Five years into its tenure, the research of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC is being practically applied by its partners right across Australia. This research impact highlights the vision of the CRC: trusted research and knowledge across all hazards, developed for the benefit of the community. This research is making a difference, saving lives and reducing disaster-related costs. Find out more about the impact of research on fire modelling, emergency warnings, community engagement, policy development, volunteering and youth-led disaster risk reduction.
Better fire danger ratings
The latest fire science, including CRC research, has been used to develop the pilot National Fire Danger Rating System. The update currently underway is the first major update to the system since it was devised in the 1960s.
The new National Fire Danger Rating System prototype was trialled by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service over summer 2017/2018 to better incorporate extreme fire behaviour. In the coming years when the revised system is in operation around Australia, all fire agencies will be able to better predict bushfire danger, leading to better warnings and increasing the safety of the community. The CRC has contributed contemporary science on fire weather, vegetation conditions (fuel), fire behaviour, ignition likelihood, fire suppression, fire impact, communicating risk, urban planning, decision making and mitigation.
The trial of the prototype is a significant demonstration of the successful utilisation of CRC research into the sector: CRC partners AFAC and the NSW Rural Fire Service now own the ongoing use of the research outputs. As the new system is piloted and integrated into the sector, the CRC will continue to play a critical role, providing vital science and evidence that underpins the new system.
Improved warnings to ensure action
CRC research is shaping Australian public warnings and information campaigns that prepare and protect communities from flood, fire, heatwave and other natural hazards. Insights have combined to equip emergency service agencies around Australia with better targeted long term public safety campaigns, as well as urgent warning messages delivered to at-risk populations in the face of imminent emergencies.
In the past, intuition, experience, anecdotal information and market research have shaped the design of public risk communication and education campaigns, both in Australia and around the world. This lack of rigour has potentially limited effectiveness.
State-based emergency service agencies have drawn from CRC research, led by Prof Vivienne Tippett at the Queensland University of Technology, and have collaborated at the national level on their insights and experiences in their testing phases to determine a style and structure for their official public messages and information campaigns. Local councils, water authorities and the media are also benefiting, with Bundaberg Regional Council, Seqwater and ABC local radio in Wide Bay, Queensland all changing their warnings and broadcast of warnings based on the research.
The investigation of flood fatalities to inform community safety campaigns has seen close collaboration between CRC researchers headed up by Macquarie Universities’ Dr Katharine Haynes and operational emergency services staff. This has helped the NSW State Emergency Service to develop state-wide education campaigns on flood warnings, with the findings enabling agencies to better target their warning messages to high-risk groups and high-risk behaviours based on the evidence from over a century of fatalities, injuries and building losses. Findings have enhanced public information campaigns.
This research has also supported broader initiatives in emergency communications and warnings, not just for individual organisations, but also at the national level by providing reviews and assisting with the development of evidence-based warning guidelines for all emergency service agencies, as well as contributing significantly to investigations into preventing flood fatalities by the Prevention of Flood Related Fatalities Working Group of the Community Engagement Sub-committee of the Australia–New Zealand Emergency Management Committee.
Disaster resilience education for young people
The importance of educating children and youth about disaster risk reduction and resilience is now front and centre around Australia, based on CRC research led by Prof Kevin Ronan (CQUniversity) and Dr Briony Towers (RMIT University). This change is based on research that identified the valuable role that children play in the safety of their household and their community.
The research has evaluated disaster risk reduction and resilience programs in Australian primary and secondary schools to find out how these programs contribute to the mitigation and prevention of disaster impacts. Alongside this, the project team has also been co-evaluating disaster resilience education programs, both for reliability, as well as their outcomes. This development and evaluation are intended to ensure that intended outcomes are being achieved.
Collaboration is at the heart of the research at every stage, with researchers, emergency managers and educators involved in all aspects of the study.
‘What if?’ questions drive future policy
What if an earthquake hit central Adelaide? A major ﬂood on the Yarra River through Melbourne? A bushﬁre on the slopes of Mount Wellington over Hobart? ‘What if?’ scenario modelling by the CRC is helping government, planning authorities and emergency service agencies think through the costs and consequences of various options on preparing for major disasters on their urban infrastructure and natural environments and how these might change into the future.
The research, headed up by Prof Holger Maier at the University of Adelaide, is based on the premise that to reduce both the risk and cost of natural disasters, an integrated approach is needed that considers multiple hazards and a range of mitigation options. Taking into account future changes in demographics, land use, economics and climate, the modelling analyses areas of risk both now and into the future, tests risk reduction options, identiﬁes mitigation portfolios that provide the best outcomes for a given budget, and considers single or multiple types of risk reduction options, such as land use planning, structural measures and community education. Case studies have been undertaken in Adelaide, Melbourne and Tasmania that model the expected impacts of hazards from 2015 to 2050, with an annual time step under different plausible future scenarios, showing the change in risks in different localities. Agencies will be able to use the system to help allocate budgets, demonstrating that they are using the best available science to inform decision making.
A new model for helping
CRC research has highlighted that the nature of volunteering and community involvement in disaster management is fundamentally changing. The research was led by Dr Blythe McLennan at RMIT University, has provided strategies that emergency service agencies can employ to help them adapt to this change; developing guides and advice that has informed policies around volunteering and spontaneous volunteering.
Key national programs have been influenced, with findings from the study used extensively for the development of the National Spontaneous Volunteer Strategy by the Australia–New Zealand Emergency Management Committee. The strategy provides advice to emergency service agencies on what they need to be aware of, and what they need to consider and plan for when working with spontaneous volunteers. Important issues such as legal obligations and social media are also covered.
Building on this, the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience drew directly on the research when developing the 2017 handbook on spontaneous volunteer management. The handbook provides important guidance for organisations on how to incorporate the principles of the National Spontaneous Volunteer Strategy, and the most recent research on spontaneous volunteering, into their own plans and procedures.
Emergency services are also using the research, with the New South Wales State Emergency Service using the findings to shape how the organisation will recruit volunteers. Their latest volunteering strategy was informed extensively by research findings from the CRC.
In Western Australia, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services has used the research to develop new directions in volunteering, while South Australia’s Department of Communities and Social Inclusion, Volunteering ACT and Volunteering Victoria have also been influenced by the work in developing policies and guides to volunteer management, both during emergencies and in recovery.
Be Ready Warrandyte, a community group in one of Melbourne’s high bushfire risk suburbs has drawn extensively on the research to help educate and support its local community.
Emergency planning for animals
Australians love their pets – and this inﬂuences how people behave during an emergency, with emergency services incorporating ﬁndings from research to inﬂuence their plans and policies during disasters.
Under the direction of Dr Mel Taylor at Macquarie University, this research identiﬁed best practice approaches to animal emergency management, giving emergency management agencies the data they need to make better-informed decisions on planning and targeting of resources.
Working with the Blue Mountains Animal Ready Community, a range of emergency planning resources have been developed to highlight the importance of planning for animals during emergencies. The resources have been used by 23 New South Wales Rural Fire Service brigades across the Blue Mountains, as well as by the Springwood Neighbourhood Centre and the Mountains Community Resource Network.
In Tasmania, animal populations have been mapped in partnership with the Tasmania Fire Service and the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. This has informed evacuation planning, traffic management plans and capacity planning.
RSPCA Queensland has used the research to inform its policies, while in Victoria, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning has used the ﬁndings to inform its risk assessment processes. HorseSA has also used the research to support its emergency planning and gain funding for appropriate equipment.
Nationally, the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience has drawn on the research to develop a section on animal management in their updated evacuation planning handbook, published in 2017.
State animal emergency management plans at three primary industry departments – the Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, Western Australia Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and South Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regions – have also been revised in consultation with the research team.
For more information, go to www.bnhcrc.com.au