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Key Findings Report

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February 2013

Bushfire Survey Key Findings Report – Executive Summary

In September 2012, ‘Be Ready Warrandyte’ conducted a household survey in the Greater Warrandyte area to assess the current level of community awareness and knowledge in regard to bushfire safety preparedness. This report presents the results of an analysis of the most important and relevant survey results in the context of;

1. What the ‘Be Ready Warrandyte’ project is aiming to achieve in its current program of activities
2. What the project might address in a future program of activities
3. What is known from other research into community bushfire preparedness and planning.

The analysis and report were undertaken by researchers from the Centre for Risk and Community Safety (CRaCS) at RMIT University in December 2012 on behalf of the ‘Be Ready Warrandyte’ project. Key findings from the survey include:

Bushfire risk awareness
Awareness and concern about bushfire risk appear to be high in the Greater Warrandyte area. The vast majority of survey respondents (81%) believed it was likely that a bushfire would threaten lives and homes in the Greater Warrandyte area in the next few years. Most respondents (92%) were concerned about the risks to life and property from bushfire.

Two-thirds of respondents (65%) said it would be difficult for members of their household to leave safely during a bushfire. Concern about the ease of leaving was greatest in North Warrandyte, where 46% said it would be very difficult and 39% thought it would be difficult to leave. Amongst those who said it would be easy to leave, over one-third said this was because they intended to leave early.

Importantly, previous research has shown that being aware and concerned about bushfire risk does not necessarily mean that people will take appropriate action to plan and prepare.

Household plans and intentions
While 61% of respondents said their household had a Bushfire Survival Plan, interpretations of what constitutes a plan varied greatly. For example, some people explained that they did not need a plan because they intend to leave the area on days of high bushfire risk. This suggests that some do not feel that leaving early forms part of a Bushfire Survival Plan, or that additional planning is not necessary if their intention is to leave ‘early’. The lack of planning and preparation among some who intend to leave represents a significant issue for community bushfire safety in the Greater Warrandyte area.

Reasons given for why 39% of the households surveyed do not consider themselves to have a Bushfire Survival Plan were varied. The most common reasons included: assistance is needed or people are unsure how to prepare one; people are too busy; the belief that a plan would not make a difference to the outcome. Additional reasons offered by respondents in an open-ended question included: the household plans to leave early but is unclear about where to go or what to do if unable to leave safely; there is disagreement within the household about what to do and when; and the household is new to the area.

Most respondents indicated that their Bushfire Survival Plans included things that must be done before (89%) and during (84%) the bushfire season, as well as things that must be done on bushfire risk days (83%). However, fewer respondents said their plans considered what to do if something unexpected happened (36%), what they would do if they had visitors (36%), who takes responsibility for different elements of the plan (36%) or what they would do differently on a weekend or school holiday (26%).

Results suggest that more people intend to leave the area because of bushfire risk as the Fire Danger rating increases. More than three-quarters of respondents said they would leave the night before or early in the morning on a Code Red day (77%), compared to around half (46%) on a day of ‘Extreme’ fire danger and 12% on a Total Fire Ban day.

In general, women were more likely to intend to leave on days of higher bushfire risk than men. Women were also more likely to want to leave as soon as possible after receiving official notification of a fire in the area (72%, compared to 49% of men). Similarly, amongst those who said their household has a Bushfire Survival Plan, more women (64%) than men (49%) reported that the general intention of their plan was for all family members to leave early.

It is important to note, however, that intentions are not always an accurate predictor of behaviour during bushfires. While the majority of respondents indicated that they intend to leave early, past experience and research suggest that many may wait until they are directly threatened before taking action.

Community education and engagement
Respondents identified a range of ways they would prefer to find out more about preparing Bushfire Survival Plans. Results highlight the need for diverse approaches targeted to different groups in a locally-relevant way, with a locally-oriented web site as a central component.

The report presents twelve recommendations for how ‘Be Ready Warrandyte’ might begin to address some of these issues identified above through their community engagement activities, outlined below.

Summary of Recommendations

1.  A) That Be Ready Warrandyte approaches CFA and local government to support the development of guidelines or advice          for Greater Warrandyte residents about what to do if a bushfire threatens the area with minimal warning (taking into account   the Fire Danger rating).

B) That Be Ready Warrandyte consult with local government and CFA regarding traffic management and road access issues; possibly considering a community-wide plan for managing traffic and safety on the roads should a bushfire suddenly threaten the area.

2. That Be Ready Warrandyte compiles a list of suggestions, possibly provided by community members, about where people could plan to go if they do not have relatives or friends living in nearby areas; places that people might take pets, and what to do if there is more than one high risk day in a row, or the Code Red day is on a Sunday or public holiday.

3. That Be Ready Warrandyte include in its toolkit information or services targeted to women and men given the observed differences in their bushfire safety decision-making and behaviours.

4. That Be Ready Warrandyte include in its toolkit information or services targeted to people who plan to leave on high risk days regarding the need to plan in more detail, including where to go, when (triggers), and what to do if unable to leave safely.

5. That Be Ready Warrandyte adopts a community message about the need for people to act in accordance with their intentions to leave early if that is a part of their Bushfire Survival Plan.

6. That Be Ready Warrandyte includes in its current program information and services to assist households to consider a range of possible scenarios when preparing their Bushfire Survival Plan that are locally-relevant.

7. That the Be Ready Warrandyte program of activities includes diverse tools targeted to different groups in a locally-relevant way, with a locally-oriented web site as a central component. Information provided on the website might also be targeted to groups that have specific information needs, e.g. new residents, families with children, residents living in North Warrandyte, those wishing to update or improve an existing Bushfire Survival Plan, etcetera.

8. That Be Ready Warrandyte develops a suite of activities to be undertaken over a period of time in preference to isolated, stand-alone initiatives, e.g. a structured planning workshop that is repeated prior to each bushfire season.

9. That any future program of activities undertaken by Be Ready Warrandyte considers engagement activities targeted to groups within the Greater Warrandyte community that have specific information needs, vulnerabilities, and contributions to make to community bushfire safety, including local businesses and young people under the age of 18 years.

10. That Be Ready Warrandyte facilitate people’s access to existing Community Fireguard groups and support for establishing new ones, taking into account the CFA privacy policy. E.g. making contact details for CFG leaders available on its web page, undertaking a ‘membership drive’ or running workshops to inform people who are interested in joining or setting up a group about CFG.

11. That Be Ready Warrandyte acknowledges concerns and suggestions that were raised by community members in the survey and – to the extent that it is able – respond to them in its current and future programs of activities.

12. That Be Ready Warrandyte adopts a two-track approach to its engagement activities that includes: 1) initiatives targeted to those members of the community who are least engaged with bushfire preparedness (e.g. awareness-raising), and; 2) targeted support to assist those already engaged with the idea of preparing for bushfire to improve their household Bushfire Survival Plans and overcome specific, identified barriers to being better prepared.

As part of its Be Ready Warrandyte bushfire survival project the Warrandyte Community Association Inc. commissioned the Centre for Risk and Community Safety (CRaCS) at RMIT University to analyse the results of a survey completed in 2012 and to prepare a Key Findings Report. CRaCS is a research centre of the School of Mathematical and Geospatial Sciences at RMIT that undertakes applied research supporting the achievement of safe, resilient communities, through continuous improvement in emergency management. CRaCS has close affiliations with the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), through which this Key Findings Report was commissioned.