There is a lack of understanding of the “prepare, stay and defend or leave early” bushfire policy, Australia’s emergency services peak body says.
The policy has come under intense scrutiny during Royal Commission hearings into the February 7 fires in Victoria which claimed 173 lives.
Australian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) chief executive Naomi Brown said the complex message was whittled down into a simple slogan during the fires.
“Very early, probably on the first day, this started appearing in the press as `stay or go’,” Ms Brown told the International WildFire Management Conference in Sydney on Friday.
“And then at its absolute worst, in the following few days on all sorts of talkback and so on, it had absolutely descended into `fight or flee’.”
“I thought, `hell this is really bad’, but what it demonstrated to me is the … lack of understanding of this whole message prepare, stay and defend or leave early.”
Confusion about what the policy means needs to be cleared up in the general community, she says.
“I think that … reducing a complex message which reflects a complex situation to a slogan, I think has been to our great detriment,” she said.
“And I know within the industry it’s easy to talk about `stay or go’, but I’m inclined to think that we’re paying the price a bit for this.”
Ms Brown said research validated the policy, but she expected the commission to recommend placing an emphasis on the importance of preparation.
The impact of climate change will be also be a major talking point for international firefighting experts at the two-day conference.
Those involved in fighting wildfires from as far away as the United States, Europe and Asia are attending.
The conference is organised by the NSW Rural Fire Service, with other speakers to include climate change expert Professor Tim Flannery and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority’s Roy Bishop.