While Australia continues to recover from one of the most devastating bushfire seasons in recorded history, we are reminded of the important role of research in learning from previous disasters and applying these lessons in ways that help us become more resilient to future exposure to, and impacts from, natural hazards.
In July 2020, the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre was provided $2 million from the Australian Government to research key issues arising from the 2019/20 bushfires, now remembered as Black Summer. Since then, we have been building a new research programme that best addresses the main issues and opportunities arising from Black Summer, so that we can learn as much as possible from those events and work to improve the safety of Australia in future.
Having worked closely with our partners, including emergency and land management agencies, Indigenous groups and researchers across the country, we have developed what we feel is a balanced research programme that focuses on three broad areas – landscape, people and culture.
More specifically, the projects will focus on:
- understanding the ways in which soil and vegetation moisture influenced fire severity during Black Summer (with the Bureau of Meteorology, Australian National University and emergency services)
- collaborating with traditional owners to develop integrated approaches to cultural land management (with Deakin University, Charles Darwin University, Firesticks Alliance, North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance, and state and territory fire and land management agencies)
- extending our knowledge of the interaction between fires and the atmosphere, and how those interactions can dramatically change fire behaviour and cause bushfires to ‘blow up’ (with the Bureau of Meteorology and emergency services)
- supporting research needs of state-based fire and land management agencies by identifying data gaps
- using spatial information to inform the effective use of aerial firefighting aircraft (with Geoscience Australia; the National Aerial Firefighting Centre; RMIT University; the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Victoria; and emergency services)
- improving the evidence base to better enable community-led recovery (with University of Melbourne).
Each of these research topics was developed within the context of the jurisdictional inquiries and the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements which were undertaken during 2020, as well as discussions at the Bushfire Science Roundtable meetings held earlier in the year by Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Hon Karen Andrews MP.
We are bringing together a range of expertise from our partners, including research institutions, government departments and non-government organisations, to find ways to both improve on the knowledge we already have about extreme fire events, and to bridge the gaps of knowledge we need to push forward. Importantly, findings from this new research will complement and extend the CRC’s existing research programme. Many of the outcomes and learnings from the CRC’s current research projects are already being used or evaluated by emergency services and will be contributing to preparedness, response and recovery for future fire seasons.
One of the key priorities of this research is timeliness. To enable the roll out of findings for the 2021/22 fire season, this new research will be completed by June 2021. The knowledge generated by this research will be ready to apply to landscape management, fire preparedness, firefighting operations, community information, warnings and recovery planning from July 2021.
While there is always more to be done and we couldn’t fund every worthy project in this short timeframe, the next few months of research will address key questions arising from Black Summer. Outcomes from this research are also expected to providing insight, data and knowledge which can be further developed into a new national natural hazard research agenda. Our landscape, our people and our cultures are key to continuing to improve our safety from natural hazards.
For more information, go to www.bnhcrc.com.au/news/2020/new-black-summer-response-research-begins