Bushfire policies face big revamp to ensure there is no repeat of the Black Saturday catastrophe

Bushfire policies face big revamp to ensure there is no repeat of the Black Saturday catastrophe

14 August 2009

published by www.news.com.au

Australia — Victorians will soon learn the details of a massive shake-up of the state’s bushfire policies, designed to ensure there is no repeat of the Black Saturday catastrophe.

The interim report of the bushfires royal commission, to be released on Monday, is aimed at saving lives in the fire season ahead.

It contains a suite of suggested reforms to overcome the deadly combination of complacency, confusion and disconnection between communities facing the firestorm, the firefighters and those in fire control centres.

These include sweeping changes to communications, warnings, public information and the controversial “stay and defend or go early” policy.

Commissioners Bernie Teague, Ron McLeod and Susan Pascoe will back key changes to the way firefighters are organised and to communication between fire agencies and the community.

They are expected to recommend the “stay or go” policy be retained but the public be told the only safe place to be in a bushfire is somewhere else.

It is likely they will say the CFA should advise households on the defensibility of their properties, with a series of triggers for leaving being clearly identified.

There will also be a change to the rural focus of bushfire preparation and warnings.

The most crucial set of recommendations will cover the range and content of warnings the community can expect.

The new warning regime is expected to include publication of the fire danger index, which may be coupled to a cyclone-style warning system, rating the danger posed on a scale of one to five.

It is also likely the CFA’s chief officer will be made solely responsible for issuing public warnings.

The warnings will almost certainly be changed to tell the public where a fire is spreading, its severity, when it will reach their area and what they should do to protect their lives.

The commission is expected to recommend the new warnings emanate from a single multi-agency website and be carried on ABC radio.

A major revamp of the Victorian Bushfire Information Line, which collapsed under the weight of calls on Black Saturday, is a certain recommendation.

A complete upgrade of CFA and DSE communications is also on the cards with the commission likely to recommend a single system that can be used across agencies

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