A call for better bushfire warnings and detailed local information are among the main findings to come from a major report published this week.
The report comes after the 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires in NSW and shows that many people now expect to receive highly detailed and localised information in near real-time.
The research, after the worst fire season in NSW history, goes on to show there are challenges around community expectations of bushfire warnings.
"Lessons from Black Summer in NSW" was commissioned by the NSW Rural Fire Service and led for the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC by Dr Josh Whittaker of the University of Wollongong.
It investigated how people across NSW were affected by the 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires in NSW and what actions they took.
A total of 202 in-depth interviews were conducted with people affected by the fires across NSW, and a further 1004 others completed an online survey.
People in the Bega Valley and Eurobodalla Shires were among those who took part.
The expectations placed on warnings was a key finding, explained Dr Whittaker.
"Community expectations of warnings and information appear to be growing," Dr Whittaker said.
"Many people expect to receive highly detailed and localised information in near real-time.
"When we analysed the interviews, we found that people want this information in order to make more 'responsive' or 'timely' decisions about protective actions."
The research found that previous experience of bushfire motivated many people to plan and prepare.
However, to prepare they expect to receive highly detailed and localised information in near real-time.
A key focus of the research was to find out about the experiences of visitors and tourists who were affected, as well as holiday home owners.
New communication methods were tried during the worst conditions, and the research found that these initiatives, including fire spread prediction maps and Tourist Leave Zone messages, were effective in communicating risk and motivating people to take protective action during the worst of the conditions.
However, few travellers had prepared for the possibility of encountering bushfire while travelling or at their destination.
Other findings include:
- 78 per cent of people received official warnings with sufficient time
- 86 per cent of respondents recalled seeing a fire spread prediction map for their area
- 27 per cent of tourists and visitors indicated that a bushfire was already burning in the area they were going to visit
- 57 per cent of those surveyed had read the NSW RFS Guide to Making a Bush Fire Plan and
- 78 per cent of respondents indicated that Fires Near Me NSW was their preferred source of information in the future
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"The community responded during the fire season like never before," Anthony Clark, Director Communications and Engagement at the NSW Rural Fire Service said.
"Large events like this always present an opportunity to consider what works and what needs to be refined, in conjunction with inquiries like the NSW Bushfire Inquiry and its recommendations, this research helps map out how we can continue to improve.
"Importantly, the research sets out that while fire services like the NSW Rural Fire Service are critical in mitigating the risk, it isn't for government or emergency services alone.
"While the quality and amount of preparedness information and warnings improvements, the community can't afford to become overly reliant.
"The community must do its part to prepare and respond."
Black Summer details
The 2019/20 bushfire season was unprecedented in NSW, with destructive bushfires occurring across the state between August 2019 and February 2020.
Tens of thousands of people were displaced by the fires, including residents, tourists and visitors to affected areas, with many fires occurring during the Christmas and New Year holiday period.
Tragically, 25 people lost their lives in the fires. Many more people were affected by smoke in both metropolitan and regional areas.
By season's end, bushfires had burned a record 5.5 million hectares of NSW and destroyed 2,448 homes.