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Action on home resilience needed to minimise impact from cyclones

$23 billion in claims costs have been generated by cyclones since 1967. 

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) says homes are not resilient enough, and the risks are expected to rise with climate change. The impacts from these extreme weather events are set to worsen unless action is taken. 

According to a report prepared by the James Cook University Cyclone Testing Station in association with Risk Frontiers, changes need to be made to the design methods and criteria for new homes to avoid an increase in the already high impacts and losses.

The report recommends that the National Construction Code should consider resilience in new property construction as well as life safety. It suggests that federal and state governments should support the development and expansion of schemes for existing homes, like the North Queensland Household Resilience Program. 

ICA CEO Andrew Hall says the National Construction Code needs to consider resilience for all new property construction if all of Australia is to remain insurable. 

“Australia’s modern houses are not resilient to the tropical cyclone hazard of today,” 

“Implementation of stronger building codes and retrofitting programs, improved land-use planning, and permanent physical mitigation measures, where necessary, will be key to ensuring an insurable Australia.” 

Australia’s most costly natural disaster was Cyclone Tracy, which hit Darwin in 1974. The cycle generated a $5.5 billion insurance bill, normalised to 2017 values. 

Recent cyclones in North Queensland, such as Yasi, Marcia and Debbie have cost $3.83 billion in insurance costs. 

The National Construction Code is updated every three years, and the next revision is due late 2022. Decisions on any updates are administered first through the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB). The ABCB is made up of state and territory government representatives, the Australian Local Government Association and seven industry reps. 

“The ABCB are considering resilience initiatives and programs,” an ICA spokeswoman said. “It’s expected that consideration will take an extended period.”

If any National Construction Code amendments are made, it will still be up to each state and territory to decide whether they adopt the changes. 

The cyclone report also includes recommendations for building codes to be updated to address water ingress issues, as well as a public awareness campaign to promote regular maintenance on vital home features. 

The ICA report also suggests that it is time to invest in more fixed and mobile weather stations, and an Australian Historical Tropical Cyclone Footprint database should be developed to represent land wind speeds.

“A nationally consistent asset register could assist in improving data quality regarding housing construction type, wall construction, roof type, year of construction, renovations and retrofitting works,” the cyclone report says.  

“This information is essential for the owner of the home or future buyers as well as emergency services, insurers and banks.”

This cyclone report is the second in ICA’s Climate Change Impact Series. It follows a study released last month on the impact of actions of the sea, and there are plans for a final report on floods to be released. 

RACQ Group Executive Insurance Tracy Green says the report is a vital resource for explaining the growing risk of cyclones. 

“Australia needs insurance to be sustainable and affordable and this report complements the growing amount of evidence that investment in resilience and future-proofing our assets is long overdue,” she said. 

You can find the report here.