An Army Major General is running an expert eye over disaster management planning measures for Cairns to ensure the city’s health services are cyclone-ready this summer season.

Health Minister Geoff Wilson today announced that Major General Paul Alexander AO, Surgeon General Australian Defence Force, Commander Joint Health, will become a standing advisor to the Government on health service disaster management planning issues.

The Major General and specialist staff within Joint Health Command from the Australian Defence Force will particularly review the Cairns Base Hospital disaster management plan in case of a major disaster, and will visit the region in the coming weeks.

“Over the past 6 months planning has been undertaken and contingency plans are in place so the District is ready to meet whatever Mother Nature might throw at us,” Mr Wilson said.

“We’ve engaged the Major General to make sure we’ve ticked all the boxes and to continue to provide us with expert advice into the future.

“With a wealth of experience after a long Army career and extensive experience in risk management as well as clinical practice, we’re pleased that Major General Alexander has agreed to provide his expert advice ,” Mr Wilson said

Major General Alexander brings extensive knowledge and skill to this new role, which follows his retirement from the Army after 35 years of service.

Mr Wilson said with cyclone season almost upon us, the plan would ensure the region was well prepared for natural disasters.

“The plan identifies three venues for use as alternative hospital-style treatment centres if Cairns Base Hospital has to be evacuated.

“If a cyclone forces evacuations from Cairns Base Hospital we will set up a temporary acute medical treatment centres at Tropical North Queensland Institute of TAFE, James Cook University and/or at Woree State High School.”

The new health precinct at Edmonton, announced earlier this week as part of the region’s draft Health Service Plan, is a longer term solution, Mr Wilson said.

“It will serve as a second, permanent base for patients in the event Cairns Base Hospital needs to be evacuated,” he said.

Member for Mulgrave Curtis Pitt said that Queensland Health staff did a tremendous job earlier this year in evacuating the Hospital prior to Cyclone Yasi.

“But having this planning in place will give the community some certainty – alternative sites have been earmarked in the short term, and longer term there will be a whole new facility available should another Yasi strike,” he said.

“Importantly this plan also sets out the measures we’re taking to cyclone-proof the new Cairns Base Hospital redevelopment.”

“New buildings will meet tough standards for cyclones, flooding and storm surge.

“All buildings are designed and being built to withstand the kind of winds expected in moderate to strong category 4 cyclones, including installing high-impact resistant windows and the critical plant is also being located on building roof tops as far as possible.

Member for Cook, Jason O’Brien said the three interim sites were chosen after careful assessment.

“In total, 15 sites were assessed on their access for patients, helicopters, ambulances and healthcare staff, geographical distribution and likelihood of flooding,” he said.

“Ten did not meet the criteria, two were not acceptable for cyclones so we have entered into agreements with the three that can easily be mobilised as alternative health treatment centres.

One or more sites would be used in the event of a disaster situation, depending on the nature of the situation and advice received both from clinical staff as well as emergency services.

“The temporary facilities will ensure, in the event of a disaster, there will be continuity of emergency and specialised healthcare services.”

Member for Cairns Desley Boyle said the hospital redevelopment had been specifically designed to continue operating effectively even during a disaster.

“The design includes extra capacity for back–up power generation, onsite fuel storage and onsite water storage, to allow the hospital to continue to operate for a period, if utilities are disrupted,” she said.

“There is also additional provision for the emergency stores of fuel and water to be refuelled.

“The design for the new clinical services building includes a second disaster management coordination centre, which has dedicated land lines, communication links and back-up power.”

Ms Boyle said the hospital layout was designed so that inpatient areas could be easily moved to unaffected areas of the hospital in a disaster situation

“The design for the hospital also includes capacity for some of the existing ground floor services to operate from other areas in the hospital, if required, including the emergency department, pharmacy and the medical imaging department,” she said.

Member for Barron River Steve Wettenhall said further planning was also underway within the district.

“Staff are undertaking disaster management training including interagency scenario exercises and we’re ensuring emergency stocks and storage capacity are available for clinical supplies,” he said.

“Contingency plans are also in place to ensure constant and reliable communications and power, as well as continuous safe water supplies.

“The district has invested $150,000 to improve communications between its health facilities across the District in the event of power or telecoms failure this cyclone season. This includes digital radios, satellite phones and five repeater stations.”

Download a copy of the Cairns Base Hospital Disaster Management Plan here.