The final report of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission called upon the State to “strengthen the range of options available in the face of fire, including community refuges, bushfire shelters and evacuation”.
At the time of the fires, there were no standards for the construction of community bushfire refuges in Victoria (or elsewhere in the world), nor procedures for their use. The only designated refuge in Victoria was an old mine shaft. There were no building standards applicable to private bushfire shelters. There were no procedures around mandated evacuations. There was little public policy around bushfire safety.
The State has addressed the Royal Commission’s recommendation through a range of initiatives. These include:
- standards for the construction and manufacture of private bushfire shelters
- policy practice and procedures around community fire refuges
- a successful pilot program and designation of three community fire refuges (with a fourth to be completed by August 2015),
- more than 280 Neighbourhood Safer Places across Victoria
- procedures around directed evacuations that have been used during recent bushfires.
While these achievements are significant, it is now time to review whether the approach is right, the measures sufficient and what directions the State needs to pursue further.
This paper is the next step in exploring the available bushfire safety and shelter options. Victoria is moving closer towards a holistic and integrated approach to emergency management that is both risk and evidence based.
Pathways for progress include the three-year rolling Emergency Management Strategic Action Plan, released in July 2015, and through changes to the Bushfire Safety Policy Framework.
The Strategic Action Plan is intended to drive the emergency management reform agenda, to set priorities, assist government in investment decision-making, and drive further integration to deliver improved community-centric emergency management outcomes.
The key objectives of this paper are to challenge current thinking and beliefs and to provide a knowledge base to inform the development of legislation, policies, programs and advice that will increase public safety during bushfires
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