Sector analysis: identifying risks and designing solutions

disasterriskreduction, permaculture, sector analysis

I love so many aspects of permaculture: the delicious food produced by permaculture gardeners, the sense of global and local community it fosters, the sustainable changes it has supported me to make in my life and the beauty in the nature it helps me see. At a more pragmatic level I also know that permaculture gives individuals, households and communities the tools, attitudes and skills we need to design abundant, inclusive and resilient futures.

This mix of sustainability and resilience is one of the delightfully simple, yet complex aspects of permaculture. A well-designed and managed permaculture system will be resource efficient, productive and may well sequester greenhouse gases, but it will also be a resilient system better able to deal with the inevitable effects of climate change such as natural disasters like floods or wildfire.

The potential for disasters happen when systems can not handle extremes or cumulative stress. One week of limited spending may be a challenge, but a medical bill on top of long-term debt and structural poverty may force a family into homelessness. Water is essential for life, but the extremes of either drought or flood-causing torrential rain can cause havoc in both natural and human systems.

Designing land, the built environment, lifestyles, livelihoods and organisations to deal with extremes as well as everyday conditions is essential for resilience. Resilience is the ability of a system to handle change. There are many ways in which permaculture design and practice supports resilience. In order for designers to design for resilience, they first need to understand what extremes are most likely to have an impact on a site. This is why careful observation and sector analysis is so important for a successful project.

In this video from the Permaculture Women’s Guild Permaculture Design Course I get really excited about sector analysis and visualised data like wind roses. Then again, I am really excited about permaculture and regenerative design in general.

Sector analysis is a critical tool for visually representing observations about identifying how a site may be affected by the “sectors” or the external forces and elements that move through or otherwise influence a project. The sectors recorded can be related to effects on the site caused by climate, ecology, geology, topography and society. For example sun paths, wind and rain patterns, invasive plants, wildlife, pollution, neighbours, areas of high fire threat, views and noise could all be recorded on a sector analysis map.

Sectors are often represented as labelled wedges, arcs or arrows representing the origin and direction of the element. However, rocky areas, contaminated soil, boggy land, or areas of flood risk are better represented as location specific patches over a base map. Some uncontrollable issues such as geological instability or limiting factors such as legal restrictions are harder to represent visually and are best recorded in writing.

Sector analysis maps are visual representations of the external factors that can influence a site being designed with permaculture. Sectors such as summer and winter sun, wildlife and prevailing winds are often illustrated as arcs or arrows representing where they come from.

In the Permaculture Women’s Guild Permaculture Design Course (PWGPDC) my colleague Jennifer English Morgan introduced the idea of Designer’s Mind. One aspect of developing Designer’s Mind is about making observations free of bias. The forces recorded on a sector analysis are neutral and can be both beneficial or harmful. For example knowing that dry summer winds come from the east of a site helps identify the best place to locate a laundry line or to hang produce for drying. At the same time that drying wind will quickly evaporate water from soil as well as dams or ponds. This information guides the placement of windbreak plantings or hedges on the eastern side to moderate the impact of the wind and reduce evaporation.

Used together with permaculture design tools such as zone analysis, sector analysis helps guide the placement of components so that they make best use of, or mitigate the risks of that sector. Sector analysis influences which zones are placed where, but at the same time, zones influence the strategies used to respond to external forces. In outer zones such as 3 or 4, lower cost, less energy demanding solutions such as windbreak plantings are used to slow the wind. Closer to the home more intensive solutions such as walls or use of gray water might be used to protect water-demanding plants, animals and people from a drying wind.

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A drying wind may put your garden at extra risk during low rainfall months, but it can also be used as a resource and allow for the optimum placement of laundry lines.

Permaculture designers make a sector analysis for every design project whether it is a farm, balcony garden or community project. Within larger designs, major subsystems such as high intensity vegetable beds may also benefit from their own sector analysis that includes smaller scale micro-climate influences like the impact of trees casting shade.

Working on sector analysis is a great way to review and incorporate the ideas from Permaculture Design Course modules on climate, ecology, water, earthworks, soil and passive solar building design. Knowing how and why to make a sector analysis is a first step in designing mitigation approaches for the major extremes whether they be fire, flood, drought or legal challenges.

You can learn more about sector analysis and other aspects of permaculture design and practice in the Permaculture Women’s Guild Permaculture Design Course (PWGPDC). Along with my colleagues we’ve put together an online learning experience which includes advanced modules on social and emotional permaculture as well as core land-based permaculture content.

In the PWGPDC I present an in-depth module on Designing for Resilience: Chaos and Catastrophe. I consider the social and structural conditions that make people more vulnerable to disaster as well as the design approaches we can use to make our sites safer. My final Masters project explored how natural hazards are dealt with by permaculture designers and teachers and my results showed that “designing for catastrophe” is currently focused on the physical aspects of disasters rather than the people care aspects that increase coping capacity.

On Hot Topics

disasterriskreduction, permaculture
I have to say I am feeling both excited and overwhelmed at the thought of holding my first heatwave planning workshop_this_ weekend. One motivation for my Masters research has been driven by concern that my hometown Adelaide would be in heatwave conditions and have rolling or catastrophic power shortages at the same time.  And bang on time – a heatwave blasts the country and power starts getting “managed” across Adelaide.
heatmap

Welcome to hell on Earth in Australia – Higgins Storm Chasing

Inevitably this leads to criticisms of sustainable power generation – but very rarely is the heatwave and power conversation broadened to consider the nuances of demand – our own, justifiable air conditioner use, compounded by the multiple televisions, appliances, extra fridges for beer that we take for granted. We blame power generation for not keeping up with demand and are concerned that life support systems, basic infrastructure and traffic lights fail to run, but we don’t engage with our own complicity in peak _demand_.
We feel we have the right to keep the power on, but what about our responsibilities ensuring everyone else’s comfort and safety?
My gut feeling is that the general population is not yet engaging with heatwaves as emergency situations that affect _everyone_ and which, opinion again, should trigger a heightened awareness  of responsibility and corresponding actions.
Heatwaves and their increasing threat, demand for electrical power from air conditioning and other services, sustainable power generation and climate change mitigation. It is all a wee bit complicated and interconnected and not something that is going to be _fixed_ in my MSc workshop. But – I am going to host a conversation and work out ways to stay as cool as possible when the power goes out and the thermometer is high.
If you are interested in being part of this discussion and are based near Adelaide or in Sydney, there will be two further workshop events as part of my research project.
Adelaide Heatwave Planning Workshop #2
The Joinery, 111 Franklin St, Adelaide, SA 5000
Saturday, February 25
10am – 2pm
Sydney Heatwave Planning Workshop
Frontyard, 228 Illawarra Road, Marrickville, NSW 2204
Saturday, March 4
10am – 2pm

Whither the Weather

Nature, permaculture
I’m back in Australia for a couple of months meeting up with family and friends and to prepare and enact the research phase of my Masters dissertation around climate change adaptation.

It is the festive season and there has been a lot of parties, drinking and catching up on years passed and the tricky question “What are you working on?”  After a drink or two I may end up working through the litany of issues that occupy my thoughts: performance and security of energy provision infrastructure against climate threats, unsustainable building materials and design, social inequality, vulnerability, isolation and an aging population, changed social practices and expectations of warmth and coolth, social norms and air conditioning, existing environmental threats and a rapidly changing climate and governments, industry and populations not sure how or what to respond to. If I am not yet in my cups I say “Heat waves. I’m working with people to develop heatwave plans.”

Having grown up in an Australian Mediterranean climate and now living in continental temperate Europe my cultural experiences and understanding of Austrian climate and its changes are somewhat restricted. That said, the changes in snowfall that have been apparent over the 7 years I have passed in Austria are visible and culturally present. As an Austrian bank teller confided after I queried whether my bank was divesting from fossil fuels, “My children have never built a snowman.” Upper Austrian adaptation plans identify threats to hydroelectric power generation, propose establishing wine regions in the Muhlviertel and also predict radically changed winters and the loss of ski tourism. I tried snowboarding once, but cynically have avoided over-investing in ski culture and equipment.

Returning to my hometown to celebrate Christmas Day with my family for the first time in at years the cultural memories of climate and its new incarnations are stronger. On the 25th the top temperature broke records, reaching 41°C. My memories are that it was often cool at this time of year, in the 20s on the 25th.  The heat that laid us out three days ago is something I always associated as happening in January and February when heatwaves traditionally hit. In central Australia rainfall and flooding led to evacuations. I was reminded of Cyclone Tracy which devastated Darwin on Christmas Eve in 1974.

There has always been extreme weather, but it is changing its patterns.

Two days later and the weather has become tropical: clothing and paper feels moist to the touch. Last night a wonderfully exciting, yet destructive storm came through the state.  My partner and I have been sleeping in my mother and stepfather’s camper trailer and the wind and rain felt deliciously intimate to our tiny protected bubble.

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A Mighty Wind (27 12 2016)


Across the city trees are down and homes and industry are without power. Luckily my Mum’s place still has power, is undamaged and is just very soggy. There are fewer young avocados on the trees though, but the larger fruit has held firm.

Had the power or gas gone out we’d have still been able to cook and have a cuppa (camping gear re-purposed as emergency preparedness). Should water stop flowing there’s a small rainwater tank. There is a productive food garden and pantry full of staple ingredients. My parentals are able bodied, can walk long distances comfortably and own bicycles. The biggest challenge is that despite having rooftop solar, the way grid connected solar panels operate in Australia is such that if the network fails you are often unable to use the energy being operated overhead.
Facebook tells me that some people have internet access on their phone but no ability to make a cup of coffee.
This storm has got me thinking (again) about permaculture and its role in developing resilient societies and how we prepare for disasters whether they be small or large, slow or immediate. I grew up in the hills and black-outs were a regular event in my childhood, but over the decades we have become accustomed to things working and retain memories of governments with the intent _and_ capacity to respond to social need at scale and when required. There is a fine line between being able to do things in good times and troubles and responding to threats with a locked down, isolationist prepper mindset.

How do we design our lives so that they are full and abundant in times of plenty and security, yet provide us with the capacity and knowledge to respond, share and assist in times of scarcity and challenge? Does everyone need to learn permaculture, or do we willing permaculturists work towards designing a world in which the mindset and worldview has shifted so that a transformed and resilient society is normal?  Is that even possible, or should we just focus on growing out own lifeboats?

They are big thoughts which support my research yet can easily distract from the around the more practical and urgent thoughts of _dissertation_ preparedness. Review the proposal, put out a call for participants, make some heatwave plans and analyse the conversations and write it up by June 31st. Then I can think about changing the world.