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Wheatbelt, WA. Photo by Briony Towers
Wheatbelt, WA. Photo by Briony Towers

Kids and bushfire risk reduction in the Wheatbelt

In early March, I visited in a small school in Western Australia's Wheatbelt region to begin our evaluation of the 'Bushfire Patrol' program. This teacher-delivered bushfire education program for primary school students is a key component of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) community engagement strategy and the evaluation is a major activity for our Child-centred disaster risk reduction project

The aim of this trip was to collect some initial baseline data on children's existing knowledge of, and participation in, bushfire risk reduction. The teachers will now deliver the program and once they have finished, I will return to assess the program outcomes. At that point, I will  also interview the teachers about the strengths and weaknesses of the program and the extent to which it meets the needs of their school community. We will then work DFES to further develop and refine the program to increase it's relevance and effectiveness. 

What struck me on this trip was how important it is to include rural and remote students in our research. The physical and human geography of the Wheatbelt stands in stark contrast to that of Perth's rural/urban interface and this will likely have implications for the structure and content of Bushfire Patrol. Moreover, 'diversity and Inclusion' is a guiding principle of our Practice Framework for Disaster Resilience Education and amplifying the voices and experiences of rural and remote students is a key priority in this regard. 

Over the next few months, we will be completing our evaluations of several other agency-based programs and initiatives, including the  'Guide to working with school communities' (NSW RFS), 'FireED' (Fire & Rescue NSW), and 'Survive and Thrive (CFA). Together with our evaluation of Bushfire Patrol, this work will provide us with a rich data base which we will use to inform our ongoing research agenda. Our overarching goal is to increase children's participation across DRR research, policy and practice and these evaluations represent a significant first step in that direction. 

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