Fire alerts’ alarming ‘fail’

Fire alerts’ alarming ‘fail’

28 November 2013

published by

Australia — LACK of mobile coverage rendered telephone alerts useless for many people during bushfires which devastated parts of rural and regional NSW in January this year, a report from the Rural Fire Service (RFS) has found.

The RFS engaged the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) to undertake research to provide the NSW RFS with an understanding of community bushfire preparedness and responses to warning messages in the areas most impacted by fires in January, including Coonabarabran, Yass and Shoalhaven.

The report, released on Wednesday, showed that while telephone alerts are now the preferred method of warning for many in the community, many interviewees were unable to receive messages due to a pre-existing lack of mobile phone coverage in the affected areas and this contributed to their delayed decision-making.

The report also stated that while many people had a basic plan for what to do when threatened by a bushfire, few had documented it or used the RFS Bush Fire Survival Plan kit to document their response.

More than 50 homes were destroyed and many others were damaged damaged in the fires around Coonabarabran, after a blaze in the Warrumbungle National Park broke containment lines.

There were also stock losses and considerable lengths of fencing were destroyed.

At the Cobbler’s Road fire near Yass, stock losses numbered in the thousands, but there were no homes destroyed.

Other major findings of the report include:

Most interviewees felt well prepared and had prepared their family much more than their home and property, although over half had cleared space around their home.

Interviewees, once they received information or warnings, often sought more detailed, localised or updated information, such as from local RFS sources, friends and neighbours and from media.

As the fires spread, the naming of fires based on their starting point did not reflect their current location, leading to some misperceptions of fire position.

Few residents understood the implications of the different fire danger levels on their safety, and actions to take at each, apart from Catastrophic.

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