It was Wednesday morning on 22 September 2021 and the Keen Planning Team was in the middle of our 9am Teams Meeting as has become the norm in lockdown life. This meeting was however about to be like no other.

At approximately 9:15AM the entire team almost in unison said, ‘can you feel that?’ what followed was 20-30 seconds of feeling the earth move but luckily despite what Carol King said this was not followed by the sky tumbling down. Everyone from Keen Planning had just experience their first earthquake! And not just any earthquake, a magnitude 5.9 which was Melbourne’s largest ever recorded. Luckily despite being the largest recorded quake to our knowledge the most significant damage was the partial collapse of an old building on Chapel Street, Windsor. We do note this could have been significantly worse had we not been locked up at home and the normal throngs of people been in the area getting their morning coffees on the way to work.

In Australia if someone says natural disaster, devastating earthquakes are not the first thing that comes to mind, this space is generally reserved for bushfires or floods. Given the rare occurrence of earthquakes this lit the fuse for us wanting to know more and raised the question about whether we should be doing more when planning and designing the urban environment in an aim to minimise the devastation that could be caused if a large earthquake did hit.

Picture: Mark Stewart via

What we discovered is that planning policy throughout Australia is somewhat silent regarding earthquakes and how to manage the associated risks with the matter simply relying on building design.

The above issue was discussed further in an article that was published in The Conversation titled ‘Australia is no stranger to earthquakes, yet our planning policies have not adapted’. In our view the title sums up planning which is general reactive rather than proactive however this is probably an entire series of blogs in itself so back to earthquakes.

The article suggests that a current shortcoming in Australia is that there is no national planning agency or at least national planning policy that deals with natural disasters. While the rectification of this would seem important, we do wonder how you would get the various levels of Government within Australia to agree to a unified approach. You just need to look at how the COVID19 pandemic response has been managed across Australia with the Federal Government and each State Government all having differing views on what is the best way to manage the situation.

This all got us thinking as we regularly see a significant planning policy shift following other natural disasters such as bushfires or floods so what scale of destruction would be required to cause change? Hopefully we do not find out the answer to this question!

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