How ready are you for cyclone season?

With the annual monsoon on track to arrive early this year, it’s time to get your 2022 emergency plan into place.

Although the last couple of wet seasons in North Queensland have been AWOL, it would be a mistake to get complacent and dismiss the 2022 ‘Get Ready Queensland’ campaign. Being prepared and having a plan could save the lives of you and your family.

ICAN Financial Counsellors Carmen Hegarty and Jenny King are cyclone veterans, having been through 5-6 cyclones, including Yasi. We had a yarn with them about preparing for storm season.

Prepare for any situation

ICAN’s Jenny King lives in Townsville and remembers when Cyclone Tessi hit approximately 70km north of the city in April 2000.

‘Although Townsville didn’t cop a direct hit with Tessi, you never know how a cyclone will impact you, so you need to prepare for any situation, said Jenny.

‘After Tessi, there were downed powerlines across the city, and Townsville had no power for a couple of weeks. A huge fig tree fell across one end of my street blocking the road, and the other end became a river. There were about eight houses and one block of units, so the whole street was stuck and couldn’t get out. We all shared our emergency supplies like generators, radios, and food, cooking up all the meat on our BBQs while it was still good.

‘It’s essential to have your own emergency kit. If money’s tight, you could buy one big ticket item every pay, like a battery-operated radio (don’t forget spare batteries!), a first aid kit, and extra non-perishable food. I always put a $20 or $50 note in with my personal and insurance papers that I store in a waterproof plastic container because if the power goes out, you won’t be able to access ATMs or shop checkouts.

Nothing could have prepared us for Cyclone Tracy

ICAN’s Carmen Hegarty experienced her first cyclone as a kid when Cyclone Tracy wiped out Darwin on Christmas Day, 1974.

‘Nothing could have prepared us for Tracy, but the lessons learnt stayed with me for life,’ said Carmen.

‘Make sure you have your contact list updated with important numbers. Don’t rely on storing them in your phone because if your battery goes flat, you’ve lost the ability to communicate in an emergency. Family and friends will be worried sick if they can’t get hold of you. It can be just as stressful for them if they can’t contact you, so have a plan for your family and let them know what it is.

The Good Shepherd Good Money Stores are a fantastic support to people on low incomes, providing safe and affordable loans for household items and cars. Their No Interest Loans (NILS) could help people needing to buy big ticket items as part of their cyclone prep, or needing to replace damaged items like fridges or TVs after a disaster. Their loans cover items like white goods, car repairs, mowers, water pumps, and even generators. Getting a loan through Good Money can make all the difference to your recovery and may save you from getting into debt later with a payday loan.’

Avoiding a Financial Storm

Opportunistic moneymaking is rife after any disaster, from scammers posing as insurers or organisations offering help to unscrupulous lenders signing up vulnerable people to unfair consumer leases.

‘People might not contact ICAN immediately for help after a cyclone or flood because they’re in survival mode’, said Jenny. ‘It’s usually months later that our phone starts ringing because people have run up debts trying to recover from the event, their income has been reduced, or both.’

People struggling with survival issues often don’t understand the finer details of hardship arrangements that financial institutions put in place after disasters. They may contact the creditor to find out but can be given an explanation full of complex jargon they don’t understand.

‘If a credit provider removes hardship arrangements before someone is financially ready, the person can end up in arrears or with a bad credit rating, which could put them into a debt spiral, and possible bankruptcy. It’s all these other consequences that people aren’t in the headspace to think about that can lead to more trauma,’ said Jenny.

ICAN would like to see Financial Counsellors and Capability Workers formally listed on disaster dashboards as part of any national disaster recovery response in future. Trying to put your life back together while dealing with confusing and complex financial situations and contracts is difficult for people to navigate. They’re trying to survive and get their family back to some sort of normality.

So when you’re updating your emergency contact list for this year’s storm season, take a moment to add the National Debt Helpline contact number 1800 007 007 to the list. Financial Counsellors and capability workers are always here to help you navigate the path back to recovery.

Useful Links:

Get Ready Qld resources

Understanding Tropical Cyclone Categories

Qld Government Cyclones and Severe Storms

National Debt Helpline

Good Shepherd Money Ready Toolkit