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Research highlights gaps in fire safety knowledge
To understand how people living in high-risk areas view their bushfire risk and how well prepared they feel, CFA has carried out post-season community surveys in bushfire-prone areas since 2009.
By John Gilbert
Key findings are incorporated into pre-season briefings to share knowledge and inform decision making. Some findings to emerge from the research over the past few years include:
- high levels of general awareness of bushfire risk, but a tendency for many people living in high-risk areas to underestimate the risk at their own home
- an increasing expectation among residents that they will receive official warnings from emergency services about bushfires that might threaten them, and get help from the emergency services during incidents
- people living in high-risk areas are reluctant to leave early before a bushfire threatens them. The majority intend to leave, but are heavily reliant on official warnings and trusted networks to trigger this decision.
This research helps us develop targeted summer fire safety messaging and design community education and engagement programs.
Urban fringe risk not understood
This year, we carried out additional survey research to examine perceptions of grassfire risk on the urban fringe. This is the first time CFA has done research on grassfire risk near cities and towns.
A key piece of advice for residents living close to grassland is never drive if you can see smoke or fire. Another important message that has been targeted at residents in recent years is that in the event of a grassfire those living next to grassland should walk at least two streets back and those living two or three streets away from grassland should stay put.
The survey revealed that just a quarter of respondents living next to grassland intended to leave their house as soon as they became aware of a grassfire nearby. Just over a third of respondents living two or three streets back from grassland thought they should leave if there was a fire in grassland threatening the area. These findings highlight a need for CFA staff and volunteers to raise awareness and understanding of the key messages among residents in high-risk areas.
Despite living close to grassland, 61 per cent of respondents believed a grassfire was unlikely to impact their street. While around 70 per cent of respondents reported feeling prepared for a grassfire, there were clear gaps in people’s understanding of what they should be doing before and during a grassfire.
Despite being contrary to CFA advice, almost one in five respondents believed it was safe to drive through smoke. Only 16 per cent of respondents had discussed with members of their household what to do if there was a grassfire, which is a significant gap in their planning.
These findings highlight some important areas to focus on when engaging with communities exposed to the risk of grassfires in urban areas.
Community connection to CFA
The bushfire survey found that almost 70 per cent of respondents feel well connected to their local CFA brigade, highlighting the vital role that brigades play in communities across Victoria. Further analysis of the survey data revealed a strong association between those who feel well connected to CFA and many of the desired outcomes around understanding of bushfire risk and preparedness actions, including:
- having a realistic understanding of risk
- feeling informed about how to get warnings
- taking action as a result of participating in CFA programs
- feeling better prepared and more confident about bushfire survival planning.
Such findings reinforce the value of building community connections and emphasise the role staff and volunteers play in community safety.
The day-to-day interaction members have with residents in high-risk areas contributes to people assessing their risk and taking actions to improve their safety. This is characterised by listening to people’s concerns, building connections, respecting local knowledge, challenging assumptions about risk and response, and addressing local needs.