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Post-Tracy building codes ‘reduce cyclone deaths’

Stricter building codes introduced after Cyclone Tracy in 1974 play a partially effective role in saving lives when major storms strike, according to a study funded by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre.

Subsequent cyclones have hit less populated areas, which also explains the lower death toll.

“Deaths on land through the action of wind have been reduced through the legislation and enforcement of building codes put into effect following the devastation of Cyclone Tracy,” the study says.

“However, this is also due to a measure of luck.

“In recent years, not many large population centres… have suffered a direct hit from a severe tropical cyclone at landfall with the wind speeds that were seen in Cyclone Tracy. Therefore, these safety recommendations have not really been tested in an area with significant exposure.”

Tropical cyclones killed at least 192 people from 1970-2015, with an annual death rate of 0.87 per million of the population in the 1970s, down to about 0.01 for the 2010s.

The overall death toll from natural hazards comprising cyclones, earthquakes and severe storms was at least 406 from 1990-2015.

The analysis supports the current practices and recommendations of emergency management (EM) groups and the Government in areas such as land use planning and marine safety.

“The data has been analysed to inform the understanding of the circumstances surrounding the deaths and how this information could best be utilised for emergency management policy and practice,” the report says. “Future work should investigate the effectiveness of existing EM recommendations and/or how they are communicated to the public.

“In the majority of natural hazards studied, the importance of (early) shelter in a sturdy building was noted.

“Community engagement campaigns should discourage people from sheltering (standing or parking) and camping under large trees during severe weather conditions.”

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