Monday, August 31, 2009

bushfire forum in belgrave

Yesterday I spoke to a group of community members at a forum on bushfires. I told residents about the Shire's losses in the Black Saturday bushfires, the operation of the MECC (Municipal Emergency Coordination Centre), relief centres and the recovery effort still underway and expected to continue for at least another 12 months.

Around 30 people came to the forum to hear updates on bushfire preparedness.

I talked about the Shire's fire prevention program which last year saw 54,000 properties inspected for fire danger, of those 2000 landowners received clean up notices with only 200 not completing the work. In these cases the shire completed the clearance works with charges forwarded to the landowners for reimbursement.

I went on to talk about the Shire's role in response to the Royal Commission recommendations.

The Royal Commission's recommendation 6.4 deals with the "appropriate provision for relocation during bushfires". The Shire of Yarra Ranges has reviewed the operation of relief centres from the last fire season and is in the process of developing a policy which will include Standard Operating Procedures for relief centres among other things, such as location and provision of amenities.

With regard recommendation 8.7 - Neighbourhood Safer Places (NSP), the shire has a responsibility for recording the locations and inclusion within relevant plans and provide information to residents and tourists. This is something we will certainly be including in our plans and developing a communication strategy for alerting residents and visitors alike to the location of NSPs. I look forward to getting detail of the criteria for NSPs as once these are available the Shire will be able to see what sites may fit the criteria and recommend them for consideration by the CFA.

Since the Black Saturday fires the Shire has been developing and reviewing our Bushfire Season Action Plan 2009/10. The Plan covers a range of issues including the formation of an Integrated Fire Management Planning Committee, land management of roadsides, reserves and private land, community fire education, municipal emergency management planning, preparedness and response and council's own response to high fire risk days and fire events.

I made the point that I hoped all towns no matter how big or small were included in the development of Township Protection Plans, an issue that was clarified later by Colin Brown (CFA Fire Operations Manager for the Dandenong Ranges).

I urged residents to clean up the fire fuels around their properties and spoke about council's decision to allow residents free tipping for four weeks from the 11th October. I also encouraged the community to use their green waste bins in the fire season and burning off now to assist with fire fuel reduction.

I talked about the work of the Olinda community in preparing the community house there for consideration as an NSP and that council had resolved to refer the site to the CFA for their consideration.

Ultimately anything we do for fire preparedness must be about protecting our communities and it must be evidence based. There is no point implementing measures that do not prove to be effective in protecting communities and we must use the protection of communities as the basis for our decisions about how we prepare for the fire season.

I also promoted the Community Emergency Services and Safety Day at Lillydale Lake on the 7th November. The day will be about promoting emergency services, safety and fire preparedness to residents across the Shire.

Colin Brown, Fire Operations Manager for the Dandenong Ranges, spoke about his role in developing Township Protection Plans (TPPs) and the NSP project. Due to Colin's experience and knowledge of Queensland's Local Action Plans he has been tasked with assisting with the development of TPPs. Colin expects TPPs to be released this week and they will be in three parts. Part 1 will consist of a map, containing a legend, with information for what community needs to know to prepare for bushfire. Part 2 is the Action document which deals with the organisation of emergency management once a fire starts. Part 3 contains information about fire prevention and includes the broader information such as the municipal emergency plan, DSE and Parks Victoria fire operations plans.

Colin reported that criteria for NSPs was expected to be released on Monday or Tuesday this week and once available individuals, community groups and councils would be able to nominate areas for consideration as NSPs.

Colin explained the Dandenongs had been split in to 5 distinct regions for the development of TPPs based on an assessment of local hazards and detailed discussions with local brigades. Once NSPs have been confirmed their location will be included in the relevant TPP, along with location of relief centres.

I look forward to seeing more detail on NSPs and TPPs so the shire can start thinking about sites that may fit the NSP criteria. I am also very relieved that all townships in the Dandenongs, big and small, are included in the 5 TPPs across the ranges region.

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