The night the lights went out in South Australia

The 6th Australian and New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference will be held over the 22 – 23 May at The Star Gold Coast, Queensland.

Mr Kevin Rowley, Manager Emergency Response  with the Environment Protection Authority joins us this month on the Gold Coast to discuss ‘The Night the lights went out in South Australia – An Environmental view’.

Mr Kevin Rowley

On 28 September 2016, South Australia experienced an extreme weather event bringing thunderstorms, destructive winds, large hailstones and heavy rain, which damaged 23 transmission towers and at 3.48pm triggered a State-wide power outage and a code black event. Electrical power is often taken for granted but modern society is heavily reliant and dependent on it. Large areas of the State remained without power for several days.

This weather event was forecast and public warnings had been issued. State emergency arrangements were in place and appropriate briefings had been provided yet there was significant loss to businesses and the community caused by the consequences of the loss of power.

The SA EPA incident management team set about assessing the environmental impacts, e.g. waste water treatment, drinking water availability, Uranium mines, hospitals, Nystar lead smelter were all severely impacted. Local councils had many businesses with no power and even when the lights came back on what about all the waste. The EPA worked closely with Local Government Association, State Recovery committee and Emergency Services and its licence holders. A ministerial waiver was gained for the waste levy; identified impacted sites were visited and assessed.

There were problems associated with loss of power, including; access (lack of) to food, medications, fuel, credit card payments, cash, telecommunications, essential home appliances and water.

Many business continuity plans (BCPs) proved to be inadequate there is no plan for or widespread, extended duration power outage and the associated consequences.

All indications are that, increased frequency and severity of severe weather events are part of the new normal, and the SA will need to adapt to ensure that prevention, preparedness, response and recovery activities are sustainable in the long-term.

Business SA estimated the cost of the blackout to South Australian businesses at $367 million.

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