Heatwaves pose a significant risk to public health. Heat-related
illness can range from mild conditions, such as a rash or cramps,
through to heat exhaustion, and finally to potentially fatal
conditions such as heat stroke.
After the 2009 heatwave in Victoria, the Department of Health
developed a heatwave framework to help reduce the impact on public
health. While the framework and collective efforts of agencies
contributed to a reduction in the severity of the impact of the
2014 heatwave, there are shortcomings that need to be addressed as
a matter of urgency if Victoria is to be adequately prepared for,
and able to respond appropriately to, a prolonged heatwave.
Governance arrangements for heatwaves are not clear. While
Victoria Police is the identified control agency for the response
to heatwaves, there is a lack of clear and effective leadership to
provide a coordinated multi-agency approach to the state’s heatwave
There is no mandatory requirement for agencies to have a
heatwave plan. While each of the audited councils and health
services had a plan, the effectiveness of the heatwave framework is
compromised because it is being applied selectively by agencies.
The quality of the plans, and the triggers for activation of the
plans, are also variable.
Public health messages about the potentially significant health
risks associated with extreme heat need to be disseminated more
effectively to the broader community and not just targeted to the
most vulnerable groups. Community members need to understand not
only the nature of the potential risks to health but also how to
manage these risks appropriately.