Reducing Life Lost from Heatwaves

Location: Adelaide, SA or  Melbourne, VIC or Canberra, ACT

Duration: 6 months

Proposed start date: 16 July 2019

Project Background

Heatwaves have caused more deaths and hospital admissions in Australia than any other natural hazard. The Australian Business Roundtable Report reported that 509 deaths, 2800 injuries and 4,603,000 people were affected by heatwaves between 1987 and 2016.  Power outages and interruptions to transport, businesses and community services increase both the direct and indirect economic costs.

The Australian Government’s National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy 2015 advises that extreme events like heatwaves can have significant social, environmental and economic costs. The impact heatwaves can have on people are well known, with advice on how to avoid heat stress and recognise signs of heat stress provided by the Department of Health and state governments, including for vulnerable groups such as older people.

More effective delivery of heatwave services and warnings will save lives and reduce costs. Hazard warnings increase awareness of the risk and provide relevant information for the community to take protective actions. They can also trigger appropriate emergency response to mitigate the impact of a hazard.

The BoM aims to contribute to zero lives lost from natural hazards and $2 billion in social and economic benefit. Given the significance of the consequences of heatwave on the Australian community, improving service delivery in this area is a priority. Advancements through this project will allow BoM and emergency services provide an improved service if there was more knowledge about the profile and location of populations vulnerable to heatwave.

Research to be Conducted

Overall the project will seek to identify which Australians are most at risk in heatwave conditions. Heatwaves can affect large regions of Australia. The greatest determinant of a person’s exposure is their physical location. The factors that determine a person’s vulnerability to heatwave conditions are more likely to be underlying physical and mental health, age, occupation and socioeconomic status. Other potential interrelated factors include the urban environment, dwelling type, remoteness from health services, access to digital communication services and so on.

Specifically, the project will identify what can be learned from the Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP) and other government data sources about human health risk factors to heatwaves. The project will mine the ABS’s MADIP, Geoscience Australia’s National Exposure Information System (NEXIS) and Digital Earth Australia (DEA), the National Data Linkage Demonstration Project (a joint project between the Commonwealth Department of Health, AIHW, NSW and Victoria) or the National Integrated Health Services Information (NIHSI) Analysis Asset when available, and other available data on hospital admissions, emergency department presentations or ambulance call-outs, to explore correlations between demographic profiles, dwelling profiles, existing health risks factors, and the human health impacts of heatwaves in Australia.

The project will investigate how data analysis can be used to improve the effectiveness of emergency responses and public health services, including the development of real-time syndromic surveillance for heat waves and other hazards. The results could significantly propel improvements to hazard warning services and the ability of emergency response, acute and community health agencies to target their resources during heatwaves. The project results are expected to inform the development of a national heatwave forecast and warning framework, services and agency data management policies.

Skills Required

We are looking for a PhD student with the following:

  • Public Health epidemiology
  • Health, medical and hospital data analysis skills
  • Spatial data manipulation, interpolation and transformation
  • Report writing
  • Familiarity and use of Microsoft Office software
  • Statistical package capabilities utilising one or more of the following:

a) SAS Enterprise Guide 7.1

b) SPSS 24

c) Stata MP 15

d) 4.1 64 bit

e) R Studio 1.1.423

f) Python

Expected Outcomes

Expected outcomes from the project are anticipated to be:

  • Development of a national framework for forecast and warning for heatwaves by the BoM in partnership with emergency services and community health services.
  • Development of a catalogue/library of heatwave impact information the BoM can provide to emergency response agencies and Red Cross Australia to maximise the effectiveness of forecast information to achieve a goal of zero deaths from heatwaves.
  • Case study showcasing how data could be used for improved hazard warnings and for decision making for a National Heatwave Warning Framework Working Group.
  • Full report about the analysis of the correlations between demographic profiles, dwelling profiles, satellite observation data, and the human health impacts of heatwaves.
  • Demonstration of future heatwave risk assessment when considering population growth and climate change in conjunction with land use and city planning.
  • Considered development of a GIS-based data explorer for providing insights into human vulnerability to heatwaves across Australia.

Additional Details

The intern will receive $3,000 per month of the internship, usually in the form of stipend payments.

It is expected that the intern will primarily undertake this research project during regular business hours, spending at least 80% of their time on-site with the industry partner.  The intern will be expected to maintain contact with their academic mentor throughout the internship either through face-to-face or phone meetings as appropriate.

The intern and their academic mentor will have the opportunity to negotiate the project’s scope, milestones and timeline during the project planning stage.

Applications Close

 19 June 2019


APR – 1002