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World Vision Australia

With structures packed tightly together in slums, fires can spread very quickly. Photo: World Vision Australia.
Release date
27 Feb 2017

Research helps fire protection in Bangladesh

By Dylan Bruce. This article first appeared in Issue One 2017 of Fire Australia.

Research into how Australian children are involved in bushfire preparations around the home is being applied to disaster preparedness in the slum communities of Bangladesh.

Dr Briony Towers, through her PhD research with the Bushfire CRC completed in 2011, found that including children in the development of an emergency management plan greatly increased its effectiveness.

“If children are given the opportunity to access knowledge and information, and to be involved in emergency management planning, they actually have really great ideas that can improve the plan for the household and their community,” Dr Towers said.

Focusing on child-centred disaster risk reduction in Australia for her PhD in psychology, which she completed in 2011, Dr Towers has continued her child focused work as a research fellow for RMIT University and is involved with the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC.

Dr Towers is now assisting World Vision Australia to deploy a fire detector device, produced by the South African social enterprise Lumkani, in Bangladeshi slums. The Lumkani device is a sensor that, on detecting rapidly rising temperatures, sends out alerts to all other nearby Lumkani devices and to the phones of device owners.

Lumkani device
The Lumkani device is small, but will make a big difference in Dhaka. Photo: World Vision Australia.

World Vision Australia was recently involved in the Google Impact Challenge, which allows the public to vote for a charity project to receive $750,000 in funding. While not taking out the overall prize, World Vision Australia was granted $250,000 by Google and plans to deploy the Lumkani device in informal settlements in Bangladesh. Estimates show that the losses from fires could be halved with the device.

Dr Towers’ previous work with the Bushfire CRC has taught her important lessons about the role of children in disaster preparedness that she can apply to her work on deploying the Lumkani device in Bangladesh.

“My PhD gave me a lot insight into the importance of understanding children’s knowledge and experience from their own perspectives,” Dr Towers says.

“I met kids that had been given genuine roles in their family’s plan, and they were able to give me detailed descriptions of how to defend a property and what the different dangers are that you need to be thinking about.

“These kids were telling me all this information that is all consistent with the advice of the fire agencies, and that was because they had been given a genuine role in their family’s emergency response plan.”

According to Dr Towers, children who are included in the planning phase can become competent in making disaster risk reduction decisions at a young age, preparing them for future roles as community decision-makers. “They can actually be making really good decisions around disaster risk reduction now as children and young people.”

In her work in Bangladesh, Dr Towers will apply the lessons learned from her research to best support the deployment of the Lumkani device. “Making sure children and youth have a seat at each table where a decision is being made about implementing the warning system and making sure they have the information they need to genuinely participate is really important,” she says.

“There might be some training workshops specifically for children where they have the opportunity to ask questions and see how the detector works.”

Find out more about the Lumkani project at worldvision.com.au/GIC

Learn more about Dr Towers’ research.

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Index of Editions

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.
The vital elements of operational fire modelling and retrofitting older homes for severe wind events.
How a rural fire brigade used national research findings on community safety, comparing disasters today to those of 100 years ago, and preparing children for disasters can have positive impacts on entire communities.
How rethinking risk is empowering communities to become more resilient, the science around bushfire-risk, and sustainable volunteering to retain active emergency services volunteers.