News from the CRC


A team of researchers conducted an investigation following the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria
A team of researchers conducted an investigation following the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria
Release date
15 Dec 2017

Learning lessons from research insights: Black Saturday

By Brenda Leahy. This article first appeared in Issue Four 2017 of Fire Australia.

Human endurance and the capabilities of emergency service providers were tested by the catastrophic Black Saturday fires in Victoria. The bushfires claimed 173 lives, left 400 injured and resulted in millions of dollars of estimated damages and losses. Years on, the survivors and their communities continue with the emotional, social, financial, structural and physical recovery.

So what can be learned from Black Saturday that will help others in bushfire-prone communities prepare for the brutal reality of catastrophic fire?

In addition to implementing the wide-ranging recommendations of the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission, Australia’s fire and land management agencies have addressed these questions by drawing on lessons identified from research into the accounts of Black Saturday’s survivors and the experiences of its deceased.

Using AFAC’s national collaboration process, the agencies have captured their conclusions into an industry guideline: Community safety messaging or catastrophic bushfires: lessons learnt from Black Saturday bushfires, Victoria 2009. The guideline is designed for use by community safety and engagement practitioners in AFAC member agencies.

The guideline was developed by a project team from AFAC’s Community and Engagement Technical Group (CETG). AFAC’s Director, Information and Community Safety, Amanda Leck, said the process involved extensive rounds of review, consultation and drafting, with the team negotiating consensus on factors such as the guideline’s role, scope, content and format.

“CETG members distilled conclusions from the research insights into major learnings to guide key messaging for communities in the lead up to, during and after catastrophic bushfire,” she explained.

The document expands on the major learnings of the Bushfire CRC 2014 report, Lessons learnt from the Black Saturday bushfires: information for fire agency managers of community safety. The finished guideline was approved by the AFAC National Council as doctrine for use by member agencies in late 2016.

Today, practitioners across all jurisdictions use this pivotal document to guide development and implementation of bushfire education programs as well as in-house training. It provides practical, consolidated information to help local fire authorities communicate the report’s findings to communities and improve fire safety. Each set of key messages is accompanied by the related major learning from the research report, along with more detailed information about the context of each issue, including a real-life example from the accounts and experiences of Black Saturday.

The core learnings cover the harsh reality of bushfire as recreated from the last minutes of the deceased and recalled by survivors. The physical and emotional aspects of confronting catastrophic bushfire are covered, including anticipating and being prepared for worst-case scenarios, such as planning last-resort exit routes and places of refuge.

The latest AFAC research utilisation case study describes how lessons based on the research findings from a 126-page report were translated into a practical, 12-page guidance resource for community engagement practitioners nationally. The case study identifies the factors critical to the project’s success, foremost of which was the collaboration through AFAC, a shared sense of commitment to learn from the research, and trusting relationships built between the researchers, end users and relevant authorities to carefully use lessons identified from the Black Saturday research.

“It’s important that [the guideline] has been jointly developed by those practising in the field,” said Sandra Barber, the project leader.

“Being based on research evidence, assessed by the CETG and having the backing of AFAC behind it, gives it strength, weight and relevance,” added Peter Middleton, of Tasmania Fire Service.

The case study can be dowloaded at For more informationa on this case study, contact AFAC Director of Research and Utilisation Dr Noreen Krusel via email at:

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Index of Editions

Issue Four 2017 of Fire Australia includes research on including animals in emergency planning, details from AFAC17, new priorities in natural hazards research, and a Black Saturday case study to develop guidelines for improved community messaging in bushfires.
Issue Three of Fire Australia for 2017 features new prediction software for predictions of bushfire spread, how NSW's geography curriculum allows students to become agents of change for community resilience, suggestions for reducing the risks involved in prescribed burning, research on the impacts of severe wind during Cyclone Debbie, and new natural hazards science at the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC.
Issue Two of Fire Australia for 2017 features information about a weather phenomena called a mountain wave that produces severe fire behaviour, an analysis of flood fatalities in Australia, what we can learn about disaster preparation from Indonesia, and leadership for our emergency service volunteers.
Issue One of Fire Australia for 2017 features firestorms, disaster resilience, fire preparation in Bangladesh and the International Day for Disaster Reduction.
PhD progress, human factors and decision-making capabilities, asbestos risk and the role of pharmacies in disasters are showcased in the Spring 2016 edition of Fire Australia magazine.
The Winter 2016 edition of Fire Australia magazine highlights important research including reducing hazard impacts with smarter spending, fire modelling and wind behaviour as well as the rewarding experience of PhD student placements in the sector.
Mitigating disasters: how damage from floods, fires and storms can be prevented through careful planning and investment; a new approach to flood forecasting using remote sensing data; and case studies from the CRC are highlighting paths to integrate bushfire science into government policy and planning.
Developing a smartphone app to measure fuels for bushfire, 2015's International Day for Disaster Reduction, a case study on the Be Ready Warrandyte initiative and a look at what could happen if Adelaide was hit by a large earthquake.
Community resilience in the remote north, how NSW RFS used research to change their approach to engagement around bushfire survival planning, and case studies on CRC research impact.
How extreme water levels could impact Australia's coasts and what can be done to mitigate the risks, the gulf in earthquake risk reduction, and a look at the milestone UN Sendai conference on risk reduction.