Sunday, January 31, 2010

bushfire preparation, warnings & action – what the community thinks

Today the CFA released details of three recent surveys into community attitudes towards bushfire preparation, warnings and action.

The survey results show that significant numbers of people still plan on staying at home on Code Red days.

As a result of the surveys Emergency Services are again reminding people living in high bushfire risk areas of the importance of leaving early.

CFA and the Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner both recently commissioned research into community attitudes towards bushfire preparation, warnings and actions. A third piece of research was also commissioned by the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre into residents actions during the Black Saturday bushfires.

The CFA report shows that more than 84% of people living in high bushfire risk areas have a Bushfire Survival Plan and 94% of people recognise that they need to be self-sufficient in the event of a bushfire.

Most alarming was that almost one in three people surveyed (31.3%) plan to stay at home on Code Red days. Of these respondents 25% said there would need to be a fire before they considered leaving their home.

This is a dangerous decision to be making, the last place to be when there is an active fire is on the road trying to escape and on a Code Red day conditions are guaranteed to be treacherous.

The weather conditions on Black Saturday were ferocious and resulted in a tragic loss of life, natural assets and built assets.

Code Red days are, by their very nature, fierce and extreme weather days, it is not safe to be in an area of bushfire risk on these days let alone on the road.

I urge people to think very carefully about their fire plans on these days, it is extremely dangerous to stay in your home on these days.

Below is a summary of each of the three research papers released today.

1. Behaviour and Intentions of Household in High Bushfire Risk Areas – a report for the CFA prepared by Strahan Research

Strahan Research Pty Ltd were commissioned to undertake the survey and report findings to CFA on community behaviour and intentions of households in high bushfire risk areas in relation to understanding risk, undertaking preparedness and response during fire. The survey was conducted in December by telephone using a sample of 400 households spread across the 52 High Risk Townships/Zones in Victoria.

Key Findings:
Ø Most people know that they need to be self sufficient in the event of a bushfire (94%);
Ø Most respondents understand bushfire could impact their property (92.4%);
Ø Over 84% of respondents had a bushfire plan and 92% of them had discussed it with the household and 52% had practised it.
Ø More needs to be done to cement the intent of Code Red Days, significant minorities are still unclear of its status or required actions (21.7% and 23.8% respectively);
Ø 25% of respondents still say that they will do as much as they can to defend their property and leave when threatened.
Ø 60.6% of respondents plan to leave their property on Code Red Days and 31.3% plan not to leave. Of those staying, 25.3% will reconsider in the event of fire while 40% feel safe or prepared to defend.

2. ‘Where are they going?’ People Movement During Bushfires – a report prepared for OESC by Strahan Research

The research was undertaken by Strahan Research with a sample of 600 households in the 52 identified high bushfire risk townships for the Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner. It was done in early November to understand what actions people were planning to take this fire season.

Key Findings:
Ø 15% of people have changed their plans since 7 February 2009
Ø 45% plan to leave on Code Red days and 48% say they will initially stay with their property (this is similar findings to the research undertaken by CFA)
Ø If there is a fire 48% believe it will take them 10 minutes or less to get where they want to go
Ø While 45% of people surveyed said they will leave the fire-prone area, to places such as: with relatives/friends outside area (45%), to Melbourne or provincial city (13%) or to a beach or waterway (6%) - 9% of people still plan to go to a public place in the fire zone
Ø On Code Red days 26% of people will wait to be advised when to go.
Ø 20% said Neighbourhood Safer Places are fundamental to their plan, this indicates an NSP is their first option. 5% see NSPs as their 2nd option.

3. The Second Report on Human Behaviour and Community Safety – a report prepared by the Bushfire CRC Research Task Force

Key Findings:
Ø Respondents most commonly became aware of the presence of fire in their neighbourhood through sensory cues in the environment such as smoke, embers or flames, etc, a warning from a family member, friend or neighbour, or a radio announcement
Ø 72 % of respondents indicated that they expected to receive an official warning (from authorities such as the CFA, police, other emergency services, or ABC Radio) if there was a bushfire in their town or suburb. However, 63 % reported that they did not receive an official warning. (Two thirds of respondents who did receive a warning reported that it arrived in enough time respond safely.)
Ø Contrary to anecdotal reports of insurance levels within fire affected areas, the majority of survey respondents (84%) reported having house and contents insurance. Only 4 % said they had no insurance at all.
Ø An overwhelming 99 % of respondents were aware that 7 February was a day of Total Fire Ban. However, the earlier interviews with residents found there was little connection between awareness and appropriate action.
Ø Respondents recognised temperature, wind and luck as some of the most important factors influencing how their home/property was affected by the fires.
Ø In the 12 months prior to the 7 February bushfires, the CFA ‘Living in the Bush’ workbooks, ABC Radio, CFA Community Meetings, and television emerged as the major sources of information about what to do during a bushfire, and how to prepare households for bushfire.
Ø Respondents consistently indicated they would adopt a similar course of action in a future bushfire attack. (77 % of respondents who left their homes before the fire arrived stated that they would leave again if there was a similar fire, while 78 % of those who stayed to defend their properties declared they would stay and protect their home from a similar fire in the future.)

You can download and view copies of the reports by visiting the following links:

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