information sharing in recovery is discussed in Chapter 22: Delivery of recovery services and financial assistance.

4.109 A national data sharing platform for impact data would support better sharing of information between government agencies which, in turn, would assist in the development of impact awareness at a national level and consistent and harmonised data.

4.110 State, territory and national processes should ensure the sharing of consistent, accurate, comprehensive and timely data. Platforms should be interoperable, both intra-jurisdictionally and inter-jurisdictionally.

4.111 As part of this, consideration should be given to greater incorporation of data collected from non-government organisations and improving the capacity of entities responsible for conducting impact assessments.

4.112 Australian, state and territory governments should consider the extent to which de‑identified personal information provided by affected persons can or should be included or connected with impact data to facilitate timely recovery support.

4.113 The Australian, state and territory governments generally support improving existing arrangements for collecting and sharing disaster impact data. There are likely to be costs associated with developing a national system, or seeking to integrate existing systems, and data standardisation across jurisdictions will inevitably face challenges.

4.114 These improvements are necessary because the absence of consistent impact data and a national perspective is a significant gap, and warrants commitment to achieving consistency to ensure that better data collection and sharing processes are in place for future disasters to improve the recovery processes.

Recommendation 4.6 Consistent impact data standards

Australian, state and territory governments should work together to develop consistent data standards to measure disaster impact.

Recommendation 4.7 Collection and sharing of impact data

Australian, state and territory governments should continue to develop a greater capacity to collect and share standardised and comprehensive natural disaster impact data.

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