Communication breakdown?

Trentham's relief centre supplied people with power, food and water. Photo: Sandy Scheltema

Residents cut off from power and telecommunications for days in June’s storm are questioning Macedon Ranges Shire Council’s communications with residents in emergency.
Web, social media and phone proved ineffective means of communication for thousands of residents cut from power for between one to six days.

“We were cut off from power and running water for six days and we were not aware of anything that may have been available to us like showers or charging stations,” one resident told the Express.
“A knock at the door would have been nice. We were stuck with nothing and we weren’t the only ones – where was the advice? Where was the relief centre?”

Throughout the event, the council had opened temporary shower facilities in Woodend at Gilbert Gordon Oval, Kyneton Showgrounds, Romsey Park, and shared information about showers opened at Lancefield Park.
Power was made available for people at council facilities such as libraries, aquatic centres and visitor information centres; libraries ran on extended hours to provide additional time for people to access power. But distributing this information proved a challenge.
The council told the Express thatinitial storm communications were through web and social media. As the event progressed updates were available on ABC radio and mayor Jennifer Anderson was interviewed.

Macedon Ranges Shire Council’s chief executive Bernie O’Sullivan said a printed newsletter was also created and SES crews provided these to residents as they completed their response duties.
He said council officers contacted community care clients using existing contact details to check-in with isolated and vulnerable people at the beginning of and during the storm event to understand what support they may have required.
“Early on there were widespread power outages including to council buildings and facilities,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
“In the response part of the incident the focus is on protecting people from harm. SES Victoria, as the designated control agency, focused on this and council worked with and supported the SES.
“The initial focus was to clear the roads for emergency services and the power company to get access to locations and to ensure that the vulnerable people in our community were okay.”


The council made the decision not to operate a relief centre in response to the storms, citing other ways it could assist the community.
Mr O’Sullivan said council relief centres were not ideal facilities given power, mobile communication, heating and space challenges.
“Council relief centres are operated in partnership with other relief agencies whose resources were already stretched responding to immediate needs on the ground,” he said.
“The community reported needing four things: shower facilities, heating, power for charging phones and food. The council was able to make available shower facilities in multiple locations, providing affected residents the opportunity for a warm shower and access to power.”

While Hepburn Shire opened a relief centre in Trentham, at the time residents were advised not to drink their tap water and were cut off from main roads due to fallen trees.
“Each incident is different, after completing response activities there is a debrief and a lessons-learnt process that may result in updates to the emergency management plan. This will occur with this incident,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

Mr O’Sullivan said tree debris clean-up on roads, in parks and in public areas was estimated to take four to six weeks at earliest.
“At the moment our teams are working on a priority basis and focusing on clearing roads to ensure emergency services and service providers can access all areas to address people safety and the reestablishment of services,” he said.
“The clean-up of parks, reserves and roadsides will take longer so please be patient and stay safe.”


Lancefield and Romsey communities are rallying to develop a network of neighbourhood connections in the wake of this month’s ravaging storms.
Neighbourhood Houses in both towns were among the first to assist during the mass power outages that spanned up to six days for some residents.

Lancefield NH coordinator Vivien Philpotts told the Express community connection and basic back-up community facilities were seen as vital.
“There are concerns that if this were to happen again, we aren’t prepared,” Ms Philpotts said.
“We ran drop-in community sessions on Thursday as a preliminary step and an opportunity to pull together some ideas.”

A community mapping project, call register list, accredited chainsaw classes and a community emergency resilience plan and committee are among the ideas to emerge. The Neighbourhood Houses will hold a storm photo exhibition to start the conversation on these subjects.
Mr Philpotts said Lancefield NH will also consider upgrades to its kitchen facilities to be fitted with generators or gas connection.
“We’re working to get quotes as soon as possible,” she said.
“We hope that it will mean in the event of another power outage we will be able to provide a heated space and power source for people in need.”

During the power outage, Neighbourhood House volunteers worked to deliver hot soup and hot water bottles to homes in the area.
Volunteers were in the process of organising remote power charge stations and showers when power returned to the main townships.
Community park showers were opened to those who were still awaiting power connection.