Locals took part in fire scenarios using huge local maps of their town as well as a burn table, and according to Bushfire Program Coordinator Andrew Oldroyd it was the breakthrough needed to overcome local apathy.
“Fire Ready Victoria town hall meetings haven’t been attracting a lot of interest in these areas, as the locals felt they had heard it all before. We set up these exercises to take people through some likely fire scenarios and really show how bushfire might affect their community,” Andrew said.
The team explored different fire scenarios and worked through the best tactics and strategies to tackle a large fire, similar to how they would with a ‘tactical exercise without troops’ with brigades.
“We used large maps to show how a fire might start, how it would develop and where it’s likely to go. We got into some real detail about how it could affect the town. It’s not a new thing; the army has been doing it for years and it’s a really practical way for our brigades to train, but it’s the first time we’ve brought it to the public,” Andrew said.
Sessions were conducted by Ivan Smith, a long-term brigade volunteer who had retired after working as a CFA incident controller. Ivan drove around the local areas looking at the vegetation, where fires were likely to start and how they were likely to travel.
To make the scenarios as realistic as possible the team combined aerial photography with the history of bushfires in each town, local brigade knowledge as well as working with the local shire and DSE.
“Each participant marked their house on the map and views were discussed and challenged as information came in about the fire. There was a lot of discussion about staying or going, where would you go, the safety of getting in the car and trying to drive out,” Andrew said.
“I think these exercises were successful because they were highly localised - we made sure the scenarios were credible. The local ABC Gippsland radio station even gave us pre-recorded updates to add realism to the emergency scenario.”
“If we keep coming back with the same solutions to the same community and we get the same people engaged we’re not going to progress. If we continue to innovate and have new solutions about how we engage our communities we’re more likely to reach a wider audience by delivering the message in a different way.”
Community Education Coordinator Nicole Cooper-Warneke said that local brigade involvement was a crucial element of these exercises.
“It was great to have that level of local knowledge to draw on, both during the planning process and on the day. Having members there in wildfire gear certainly made the exercise feel more real, and they were able to answer people’s questions about the local risk and help out with the interactive activities.”
“When the information is generic people don’t relate it that well to their own situation. But when you’ve got someone from your local brigade pointing at your house on the map it changes people’s perceptions.”
*Story compiled with assistance from Yvonne Pecujac.