05 March 2010
Preparing for the worst
RMIT is conducting research to improve community education for bushfire preparedness. Image © istockphoto.
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An RMIT University research team is currently working to improve community education for bushfire preparedness.
Funded by the CFA, this study of the Community Fireguard Program will assess how the program helps residents in high-risk bushfire areas.
The program is based on a community education model that sees trained facilitators taking groups of neighbours through a series of learning sessions. These cover fire behaviour, personal and household survival and plans for bushfire preparedness.
Community Fireguard was established in 1993 but has become increasingly important since the Black Saturday bushfires. During the current bushfire season, an unprecedented number of community groups have joined the program.
Many CFA staff support Community Fireguard even though it falls outside the traditional operational role of the organisation. Also, there is considerable enthusiasm for the program at a neighbourhood level. It gives neighbours a welcome opportunity both to reflect and to prepare.
“Participants are overwhelmingly positive about the program. Many who experienced the Black Saturday bushfires have told us how the training they received through their Community Fireguard group assisted them with both the preparation of their homes before the fires, and their psychological recovery afterwards,” Professor Peter Fairbrother, School of Management, said.
Research to date indicates that many members of Fireguard groups who thought that they were well prepared are rethinking their bushfire plans. They have learnt from the program that their preparations require much more planning. Some, who had thought the choice was either to stay or to go, now realise that things may not be that simple.
The project uses a mix of interviews and survey data from a range of sources, collected both from within the CFA and from local communities in order to assess the Community Fireguard Program and the way it helps community groups to become self-reliant in the bushfire management of their properties.
In addition to Professor Fairbrother, the research team is composed of Alison Hart and Julie Stratford, with administrative support provided by Val Prokopiv at the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council.
The team has just submitted an interim report on the research. The final report for the project is due at the end of August.