Bushfires have, and always will be, a feature of the Australian landscape, but the spectre of climate change and rapid population growth are exacerbating community fears and increasing the risk to life and property.
Risk reduction strategies, such as planned burns on public land and community education programs have been used by land and fire management agencies in Victoria for decades, but intensified in the aftermath of the devastating 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, which killed 173 people and destroyed over 3,500 homes.
The Victorian Government incorporated the findings of the Black Saturday Royal Commission, as well as a 2015 review of bushfire fuel management on public land (led by the Victorian Inspector General for Emergency Management) to commence a significant program of change in 2016.
Called ‘Safer Together’, the program involves fire and land management agencies moving towards a more holistic risk reduction approach to bushfire management.
Safer Together includes multiple priorities for saving life and property and not only utilises local knowledge, but the insights of experts from multiple agencies and academia.
The approach goes across public and private land and seeks to ‘combine stronger community partnerships with the latest science and information to more effectively target our actions to reduce bushfire risk’.
Community is central to the program and significant work is being undertaken through Safer Together’s Community First program to enable community-led risk reduction strategies.
What did we do?
To gain a better understanding of the drivers and barriers to community preparedness and response to bushfire emergencies, Safer Together’s Community First team has been working with BehaviourWorks Australia (BWA) over several months.
The BWA research team, Dr Julia Meis-Harris, PhD candidate Dominique McCollum Coy and Dr Bradley Jorgensen, began by conducting a Practice Review with representatives from DELWP, CFA, Local Government and researchers working in community engagement (i.e., education, communication, strategy and development).
Using a survey developed with the Safer Together team, the researchers identified the following drivers and barriers:
- Physical and psychological exposure – whether communities had previous physical and psychological exposure.
- Risk – a multifaceted concept that can be a motivator, but can also turn people off because it makes them feel overwhelmed.
- Perceived possible outcome – weighing up the risks of staying or leaving.
- Social influence – how community connectedness can have important implications for their motivations to prepare.