|Title||Community preparedness and responses to the 2017 New South Wales bushfires|
|Year of Publication||2018|
|Authors||Whittaker, J, Taylor, M|
|Institution||Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC|
January and February 2017 saw a number of destructive bushfires in New South Wales, some of which occurred during Catastrophic fire weather conditions. These fires damaged and destroyed a range of assets including houses, outbuildings, community halls, livestock, machinery, fences and other agricultural assets. Fortunately no human lives were lost.
The NSW Rural Fire Service engaged the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC to conduct research into community preparedness and responses to bushfires in NSW in 2017. The NSW RFS identified two main themes for investigation. The first theme, Information and warnings, comprised a series of questions about the effectiveness of warnings delivered to the community, the delivery of Catastrophic Fire Danger messages, the information people sought out relating to the fires, and the drivers and motivators for those who sought to enter or re-enter fire grounds. The second theme, Planning and preparedness measures, encompassed questions about people’s perceptions of bushfire risk, perceptions of risk to and value of agricultural and domestic assets, prioritisation of protective responses, and influences of previous fire history.
The research involved 113 interviews with people affected by the Currandooley, Carwoola and Sir Ivan bushfires and an online survey of 549 people threatened or affected by bushfires in NSW in 2017.
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.