Real world research driven by end-user needs
The Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC is an end-user driven research organisation. End user engagement is central to all aspects of the CRC’s operation.
The Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC operates in the Knowledge Domain – we generate knowledge for the benefit of our partners.
We generate impactful benefits by delivering world class and relevant research supported by active end-user engagement throughout the “Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC Research to Capability” life-cycle.
Educate the child, educate the community
Primary schools students across New South Wales are now front and centre in state-wide bushfire plans, based on research that identified the importance of involving children in active bushfire preparations for the benefit of the whole community.
Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC research is supporting bushfire education for primary school students in NSW, with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service utilising findings, along with the knowledge, skills and experience of researchers to develop a bushfire education kit.
The ‘Guide to Working with School Communities’ is being rolled out to all schools through the NSW Rural Fire Service.
The Guide follows the earlier publication of an ebook, available nationally, and based on the same principles that if you educate children on hazards safety, their families and the wider community will also benefit.
This line of research, led by the CRC’s Dr Briony Towers of RMIT University, has provided fundamental insight into how children learn about bushfires and how they share those learnings with their families. Collaboration with the NSW Rural Fire Service is continuing, and the team will evaluate the guide over upcoming fire seasons to gather data to measure its impact on community safety over successive seasons.
The team ensures that collaboration is at the heart of the research at every stage, with researchers and end-users involved in all aspects of the study, from undertaking the research to developing utilisation plans and writing journal papers. This collaboration will produce enhanced benefits when the research reaches maturity and is embedded across the country.
The broader CRC project on child-centred disaster risk reduction has been highly active on the international scene, with project co-leader Prof Kevin Ronan (CQUniversity) representing the CRC on the United Nations Integrated Research on Disaster Risk committee, as well as presenting at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, in 2015. Prof Ronan is assisting in the development of a science and technology research plan to support the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2015-2030. This also includes involvement in the upcoming 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Cancun, Mexico. Dr Towers has also contributed to a World Vision project to deploy the Lumkani fire detector device to slums in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Her ongoing children’s bushfire education research was selected by the UNISDR Scientific and Technical Advisory Group as a best practice case study.
Enhancing emergency warnings
With the multitude of warnings issued when an emergency hits, how can emergency services ensure their critical safety advice is heard and acted upon, rather than dismissed as noise? Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC research undertaken through the Queensland University of Technology is helping emergency services warn communities by actively testing the wording and structure of warning messages to better understand how messages are understood and translated into direct action. The Connecting communities and resilience team, led by Prof Vivienne Tippett, have sought to support broader initiatives in the communications and warnings space, not just for individual organisations, but also at the national level by providing reviews and assisting with the development of evidence based warning doctrine.
The researchers are collaborating closely with the industry, with the Inspector-General of Emergency Management Queensland, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, Emergency Management Victoria, Victoria State Emergency Service, Country Fire Authority, New South Wales State Emergency Service, Country Fire Service, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services Western Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology all requesting reviews of their warning information.
Katherine Philp, Manager Regional Engagement at the Bureau of Meteorology, believes the research is providing valuable insights that will make a difference.
“We are working to constantly improve our communication, particularly during severe weather, so the observations and findings are of huge interest,” she says.
Local councils are also benefiting, with the Bundaberg Regional Council looking at the frequency of their warnings, the wording of the information they disseminate during an emergency, along with the delivery methods.
“Improvements to existing pre-formatted warnings will be captured in the next review of the Bundaberg Local Disaster Management Plan and subordinate plans,” says Matt Dyer, the council’s Disaster Management Officer.
The council is also considering how to involve the community in future warning development and identifying how local citizens would best receive warnings that are practicable and timely.
“Minds have been expanded; opportunities have been glimpsed and a realisation had that there is an existing and emerging body of information that can be integrated into local arrangements,” Mr Dyer says.
“The Bundaberg Local Disaster Management Group is proud to model an example of how to build relationships across sectors to the greater disaster management good.”
SEQwater are also benefiting from the science, and have sought input from the team on how to improve their messaging about releasing water from dam’s during a flood, with a focus on achieving proactive action by the community.
Highlighting the wide-reaching implications of this research, ABC local radio in Wide Bay, Queensland, are also engaged with the research team, looking at ways they can improve their emergency broadcasting.
Fire mapping with satellites and smartphones
This research is improving the accuracy of vegetation monitoring for flammability, as well as saving critical man hours, through the development of a beta smartphone application. Fuels3D, built on the Android platform, will allow land managers to rapidly collect imagery in the field, and uses computer vision and photogrammetric techniques to calculate measures of fuel and severity metrics.
There is great potential for the app to aid decision making believes Simeon Telfer from South Australia’s Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources.
“This project has engaged end-users through development of prototype products, workshops and circulating outcomes and published materials,” Mr Telfer said.
“The Fuels3D mobile phone app has been of particular interest. This app has the potential to reduce fire fuel sampling times from hours per site to minutes. This helps to improve our knowledge of prescribed burn efficacy, inputs into fire behaviour modelling and information towards risk assessment and planning.
“These improvements will improve knowledge or risk and treatment options across landscapes and thereby improve resilience of communities,” he said.
The research team, led by Prof Simon Jones of RMIT University, are also characterising fire landscapes using the latest satellite-based thermal earth observation systems for active fire surveillance and exploiting 3D remote sensing technologies to quantify and map changes in the landscape before, and after, a fire. The team brings together researchers from Australia, Germany and the Netherlands, with land managers, rural fire agencies and water utilities from across Australia.
History provides a lesson in preventing flood deaths
CRC research is now informing community flood warning campaigns, emergency services training and national policy initiatives, with a study led by Dr Katharine Haynes at Risk Frontiers, Macquarie University, investigating the circumstances of all flood fatalities in Australia from 1900 to 2015.
The study explored the socio-demographic and environmental factors surrounding the 1,859 flood fatalities over 115 years, finding distinct trends in relation to gender, age, activity and the circumstances of the death. These trends were analysed in the context of changes to emergency management policy and practice over time.
The NSW State Emergency Service has used the findings of the research for its FloodSafe community campaign and training, while the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services has used it to inform its If It’s Flooded, Forget it campaign.
Hundreds of flood rescues have been conducted over the last two years across the country, says project end-user Dr Elspeth Rae from the NSW SES.
“As a consequence of risky behaviour, flood fatalities and rescues are a constant issue for emergency services. This study has highlighted the significant number of fatalities that have occurred as a consequence of flooding compared to other hazards, particularly as a result of driving through floodwater,” Dr Rae said.
The results of this research are significantly contributing to investigations into preventing flood fatalities by the Prevention of Flood Related Fatalities Working Group of the Community Engagement Sub-committee of the Australia and New Zealand Emergency Management Committee. This working group was led by the NSW State Emergency Service and comprised policy makers, practitioners and researchers involved in flood risk management from Australia and New Zealand.
Improving decision making during incidents
How can incident management teams function to the best of their ability in challenging and high stakes environments? Research by the Practical decision tools for improved decision-making project is developing practical techniques and strategies to help emergency managers to function in complex situations. These are being trialled by the South Australian Country Fire Service, Tasmania Fire Service and NSW State Emergency Service.
Emergency services have been engaged throughout, with information sought from 18 separate agencies ranging from state emergency services, urban fire, rural fire and local councils. This has allowed the research team, led by Dr Chris Bearman at CQUniversity, to gain a greater understanding of the issues around decision making and team monitoring. Agencies have allowed the research team to monitor both real and simulated emergency situations from within incident management centres, as well as providing feedback throughout the prototype stage, leading to better results.
Heather Stuart, Manager, Knowledge and Lessons at the NSW State Emergency Service believes this feedback is critical.
“The project is providing practical techniques and strategies to help people to function in complex emergency management environments now and into the future,” she says.
“The interest in trialling the techniques developed by the research has shown the value of this project to the sector.”
Models for 'what if?' scenarios
What if an earthquake hit central Adelaide? A major flood on the Yarra River through Melbourne? A bushfire on the slopes of Mount Wellington over Hobart?
‘What if?’ scenario modelling by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC is helping government, planning authorities and emergency service agencies think through the costs and consequences of various options on preparing for major disasters on their infrastructure and natural environments and how these might change into the future.
The CRC research is based on the premise that to reduce both the risk and cost of natural disasters, we need an integrated approach that considers multiple hazards and a range of mitigation options.
The Decision support system project, led by Prof Holger Maier at the University of Adelaide, is completing a case study for Adelaide, and commenced further case studies for Melbourne and the whole of Tasmania.
Taking into account future changes in demographics, land use, economics and climate, the modelling will be able to analyse areas of risk both now and into the future, test risk reduction options, identify mitigation portfolios that provide the best outcomes for a given budget, and consider single or multiple types of risk reduction options, such as land use planning, structural measures and community education. CRC partners, along with local governments, have been engaged in the entire process, from direction on the hazards to include and feedback on process, to advice on how the modelling will be used when complete and by whom.
The modelling for Adelaide will be completed in 2017 and incorporates flooding, coastal inundation, earthquake, bushfire and heatwave, as well as land-use allocation. Expected impacts of these hazards have been modelled from 2015 to 2050 with an annual time step under different plausible future scenarios that were developed by end-users, showing the change in risks in different localities. Melbourne and Tasmania will follow next, incorporating bushfire, flood, coastal inundation and earthquake risk in Melbourne, and bushfire, coastal inundation and earthquake risk for Tasmania.
This is the only approach that compares different natural hazards and their mitigation options, while also taking into account long term planning. The ultimate aim is to develop a decision support framework and software system that is sufficiently flexible to be applied to large and small cities around Australia, helping planners from local councils through to state treasury departments answer the vital question on mitigation options that balance cost and impact: ‘what is the best we can be doing?’
This project is an outstanding example of the collaborative process that the CRC is all about, and incorporates findings from other CRC work on recognising non-financial benefits of management and policy for natural hazards, for example, the economic, social and environmental benefits of prescribed burning, the vulnerability of buildings to hazards, such as how they can be made more resilient through cost-effective retro-fitting for improved safety, and the benefits and understanding of community resilience efforts like improved warnings, community engagement, education, volunteering and community resilience.
How people volunteer to keep their community safe from natural hazards is changing. As our work and life commitments change, many people do not have the time to dedicate to traditional ways of volunteering with an emergency service, undergo the required training and develop the ability to respond to potentially dangerous situations. But they still want to help, and they still want to volunteer.
Research from the Out of uniform project has influenced key national initiatives, with findings from the study used extensively for the development of the National Spontaneous Volunteer Strategy by the Australia and New Zealand Emergency Management Committee. The strategy provides advice to emergency service agencies on what they need to be aware of, and what they need to consider and plan for when working with spontaneous volunteers. Important issues such as legal obligations and social media are also covered, with the work of the project team integral to the Strategy’s completion.
With research showing that the nature of volunteering and citizen involvement in disaster management is fundamentally changing, advice from the RMIT University team led by Prof John Handmer is regularly sought by individual agencies and organisations in the development of guides and policies around volunteering and spontaneous volunteers. In particular, the research is already having practical impact on policy and planning, for example by informing a Volunteering ACT guide to managing volunteers in emergencies, and contributing to Volunteering Victoria’s Outcomes Framework for Spontaneous Volunteer Management. Emergency services, including the Department of Fire and Emergency Services Western Australia (DFES) and Emergency Management Victoria (EMV) are also using the findings. Be Ready Warrandyte, a community group in one of Melbourne’s high bushfire risk suburbs, has also drawn extensively on the research to help educate and support their local community, while the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience is using the research to shape a handbook on spontaneous volunteering.
DFES’s Director of Human Resources, Karen Roberts, says the department is changing their approach to create the appetite to effectively harness the support the community is offering.
“Our long term volunteering strategy includes establishing an agency position on non-traditional volunteering. The learnings and knowledge generated by this research will be critical to informing our policy,” Ms Roberts says.
EMV’s Paul Davis agrees, saying that the research is helping to shift the narrative around emergency volunteering from one of crisis and decline, to one of transformation and opportunity.
“This is where we must focus our energy and efforts, as communities change so must we,” says Mr Davis, EMV’s Manager of Volunteer Development and Change.
“Failure to accept and adapt to the changes means running a very real risk of falling behind as new voluntary and community-based organisations pursue their own ways to get involved in disaster management, powered by new technology, start up business models, very clear purposes and smart volunteer value propositions.
“There is much to learn from this research and a collaborative approach with these new organisations offers a way to augment our own capacity and possibly achieve better community outcomes,” Mr Davis says.
The project has provided an important and comprehensive resource to benchmark best practice in supporting and integrating spontaneous volunteerism for emergency service agencies across Australia. The scope and relevance of the project will provide a valuable framework of knowledge for the future.