Australia: Monday, November 21, 2016, the City of Melbourne was hit by an unprecedented health emergency. 8,500 people surged into to the health system with ‘Thunderstorm-Asthma’ related conditions, ranging from difficulty breathing to full cardiac arrest.
At least eight people died as a result of the storm, in what has been called the world’s worst incident of thunderstorm-asthma. Melbourne is uniquely exposed to the natural threat because of the vast grass lands to the east and north of the City.
Late Spring and Summer are particularly dangerous because of the pollen produced from rye grass and the storms that can roll in over the fields on days with high to extreme pollen counts. Combining a number of factors, including moisture, temperatures and wind can be deadly. Tons of pollen particles that are released into the air, combined with moisture, can explode into even tinier particles, which are then swept up in the storm and blown down into the greater Melbourne metro area.
This exposed millions of people to fine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs. While normal rye grass pollen is an asthma and hayfever trigger, the pollen is much bigger and cannot be inhaled deep into the lungs.
In response to storm, Ambulance Victoria implemented its disaster plans and paramedics, ER staff and many more individuals saved many lives. Sadly, some lives were lost in the mass casualty incident. The State Government has ordered a system wide Inquiry by the Inspector General of Emergency Services to learn from the event.
Ambulance Victoria has also launched its own internal review, announcing the following details in a press realease on December 3rd, 2016:
Ambulance Victoria Media Release:
Former Acting Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police Tim Cartwright will lead the operational review into Ambulance Victoria’s response to the thunderstorm asthma event that affected the Melbourne and Geelong areas on 21 and 22 November.
AV Chief Executive Officer Associate Professor Tony Walker said Mr Cartwright would be the Independent Chair of the review’s oversight committee.
‘Tim brings extensive experience in policing and emergency response and will provide an important level of independence as we review our response to the events of 21 and 22 November,’ Associate Professor Walker said
‘This was an unexpected event that brought out the best in our paramedic staff, who worked selflessly and saved many lives that night.’
‘However, we know there were a number of families who lost loved ones, and it essential we review every aspect of our response so that we can learn lessons from events such as this.’ Mr Cartwright retired from Victoria Police in July 2015 after a 41-year career, including holding the role of Acting Chief Commissioner following the resignation of former Chief Commissioner Ken Lay.
Associate Professor Walker said the results of AV’s operational review would be provided to the Inspector-General of Emergency Management, who is conducting a statewide review of the emergency response to the event.