Bushfire readiness explored in Perth Hills

Bushfire readiness explored in Perth Hills

24 May 2013

published by www.sciencewa.net.au

Australia — RESEARCHERS investigating how people prepare for bushfires have found residents expecting to hear fire warnings through official channels showed less preparedness with house resistance actions.

Research also highlighted that those who perceived greater threat risk of fire, particularly on expectations of fire severity, were more physically and psychologically prepared than those who perceived the threat risk as low.

The study assessed communities in the Perth Hills region affected by the February 2011 bushfires to examine the relationship between perceived risk, perceived safety responsibility (the perception of being responsible for your own safety), and preparatory actions outlined in the national bushfire awareness campaign, ‘Prepare, Act, Survive’.

Two weeks after the bushfires, University of Western Australia’s School of Psychology Bushfire CRC research team mailed 3000 surveys to residents; 1003 were returned and analysed, and this data was complemented by qualitative interviews.

Lead researcher from UWA’s School of Psychology Dr Ilona McNeill says “the main contribution of the paper was to distinguish between different types of preparedness actions,” such as those intending to defend their house and those relevant for evacuating.

“… [the other was] to examine two new factors—expecting to be able to rely on a government warning and expecting to lose services during a fire.”

Four types of preparatory actions were surveyed; ‘defence preparation’ through obtaining equipment such as buckets, mops and ladders; general ‘house resilience’ through clearing gutters and long grass around the house; ‘evacuation preparation’ through planning an evacuation route; and ‘psychological planning’ in deciding the specific actions each person in the household would take in the event of a bushfire.

Findings indicated that expectations around bushfire severity predicted all types of preparedness actions, with higher severity perceptions correlating with higher preparedness.

“We also found expecting to lose water and electricity services correlated with higher levels of psychological and house resilience preparedness respectively, [while] expecting to rely on an official warning was a negative predictor of some types of preparedness, particularly house resilience,” Dr McNeill says.

In addition, correlations between demographic variables and preparedness indicated higher preparedness reporting in males than females, as well as a positive relationship between age and reported readiness levels, with older participants reporting a higher percentage of preparatory actions.

While Dr McNeill acknowledges more research is needed to examine whether the relationships found in this study are causal in nature, this research indicates that different expectations may influence preparedness actions, and “focusing on increasing perceived threat severity rather than likelihood might be more effective in increasing preparedness, at least in some communities”.

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