Space weather event scenario tests Townsville’s response procedures

Date published: 4 December 2019

Townsville’s Local Disaster Management Group (TLDMG) has been put through its paces at a mock disaster response exercise simulating a significant solar flare event.

The Group and supporting agencies had to navigate their way through a scenario where a massive eruption of plasma and magnetic field from the sun affected communications on earth.

Known as a geomagnetic storm, these events have disabled power networks and key communications services in other parts of the globe.

Members of the Local Disaster Management Group were called to the Townsville Local Disaster Coordination Centre to deal with a “for exercise only” Severe Space Weather Watch following a significant solar flare event.

TLDMG Chair Jenny Hill said the simulated disaster was a perfect way to test the decision-making process under time pressure.

“We were told the geomagnetic storm could cut Townsville’s power supply for three days, disable mobile phones, shut down the NBN and have a severe impact on satellites,” Cr Hill said.

“The impact was predicted to be the next morning with power networks likely to be offline early, so we needed to make quick decisions about critical infrastructure.

“The scenario is definitely a little out of the ordinary, so it challenged everyone in a different way.

“We learned a lot in the unprecedented monsoon in February and this training exercise has taught us more lessons ahead of the disaster season.”

Local Recovery and Resilience Group Chair Cr Les Walker said it was a valuable day for everyone involved.

“This exercise has been a great learning experience for staff from Council and key organisations,” Cr Walker said.

“The solar flare’s impact on city services was a very tough scenario – we were told power providers would most likely shut down their networks to protect infrastructure and the effects could be felt in other cities.

“The Local Disaster Management Group had to focus on critical infrastructure and try to find a way to protect human life and maintain services to the community.”

Cr Hill said the exercise tested emergency services.

“People shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a day like this. It was a valuable teaching tool and the scenario meant we had to think quickly,” Cr Hill said.

“It is a great way to fine-tune processes and prepare for the future – this may have focussed on a solar flare but the exercise will help us next time we face a disaster.

“It was great to look around the room and see people from so many different organisations working together again.”

TLDMG includes senior Townsville City Council staff, emergency response agencies, Townsville Hospital, Energy Queensland, Townsville Enterprise – as well as advisory members from the defence force, telecommunications, the airport and the port.