Bushfire focus now on communications in historic overhaul

 Bushfire focus now on communications in historic overhaul

3 July 2009

published by www.news.com.au

Australia — LIFE-saving neighbourhood safety zones are to be created in a historic overhaul of the approach to fighting bushfires.

But a full-blown fire refuge system, including bunkers, won’t be ready before this year’s fire season.

Fire officials will map and investigate fire-risk areas and safe locations statewide in a bid to stop another Black Saturday disaster this summer.

But it is believed the State Government will give only limited support to the idea of evacuations, opposing mass transfers of people from fire-risk areas.

The Government’s submission for the royal commission interim report, seen by the Herald Sun, flags dramatic changes to fire warnings and communications, including the use of Twitter and Facebook to guide residents to official information.

As revealed by the Herald Sun, the Government has backed an overhaul of the “stay or go” policy in favour of protecting lives by encouraging people to leave early.

It also will encourage home owners in fire-risk areas to take out insurance, but has stopped short of backing mandatory cover.

It also backs:

EVACUATIONS on some days, but not on a large scale and not during fires.

USE of fire refuges as places of last resort.

THE end of the ABC’s role as sole emergency broadcaster; commercial networks will add to the information flow.

MORE staff to field 000 calls.

TREE-changers to be a special target of a public education campaign, to be undertaken in time for the fire season.

FIRE sirens in some towns, if communities want them.

“The state considers that the ‘prepare, stay and defend or leave early’ policy should be revised, and that there should be much more emphasis on the protection of life by leaving early,” the submission argues.

“The state acknowledges that some houses that were thought to be defendable were not, given the extreme nature of the conditions.”

Details of the whole-of-government response to the commission are in a submission from its legal team, led by Allan Myers, QC.

In it, the Government concedes more is needed to be done to warn people and improve public understandings of warnings and their limitations.

The submission argues that if councils find suitable safety zones then they will be assisted, if possible, by the CFA.

The CFA agrees that “it ought where and when possible provide resources to assist in the defence of those identified community fire refuges or neighbourhood safer places whenever they may be directly threatened by fire”.

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