Dealing with Heatwaves in Australia

With climate change starting to have a substantial impact on climate and planet. It is important that all sectors of the community prepare and respond effectively to heatwaves in Australia. To help build and maintain resilient communities that are prepared and able to respond appropriately. Thus, lessening the impact of heatwaves.

Some sectors of the community are more vulnerable than others. As a risk management process, it is appropriate that a greater percentage of preparedness revolves around these people. Furthermore, government and public sector organisations are tasked with formulating a response to Australian heatwaves. Generally, such planning is given to each state to plan.

Understanding heatwaves in Australia

Even though there is no accepted international definition of a heatwave as each part of the international climate has its own specific risks. In Australia communities often identify heatwaves as an extended period of hot dry weather, where there is generally associated discomfort. 

Evidence gathered and analysed by Monash University in Victoria Australia, has determined a threshold where the rate of mortality increases substantially. Known as the Heat Health Temperature Threshold (HHTT). 

Once this HHTT has been reached it provides a mechanism for communicating alerts to communities that may be affected by a given heatwave. Giving priority to those that may be considered vulnerable. Calculating the HHTT is quite simple. Working out the daily maximum and the overnight temperature which is the minimum for the following day. Then averaging the two numbers.

The HHTT for a given area, (remember) where the mortality rate increases as per the available data, might be 30 degrees (i.e. Melbourne, Victoria). When this threshold is reached, as mentioned, the appropriate alerts would be communicated on by numerous media and other sources. Allowing communities to assist those most likely to be affected.

The effects of heat on community health

Heatwaves in Australia don’t often occur in isolation. Therefore, it is likely that such events will also be part of other server or extreme events. Where there may or may not be an impact on infrastructure. I.e. power supplies are compromised or there is a number of bushfires. All contributing to the ability of communities to run the air conditioner which is a vital piece of equipment for those members identified as vulnerable.

When the HHTT is reached the following are likely to occur much more readily. According to the chief health officer. In 2009 ambulance Victoria experienced an increase of 2.8% in cardiac arrests. Other common effects:

  • Exacerbation of medical condition
  • Falls and confusion as a result of dehydration (especially in the elderly)
  • Increases in the effects of asthma and other respiratory illness
  • Sickness or food poisoning due to poor food handling
  • Heat Cramps – heat exhaustion and heat stroke
  • Plus many more 

Heatwaves Australia

People most affected by heatwaves in Australia

No one likes to feel hot for an extended period of time but there are some groups who heatwaves are likely to affect more than most in the community.

Programs and an associate response by emergency and other public services can only help reduce the impact. Furthermore, the public sector can promote good responses by communities which may help to build general community resilience around heatwaves in Australia.

There may be a role here for members, who live in areas that experience regular heatwave, to provide education and advice on how their communities cope and become resilient when the weather is hot and dry.

The vulnerable group include but are not limited to:

  • People over 65
  • People who have medical conditions
  • Those taking certain types of medication
    • Allergy medicines
    • Blood and heart medication
    • Seizure medicines
    • Water pills
  • Those with mental illness
  • People with cognitive impairment
  • Those who have trouble moving around
  • People who are overweight or obese
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers
  • Babies and young children
  • Those who perform outdoor activities as part of there employment

Policy settings

It is the role and responsibility of local, state and federal governments to provide policies and systems to respond to heatwave events in Australia. Above all, the guidance given by such policies must acco9unt for community preparedness and resilience. A recent study completed into the New Zealand earthquake recognized where communities that are including, personally, in preparedness and response are more likely to reduce impacts when severe and extreme events occur. This is no different for heatwaves in Australia.

Such policies may be formulated with consideration given to local emergency management Acts, climate change papers, public health systems and processes and any other relevant heat related local and international research. 

Policies lay down the framework for lessening the impact of heatwaves, but must be recognized as only a part of the overall process. They should also methods of empowering communities to take action for themselves.


Communication pre, during and post emergency 

This article has indicated just how complex the preparedness response and recovery from heat waves really is. It may be possible to put together some awesome policies, to theoretically help people during heatwaves, Even so, without marketing the concept and function of a plan or policy may see its impact  reduced. The objective maybe to try and help all members in the community but increased emphasis must be given to those vulnerable groups. 

Education and training will see community respond by preparing for hot or heatwave condition early. Including:

  • Check that cooling equipment works well and is maintained
  • Stocking up on food and other supplies so you done to go out in the heat
  • Determining if there is anything one can do to keep the house or building cooler than normal
  • Make arrangements for dealing with power failure i.e. having a cool shower every 30 minutes to and hour depending on conditions
  • Ensuring pets are hydrated and and have shade
  • Have emergency numbers available


To reduce the impact of heatwaves in Australia we all have a responsibility to ensure we are prepared and that others close to us are also prepared. Communication And empowerment of community groups will help to build resilient communities. Hopefully lessening the impact of heatwaves in Australia.


“Heat Plan for Victoria” from the Department of Health Victoria.

By Ken Walker

Hi, I'm Ken. I am the owner and senior director of Syncretic training Group Pty Ltd. If you have any questions about the website content or require guidance please let us know we are always happy to help.