Community preparedness, warnings and responses: NSW fires 2017

HazardNOTES

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The Sir Ivan fire. Photo: Nick Moir, Fairfax Media
The Sir Ivan fire. Photo: Nick Moir, Fairfax Media

In January and February 2017, New South Wales faced some of the worst bushfire conditions ever forecast for the state, including Catastrophic fire danger ratings for many communities. During this time, a number of large and damaging fires occurred.

Following this period of activity, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) commissioned the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC to conduct research into community preparedness and responses by affected communities.

The research involved interviews with people affected by the Currandooley, Sir Ivan and Carwoola fires, and an online survey of residents in bushfire risk areas throughout NSW.

Key findings centre around warnings, the behaviour of those under threat and public expectations of fire and emergency service agencies. The study found that people greatly value the Fires Near Me smartphone application and NSW RFS website for warning information, believing the information to be easy to understand, useful and sufficiently localised. However, there is a need to more clearly communicate that destructive fires occur at all fire danger conditions, not just at the Catastrophic level, as well as the limitations of directly attacking a fire front when conditions are too dangerous. 

The research also confirms the tendency for people to wait and observe the fire directly before getting ready to defend themselves or confirm the need to leave even after receiving a warning. Based on the research, the NSW RFS has put new processes in place to better liaise with communities during major fire events, and is looking to further strengthen its approach to public information through websites, smartphone applications and face-to-face communication.

In addition to the Hazard Note, the full report is available at https://www.bnhcrc.com.au/publications/2017nswbushfires

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The Sir Ivan fire. Photo: Nick Moir, Fairfax Media

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