Case study: Storm Tides


Peter Hellman, Griffith Centre for Coastal Management (GCCM); Christine Metusela and Frank Thomella, Macquarie University; Rodger Tomlinson (GCCM) 

Aim and Objectives of the Project

The aim of this case study is to examine socio-economic vulnerability and adaptation responses to extreme coastal storm events which result in severe erosion and coastal inundation.
The objectives are to:
  1. Identify current socio-economic and physical vulnerabilities of coastal communities and coastal ecosystems to climate and weather-related hazards;
  2. Determine the factors contributing to socio-economic vulnerability to coastal storm hazards and identify areas, communities and social groups particularly vulnerable;
  3. Review past technical, policy, planning and regulatory responses to extreme coastal erosion and storm tide events and identify attributes of capability to cope with and recover from past events;
  4. Assess the effectiveness of past responses and their suitability for likely future events under climate change;
  5. Identify alternative or additional strategies that can improve community preparedness


This case study will focus on the May 2009 storm that affected South East Queensland and Northern NSW to explore vulnerabilities, disaster responses and changes in planning, management and policy which are enacted or proposed, and which may result in long-term adaptation improvements. This analysis will be supported by an examination of previous storms which have impacted on coastal settlements. In particular the study will examine the locations where specific planning and management action has already been implemented in response to past impact, including:
  • Collaroy/Narrabeen, where a range of measures has been used including property buy-back schemes
  • Byron Bay, which has adopted a policy of “planned retreat”, involving planning set-backs and associated constraints on new development
  • Gold Coast, where the principal strategy has involved the construction of coastal protection infrastructure.

Work package 1: Past events

The approach for examining past storms will include:
  •  A desk top review of past studies for each study site to:
  1. Describe the level of impact “on-the-ground”;
  2. Identify natural and built environment vulnerabilities;
  3. Quantify (where possible) the direct economic cost of the impact;
  • A review of the historical media (one local newspaper, one state newspaper for each major event) to understand the immediate community, local and state government responses, including emergency management;
  • Interviews with key individuals from local and state government (approximately 10 interviews) involved in responses to past events to capture undocumented reactions;
  • A review of local and state management and policy instruments to identify adaptation strategies and mechanisms for short- and long-term response to the impacts of storm events, that were mooted and rejected and those that were implemented.
  • A comparative analysis of legal and policy approaches and their role in assisting adaptation to coastal storm events in Byron Bay, Warringah Shire and City of Gold Coast.
Key outputs from this package will present a brief overview of the level of impact and exposure of the coastal communities.

Work Package 2: May 2009 Storms

The case study of the May 2009 will examine the community and institutional response by:
  • describing the meteorological aspects and physical features of the storm event and its impacts;
  • categorising the storm event severity in the context of historical events
  • reviewing the print media to identify popular attitudes to the event, the duration of the heightened awareness that is captured by the media, and grass-roots understanding of vulnerability and the need for longer-term adaptation;
  • interviewing key stakeholders in government agencies, businesses, NGOs and individuals in affected communities to gauge short-term risk perceptions, and coping strategies, and likely policy, management or legal responses;
  • assessing the economic impacts through a review of data such as hotel occupancies; tourism and service industry employment statistics and data on the direct cost of emergency responses and recovery/clean-up;
  • assessing in broad terms the environmental impact of these events in terms of documented destruction of bird habitat, dune vegetation and changes to low-lying wetlands, and any management responses to these impacts.

Work package 3: Current community and institutional adaptive capacity

Through 3 workshops (2 in Queensland, 1 in NSW) involving key community and government stakeholders, the current level of adaptive capacity to storm tide events will be gauged. The workshops will test a “hypothetical” event developed based on the analysis of past storms. These workshops will produce a catalogue of:
  • Institutional arrangements and interrelationships at certain points in the event preparedness, response and recovery process;
  • Personnel with relevant skills and experience to deal with both emergency response and adaptation planning,
  • The level of community understanding of extreme storm impact and adaptation options.

Work Package 4: Guideline for planning and management for adaptation to extreme storms

The final component of the project will synthesise the findings of each sub-component and prepare a summary of recommended options and strategies for planning and preparing for, responding to, and recovering from coastal storm events.

Visit the publications page to download the full report and key findings

Enter your NCCARF - National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility username.
Enter the password that accompanies your username.