Using our research

Real world research driven by end-user needs

Case studies and testimonials

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. We generate knowledge for the benefit of our partners and deliver relevant research supported by active end-user engagement throughout the 'Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC Research to Capability' lifecycle.

Better warnings to ensure action

Better warnings to ensure action

Australian lives are being saved by CRC research that is shaping warnings and public information campaigns to prepare and protect communities threatened by flood, fire, heatwave and other natural hazards.

The insights from researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are equipping emergency service agencies around Australia with better-targeted long-term public safety campaigns as well as evidence-based warning messages delivered to at-risk populations in the face of imminent natural hazard threats.

The goal of the project was to save lives and empower communities to act to ensure their safety, by improving community warning messages.

The impact of the Effective risk and warning communication during natural hazards project has been dependent on close collaboration with the emergency service agencies from the beginning. This allowed the work to be shaped and directed at important stages.

In 2019, this research - combined with separate CRC work that drew lessons from analyzing human and property losses in floods - was recognised for its contribution to saving Australian lives with the Cooperative Research Centres Association’s Excellence in Innovation award.

Through active testing of the wording and structure of warning messages agencies have a better understanding of how messages are understood and translated into direct action. The team, led by Prof Vivienne Tippett, has supported broader initiatives in emergency communications and warnings, not just for individual organisations, but also at the national level by providing reviews and assisting with the development of evidence-based warnings doctrine.

Researchers contributed to the development of the National Emergency Management Handbook on Public Information and Warnings and the companion guide Warning Message Construction: Choosing Your Words, both published by the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience. The publications drew directly on the research to give guidance on the key considerations for writing effective warning messages, including structures and language styles for specific audiences, such as high-risk groups and non-English speaking communities.

Warnings save lives and empower people to act, says Amanda Leck, Executive Director, Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience.

“Communities under the immediate threat of fire, flood, storm or cyclone are now likely to be much safer because fire and emergency services are now able to warn them, in a way that communities are more likely to take action. This is because of the research that’s been conducted.

“What was missing previously was an evidence-base to guide emergency services in how to structure warning messages in a way that the community is much more likely to take action and take the action that emergency services are asking of them in what is often a very high stressful environment for those community members.”

State-based emergency service agencies have drawn from the project and have collaborated at the national level to determine a style and structure for their official public messages.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk credited the warnings research, combined with CRC fire mapping tools, with saving lives and the township of Gracemere, in the November 2018 fires. “The reason why we’ve put the map out is to show very clearly that Gracemere was directly in the line of this fire,” she said. “That is why we took the action that we did to evacuate the town and thankfully the town was defended and containment lines are now well established.” (29 November 2019, Courier Mail).

The Bureau of Meteorology has recently completed a review of its suite of national warnings across 11 warnings services based on the attributes contained in Australia’s Total Warning System, the development of which was based on the CRC research for the Public Information and Warnings Handbook.

Changing the focus of warning messages has been the key, believes Anthony Clark, Director Corporate Communications at the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.

This research is a really important piece of the puzzle. It is a game-changer for us as we had been sending out information and warnings in a format that met the needs of the emergency services. This research tips the process on its head and puts the community first and foremost. Emergency services are forming warning messages with the community in mind, so we can get the best possible response from the community in a time of disaster,” Anthony says.

In South Australia, the Country Fire Service has used the findings to change its warning messages, ensuring they are simpler and easier to understand, explains Fiona Dunstan, Manager Information Operations.

“We’ve looked at our warnings and restructured and reprioritised the content to make sure the critical information was upfront. This ensures timely, targeted and meaningful information is provided to the community,” Fiona says.

Country Fire Service warnings are now much shorter – previously they were three pages long. Now the vital information is on one page.

The Queensland Fire and Emergency Services have used the research findings to influence community behaviour when the communities’ capacity to act rationally may be impaired.

“The research results are highly valuable and provide emergency service agencies with sound principles to follow”, explains Hayley Gillespie, Executive Manager Media at QFES.

“These include using clear, direct language, structuring information in easily understood formats, and linking agency communications to other credible information sources. All of these strategies, and others the research covers, will help people to quickly make sound decisions that could save lives and property.”

The study has seen close collaboration between the research team and the emergency services sector, with other organisations to have their warning information reviewed include the Inspector-General of Emergency Management Queensland, Emergency Management Victoria, Victoria State Emergency Service, Country Fire Authority, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services Western Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology.

Strength in the face of high winds

Strength in the face of high winds

Most of the damage from cyclones and severe storms occurs to older houses, but much can be done to reduce this damage. Research through the Improving the resilience of existing housing to severe wind project, led by Prof John Ginger, Dr David Henderson and Dr Daniel Smith at James Cook University, has shown that improvements can be made that can strengthen houses to reduce damage, as well as save money through the reduction of insurance premiums.

To help homeowners make these improvements, the Queensland Government has created the Household Resilience Program based on findings from the research. The Program, which is available to Queensland homeowners who reside in recognised cyclone risk areas in a home built prior to 1984, will provide a grant of up to 75 per cent of the cost of improvements, with a maximum of $11,250, allowing for the upgrade of the roof structure, protection of windows and strengthening doors – key areas at risk of damage during strong cyclonic winds. 

The Household Resilience Program by the Queensland Department of Housing and Public Works took out the Government category at the recent 2019 Get Ready Queensland Resilient Australia Awards.

The insurance industry is also benefiting from the research, with Suncorp Insurance learning more about the vulnerability of the houses in northern Queensland, explained Jon Harwood from Suncorp. The insurance company knew that some types of houses built before 1980 were the most vulnerable to cyclones, as they were constructed before the building code was developed for cyclones, but they were surprised by the other findings generated by the study.

“What we were surprised about was the water ingress failures across all ages of houses, whether they were built to code or not,” Jon said.

A majority of claims – 60 per cent – were due to a lack of preparation. These were small claims that could have been easily avoided if the appropriate mitigation action was taken before a cyclone.

The research recommended a range of retrofitting options that reduced the chances of damage occurring.

“The research gave us a clear evidence base to show that retrofitting and strengthening homes really has a great cost-benefit analysis,” he said.

Suncorp took these research findings and created the Cyclone Resilience Benefit, which rewards homeowners who have undertaken work to strengthen their homes and reduce the chances of damage. More than 30,000 people have accessed the benefit, with the average saving on premiums $100. Some have saved over $400.  

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services is also benefitting from the study, using findings to improve the work of its rapid damage assessment teams, which operate after major disasters to collect building damage data. This enables a focused and coordinated response, as well as better planning for event recovery. Specialist advice and lessons learnt are also provided by the team at pre-cyclone season briefings for emergency managers across Queensland to QFES, as well as other local, state and federal agencies.

Better fire danger ratings

Better fire danger ratings

The latest fire science, including Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC research, has been used to develop the pilot National Fire Danger Rating System. The update currently underway is the first major update to the system since it was devised in the 1960s. 

Initially developed as CRC research after a recommendation from the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, support from the Commonwealth government led to the successful transition from a collection of CRC managed research, to a fully owned and developed prototype system managed by the industry for the benefits of the community.

The new National Fire Danger Rating System prototype was trialled by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service over summer 2017/2018 to better incorporate extreme fire behaviour. The revised system will be more comprehensive, providing provide a greater ability to understand and predict localised fire danger risk with greater scientific accuracy, rather than applying the same fire danger across large areas, as is currently the case. In coming years when the revised system is in operation around Australia, all fire agencies will be able to better predict bushfire danger, leading to better warnings, more efficient use and distribution of firefighting resources, improved community awareness of risk, and increased safety for both firefighters and the community. 

The CRC has contributed contemporary science to the prototype system on fire weather, vegetation conditions, fire behaviour, ignition likelihood, fire suppression, fire impact, communicating risk, urban planning, decision making and mitigation. 

The trial of the prototype is a significant demonstration of the successful utilisation of CRC research into the sector: CRC partners AFAC and the NSW Rural Fire Service now own the ongoing use of the research outputs. As the new system is piloted and integrated into the sector, the CRC will continue to play a critical role, providing vital science and evidence that underpins the new system. 

Emergency planning for animals

Emergency planning for animals

Australians love their pets – and this influences how people behave during an emergency, with emergency services incorporating findings from research to influence their plans and policies during disasters.

Led by Dr Mel Taylor from Macquarie University, the Managing animals in disasters project identified best practice approaches to animal emergency management. This has given emergency management agencies the data they needed to make better informed decisions on planning and targeting of resources. 

While the research phase of this work is complete, there is a strong utilisation focus, with the team actively engaged with emergency service agencies, government departments and local community groups. 

Dr Taylor is a regular attendee of community events to promote research outcomes, including the Sydney Dog Lovers show, Horse Owner Emergency Preparedness Open Day supporting NSW State Emergency Service and ‘Giddy-up Get Ready Huon!’ hosted by Tasmania Fire Service.

Working with the Blue Mountains Animal Ready Community, a range of emergency planning resources have been developed to highlight the importance of planning for animals during emergencies. The resources have been used by 23 New South Wales Rural Fire Service brigades across the Blue Mountains, as well as by the Springwood Neighbourhood Centre and the Mountains Community Resource Network. A community guide for establishing an animal ready community is now in development.

Building on this was Blue Mountains Animal Ready Community’s first community seminar, held in October 2018. The project team was integral to the involvement of the seminar, which saw over 60 people attend to learn more about how to manage their small and large pets, livestock and wildlife during an emergency, as well as how to best be prepared beforehand.

Also in the Blue Mountains, the team partnered with the Winmalee Public School, with a student art competition developed into a book to reinforce why animals matter and why they need to be included in emergency plans.

In Tasmania, animal populations have been mapped in partnership with the Tasmania Fire Service and the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. This has informed evacuation planning, traffic management plans and capacity planning.

RSPCA Queensland has used the research to inform its policies, while in Victoria, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning has used the findings to inform its risk assessment processes.

Horse SA has also used the research to support its emergency planning and gain funding for appropriate equipment, explains the organisation’s Executive Officer Julie Fielder.

“This research has provided evidence which we have used to advocate government around planning, and has helped us shape our messages to horse owners during emergencies,” she says.

Dr Taylor was presented with the CRC’s annual award in 2018 for her outstanding research on managing animals in disasters.

Nationally, the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience has drawn on the research to develop a section on animal management in their updated evacuation planning handbook.

State animal emergency management plans at three primary industry departments – the Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, Western Australia Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and South Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regions – have also been revised in consultation with the team.

The research has also received several awards in recognition of its success, taking out the inaugural Emergency Media and Public Affairs conference research award as leading research making a difference in public safety in 2018, and as an integral part of Blue ARC’s highly commended award in the NSW community category at the 2018 Resilient Australia Awards.

Sharing the risk

Sharing the risk

Assessing risk ownership for managing natural hazards is complicated, particularly as natural hazard risks can resonate across long timeframes and have multiple organisations responsible. But research is helping government and emergency management agencies identify and allocate ownership of risks, how risk owners are responsible, and what they can do to manage them.

Through the Mapping and understanding vulnerability and risks at the institutional scale project, led by Prof Roger Jones and Celeste Young at Victoria University, a framework has been developed to support the better allocation of risk ownership as part of strategic planning and risk assessment activities. Developed in consultation with CRC partners, the Risk Ownership Framework for Emergency Management Policy and Practice uses a values-based approach to provide a starting point for understanding and clarifying risk ownership as part of strategic risk planning and assessment activities.

Emergency Management Victoria has incorporated key elements of the framework into the emergency risk assessment process that is used to assess emergency risks across the state, enhancing emergency risk management activities. Applicable to the all communities/all-hazards model, the research has provided clarity for shared responsibility as an important element of managing risks, providing EMV with a method for identifying disparate risk owners at different stages, beyond the agencies that have traditional emergency management roles. 

This means that the research will be helping to guide priority projects and programs for risk mitigation.

The research is also being referenced at the federal level, informing disaster policy work for Emergency Management Australia, and changing the way that people think about risk ownership.

Key elements of the process have been mapped to the risk assessment process in the National Emergency Risk Assessment Guidelines. Greater application of the risk ownership process is expected if the key concepts of the research are integrated into the guidelines, or published as a companion document.

The team has also worked as part of a collaborative partnership with the National Resilience Task Force, part of the Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs, contributing to the Australian Vulnerability Profile, alongside conducting a policy briefing for the Commonwealth Department of Environment.

The research has also been recognised internationally, taking out the best poster award at the 2017 European Climate Change Adaption conference in Glasgow, while the UK Climate Impacts Programme invited the project team to present at their adaption in practice series as part of their 20th anniversary celebrations.

Intangible value

Intangible value

Not everything that is important can be assigned a dollar value; just as the benefits of mitigating risk do not always add up to monetary values. Intangibles are important to land managers and community members alike, but how are these values, such as protecting biodiversity, taken into account when making land management decisions?

The 2015 Productivity Commission’s report on natural disaster funding arrangements in Australia finding that there is an over-investment in post-disaster reconstruction and an under-investment in mitigation. In 2017, the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities noted the soaring total costs of disasters and urged more targeted investment in infrastructure and community resilience programs.

The Economics of natural hazards project led by A/Prof Atakelty Hailu and Dr Veronique Florec at the University of Western Australia has helped natural hazards managers justify the use and allocation of resources for mitigation efforts.

The study has developed a tool for generating estimates of non-financial benefits. It can perform a quick analysis for natural hazards mitigation options and provide a quick and rough overview of the value for money for each option. With this information managers can identify the options for the best-chance business cases and then prioritise the type and quality of information needed to improve decisions.

Researchers have undertaken an integrated economic analysis of management options for floods in Adelaide and for prescribed burning in private land in South Australia’s Mount Lofty Ranges. This value tool allows land managers to assess intangible benefits such as lives saved, health and environmental benefits, and social values. A small prescribed burn might cost a lot of money, and take time and resources, but what the burn protects cannot be measured just by money.

Ed Pikusa, the Principal Risk and Audit Coordinator at the South Australian Department for Environment and Water, is the lead end user overseeing the development of the project. “In the last year, this project has turned the corner from research to product delivery. The website and guidelines on the Value Tool make the outputs of one part of this research project accessible and transparent for practitioners.”

This has enabled South Australia’s Department of Environment and Water to not only take into account the costs of undertaking prescribed burning on private land but to also effectively measure the benefits to ecosystems, lives and the way of life of people who live in the area.

Previously, these non-market values were not taken into account, underselling the benefits provided by prescribed burning in some areas.

This work has benefited other CRC research, with the tool used by a Geoscience Australia team to inform the cost-benefit analysis of flood mitigation work in Launceston.

Looking back can prevent future flood deaths

Looking back can prevent future flood deaths

CRC research is informing community flood warning campaigns, emergency services training and national policy initiatives, with the project An analysis of building losses and human fatalities from natural hazards 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 research has informed community flood warning campaigns, emergency services training and national policy initiatives, with emergency services able to target warning messages to high-risk groups and high-risk behaviours based on the evidence from over a century of fatalities, injuries and building losses. These included children, teens, young adults and their parents; those who drive into floodwaters; and, 4WD owners.

The New South Wales State Emergency Service has used the findings of the research for its FloodSafe community campaigns and training, while the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services has used it to inform its If it’s Flooded, Forget it campaign.

The 2017 campaign by the NSW State Emergency Service featured a series of videos, with real people recounting their experiences of attempting to drive through floodwater, the consequences of their actions, and why no one should ever drive through floodwaters. Each video was backed by data from the research showing who is most at risk during a flood.

Andrew Richards at the NSW State Emergency Service says it was vital that the campaign was backed by research.

“As a consequence of risky behaviour, flood fatalities and rescues are a constant issue for emergency services. We are trying to increase public safety, to educate people to make the safe choice, and we think that the best way to achieve this is by highlighting true stories about what has happened to people when they have tried to drive through floodwaters,” Andrew said.

“The research from the CRC was key as it showed to us where we needed to focus our safety efforts.

“Thanks to the research we were able to target effective audiences that are prone to driving into floodwater, as well as providing statistics and evidence to back up our campaigns,” he said.

In 2019, this research, combined with separate CRC work that analysed the structure and tone of warnings messages, was recognized for its contribution to saving Australian lives in natural hazards with the Cooperative Research Centres Association’s Excellence in Innovation award.

The research has also made its mark on a national level, contributing significantly to investigations into preventing flood fatalities by the Prevention of Flood Related Fatalities Working Group of the Community Engagement Sub-committee of the Australia–New Zealand Emergency Management Committee. It was recognised by the Emergency Media and Public Affairs conference as leading research making a difference in public safety, receiving a highly commended research award in 2018.

A seasonal view of bushfire

A seasonal view of bushfire

Strategic decisions on resources, prescribed fire management and community warnings have for the past 16 years been underpinned by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC’s Seasonal Bushfire Outlook.

Governments and fire authorities are using the Outlook for planning purposes in the lead-up to their bushfire seasons, including refining their public messages that communicate bushfire risk and highlight areas with the highest potential for fire.

The Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC leads the preparation of the Outlook in close consultation with the Bureau of Meteorology, AFAC, and emergency service agencies in each state and territory.

The Outlooks cover the Northern and Southern fire seasons and are published annually around June, September and November. In 2020, the Outlook will shift to a quarterly release to better reflect the year-round nature of fire management and operations across Australia.

The seasonal outlooks serve a range of purposes and are a critical component in raising community awareness about the coming fire season. A well-attended and widely broadcast media event with all of Australia’s fire chiefs is held annually at the AFAC Conference as part of the statement’s public release providing a timely opportunity to reach the community and other stakeholders. In recent years, as testament to the growing reliance on the Outlook, the launch has been livestreamed on ABC, Sky and other media channels, and followed up with extensive media coverage across print, radio, television and online.

The fire outlooks began in 2003 under a Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre project with Dr Graham Mills from the Bureau of Meteorology, drawing on experience from the US through Dr Tim Brown, of the Desert Research Institute. The primary information in the product consists of a map of seasonal “bushfire potential”, with extensive commentary and maps of climate conditions and forecasts. Areas where the fire potential is below normal, normal or above normal are shown in three colours.

The outlooks are prepared at two annual (north and south) workshops by integrating climate forecasts with extensive knowledge of the current fuel state and previous fire seasons to produce an overview for the upcoming fire season. The workshops consider the weather, landscape conditions and cross-border implications leading into the main fire season.

Fire season potential depends on many factors. Rainfall amount, location and timing of rainfall in the period leading up to the fire season are critically important, and contribute to fuel loads, dryness and fuel availability. The temperature and rainfall outlooks for the next few months are crucial factors for influencing the development of fire potential. The actual impact of fire within a season will depend on exposure to assets (such as houses and other infrastructure) and to people, community preparedness, the availability of firefighting resources and more random factors such as ignition sources. Fuel loads show much variability and are a product of past fire history, rainfall over one or more preceding seasons and land use, such as grazing and agriculture.

The Seasonal Bushfire Outlook is used by governments and fire authorities to make strategic decisions on resource planning and prescribed fire management for the upcoming fire season. How agencies and governments make use of the statement for planning, and its influence on decisions varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. One key use is as a tool to justify significant investment in resources such as additional firefighters, vehicles and aircraft. Another is to increase community preparedness campaigns in areas of high likelihood of fire.

The Outlook is widely distributed among related organisations and community groups for local use. The Australia Red Cross uses the Outlook to produce hazard and vulnerability data maps for its Emergency Services Managers around Australia as part of its seasonal preparedness planning so resources can be shifted to areas with higher fire potential. ABC Emergency uses the Outlook to schedule training sessions for its journalists working in potentially hazardous areas around the country based on the priorities highlighted by the Outlook.

School-based education for disaster risk reduction

School-based education for disaster risk reduction

Educating children and youth about disaster risk reduction and resilience is now front and centre around Australia, based on research that has identified the valuable role that children play in the safety of their households and communities.

The importance of educating children on hazards and disasters was recognised both in the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission and the 2011 National Strategy for Disaster Resilience. The CRC research project Child-centred disaster risk reduction, led by Prof Kevin Ronan (CQUniversity) and Dr Briony Towers (RMIT University), has evaluated disaster risk reduction and resilience programs in Australian primary and secondary schools to find out how these programs contribute to the mitigation and prevention of disaster impacts on lives and property.

Bushfire education has been evaluated in several states, including New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. In Victoria, the Country Fire Authority and State Emergency Service used the research to design a student-centred, inquiry-based, disaster resilience education program for students at year levels 7, 8 and 9. The program was assessed to inform strategies for scaled implementation in schools across the state.  

CFA’s Survive and Thrive program for students in Grades 5 and 6 has also been evaluated in both Anglesea and Strathewen, with the findings informing the development of community-based approaches to bushfire education to specific high-risk areas around Victoria. The Strathewen component has also demonstrated the value of bushfire education for children in fire affected communities and will provide a guiding model for future recovery programming. In recognition of this effort, Strathewen Primary School won the 2019 Resilience Australia National Schools Award.

Harkaway Primary School is learning from the success of the Firestorm program at St Ives North Public School in New South Wales, and implementing a similar, project-based program, which is providing a valuable opportunity to study the processes and outcomes of this approach. 

NSW Fire and Rescue have used the research to review their school-based Fire ED program. Based on this, firefighters now know the specific topics they need to educate children on to increase fire awareness and safety.

The NSW Rural Fire Service is also using the skills, knowledge and expertise of the research team in a number of ways. A change in NSW primary school curriculum now sees bushfire studied across the state by years 5 and 6 every two years. To assist in this educational change, the NSW RFS has redeveloped their schools’ education webpage to reflect inquiry-based learning principles, with information for teachers and students.

The NSW Rural Fire Service also drew on the expertise of the research team to inform the development of the ‘Guide to Working with School Communities’, which supports volunteers and staff to effectively engage primary school students in learning and action for house fire and bushfire safety. The Guide follows the earlier publication of a CRC ebook, based on the same principles that if you educate children on fire safety, families and the wider community will also benefit.

The Bushfire Patrol program run by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services Western Australia has also been evaluated, with the refined program helping to ensure that children have the knowledge and skills they need to participate in bushfire planning and preparedness in their own homes. In the remote Kimberley region, DFES used the learnings to design a specific education program suitable to such a unique area. The North West Bushfire Patrol program was created to be geographically and culturally appropriate for the area, which has a large Indigenous population. The program covers all year levels of primary school and includes appropriate learning activities for each age group.

The benefits are flowing outside traditional emergency management agencies too. The Australian Red Cross is using findings of a mixed-methods, pre-post study to refine its disaster resilience education program, the Pillowcase Project.

Nationally, CRC researchers are actively engaged in the Disaster Resilience Education for Young People initiative, in partnership with the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience. This initiative has allowed the project to actively engage with educators from across the country and to contribute to an online resource.

This overall set of evaluations represents stepped change in the first five years of this program of research, with the next steps geared towards enhancing and implementing disaster resilience education in schools, with the goal of providing additional benefits for children, schools, households and communities.  

"What if" questions drive future policy

"What if" questions drive future policy

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 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 urban 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 Improved decision support for natural hazard risk reduction project, is led by Prof Holger Maier and Dr Graeme Riddell at the University of Adelaide.

Four case studies have been completed. Adelaide, Melbourne and the whole of Tasmania were the first group and, based on their success, work began in Western Australia in 2017, funded through the National Disaster Resilience Program.

These four applications of UNHaRMED are tailored for the different regions across Australia, in collaboration with relevant State Government agencies in each jurisdiction. Each jurisdiction determined the extent and relevant hazards to include in the software application based on existing risk understanding and data availability. These are summarised below:

South Australia – greater Adelaide. Hazards identified were bushfire, coastal and riverine flooding, and earthquake. The first prototype of the UNHaRMED software application for greater Adelaide was completed and delivered in 2017, and end user training was also conducted at that time. The software has been installed on government computers within the fire management section of the Department of Environment and Water. However, there has been limited usage of the software due to resource constraints and competing priorities. A State Mitigation Trial Exercise was held in August 2019.

Victoria – greater and peri-urban Melbourne. Hazards identified were bushfire, coastal and riverine flooding, and earthquake. The first prototype of the UNHaRMED software application for greater and peri-urban Melbourne has been completed with end user training held in August 2019.

Tasmania – whole of state. Hazards identified were bushfire, coastal flooding, and earthquake. The Tasmanian Government is keen to operationalise and incorporate UNHaRMED into existing systems but currently lack the internal capacity to achieve this. Consequently, the Tasmanian Government plans to employ a person full time for one year to assist with the operationalisation and adoption of UNHaRMED across government agencies in Tasmania.

Western Australia – south-west corner. Hazards identified were bushfire, coastal flooding, and earthquake. A working group has been established within Western Australian Government to determine the best way to integrate UNHaRMED into existing processes.

At the national level several early initiatives are underway including:

  • The National Resilience Taskforce in the Department of Home Affairs used the outputs of the project to shape frameworks and develop a naitonal disaster risk reduction capability
  • A project led by the Bureau of Meteorology has used the research products to map national heatwave vulnerability

The science is drawing wider acclaim too, with the Investor Group on Climate Change highlighting the software modelling as a key tool to help navigate future climate risk.

Taking into account future changes in demographics, land use, economics and climate, the modelling analyses areas of risk both now and into the future, tests risk reduction options, identifies mitigation portfolios that provide the best outcomes for a given budget, and considers 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.

In the modelling for Adelaide the 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.

Based on the success of the research, further work began in Western Australia in 2017, funded through the National Disaster Mitigation Program.  

The integrated nature and comprehensive data available is exciting, says Mike Wouters, Manager Fire Knowledge and Mapping at South Australia’s Department of Environment, Water.

“We have not had access to this type of technology before,” he says.

“We need to be thinking at least a decade ahead, and this research will help us with that.”

The powerful nature of the system is its biggest asset, believes Country Fire Authority Deputy Chief Officer Alen Slijepcevic.

“We will need to rely on modelling to help us more and more into the future. We do not have the luxury of waiting 20 or 30 years to assess the impacts of our land management decisions,” Alen

Agencies will be able to use the system to help allocate budgets, demonstrating that they
are using the best available science to inform decision-making.

This study 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 that will help 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 a clear example of the collaborative process that the CRC is all about. It incorporates findings from other CRC work on recognising nonfinancial 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 retrofitting for improved safety, and the benefits and understanding of community resilience efforts like improved warnings, community engagement, education, volunteering and community  resilience.

Complex decision making and teamwork when the heat is on

Complex decision making and teamwork when the heat is on

Effective decision making and teamwork are essential to ensure incident management teams function to the best of their ability in challenging and high stakes environments. To help improve these skills, practical tools have been developed by the CRC project Improving decision-making in complex multi-team environmentsled by Associate Professor Chris Bearman at CQUniversity.

A set of teamwork tools (the Team Process Checklist and the Emergency Management Aide Memoire) cover communication, coordination and cooperation and include helpful suggestions on how to identify and resolve teamwork problems during complex situations.

The project is also set to release further tools that support people working at the strategic level of emergency management. These tools focus on key tasks that need to be done in state and regional coordination centres.

Emergency services have been engaged throughout development, with information sought from 18 separate agencies ranging from state emergency services, urban fire, rural fire and local councils. Agencies 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. This has led to tools that are tailored specifically for emergency managers.

The tools are flexible and can be used as a health check to ensure the team is functioning effectively, to identify suspected problems, as a debrief tool and as a way to foster better teamwork. They have been used to better manage teams during incidents, to reflect on teamwork during periods of relative calm, and for assessment or debrief during training. The South Australian Country Fire Service, Tasmania Fire Service and New South Wales State Emergency Service have adopted the tools and the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services sought out the expertise of the team in the aftermath of Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie in 2017 to inform future preparation, response and recovery. Emergency Management Victoria has amended its operational doctrine and has provided the Team Process Checklist to all Real Time Monitoring and Evaluation personnel.

Those who work in incident management teams, strike teams and at regional and state operations centres can see the most benefit, believes Mark Thomason, Manager Risk and Lessons Management at the South Australia Country Fire Service.

“The tools are straightforward, practical and adaptive to the needs of individual emergency managers to ensure their teams are functioning to the best of their ability,” Mark says.

The Tasmania Fire Service used the tools during the 2015-2016 fire season, which saw TFS responding to many major bushfires over two months. The tools helped to ensure communication between different teams was efficient and timely during a highly stressful time.

Jeremy Smith, the TFS Deputy Chief Officer during the fires, highly recommends the tools to other emergency managers.

“These tools have been validated and developed through a body of research. The support they provide for incident management is vital,” Jeremy says.

The project has also developed cognitive decision-tools and training materials to aide decision making in complex and high consequence scenarios. Over 220 senior emergency management personnel have been trained to use the products developed in the decision-making stream of the research.

Fire and Rescue NSW’s Assistant Commissioner Rob McNeil has worked with the project team to understand his decision making as an incident controller deployed to Japan during the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami. The process has helped Assistant Commissioner McNeil better understand how he makes decisions, enabling him to teach this process to other incident controllers.

Findings from this research are also benefiting organisational resilience, with the Federal Department of Home Affairs launching a practical guide to decision making based on research carried out in the project. Researcher on the CRC project, Dr Steve Curnin led its development as a member of the Resilience Expert Advisory Group. His new guide released by the Commonwealth Department of Home
Affairs, Decision making during a crisis: a practical guide was an initiative of this Group.

The decision-making research is also benefiting those outside the traditional emergency management sector, with the research team conducting a workshop with the Queensland infrastructure sector. The workshop included participants representing Urban Utilities, Seqwater, Powerlink, SunWater, the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads, and the Queensland Department of Housing and Public Works.

Beyond end-users, agencies such as the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the Australia Antarctic Division have also used the tools in exercising and have incorporated them into operational use.

The project also engaged with the Joint Cyber Security Centre in Sydney, hosting a session 40 crisis management professionals who represented the banking and finance sector, energy sector, food and grocery sector, communications sector, and the water sector.

Working with AFAC through the Knowledge Innovation and Research Utilisation Network, a research utilisation maturity matrix has been developed to help guide emergency services and land management agencies in assessing how individual agencies implement research findings and where they grow their use. This element of the research has identified that agencies best placed to implement research findings have established governance processes to do so, embed utilisation into job roles, actively test outputs of research and are communities of practice.

A model for relief and recovery

A model for relief and recovery

Ensuring communities are safe and resilient in the face of natural disasters is fundamental to emergency management organisations.

The CRC research project The Australian Natural Disaster Resilience Index: A system for assessing the resilience of Australian communities to natural hazards, led by Dr Melissa Parsons at the University of New England, is developing the Australian Natural Disaster Resilience Index to improve the understanding of disaster resilience.

The index aims to help communities, governments and organisations develop the capacities for adapting and coping with natural hazards.

The index is currently undergoing extensive consultation and feedback from CRC partner agencies before its wider release in early 2020.

While the study is assessing resilience across the country, Emergency Management Victoria is embedding the national findings to develop a better understanding of resilience at the state level. It has used the national research as baseline data to build a ‘living’ resilience index within the organisation, explains EMV’s research coordinator Dr Holly Foster.

“We have used the research as a basis for the Victorian platform, adapting it to our resilience needs in Victoria,” Holly says.

“Its primary function is as a relief and recovery tool, exploring the characteristics and attributes of communities to enable a better understanding of what relief and recovery would be required if an emergency were to occur. We want to be able to proactively meet community needs.”

“The ANDRI tools offer a leading-edge approach to plan and resource activities that further enhance resilience, across planning, response and recovery activities. Moreover, we are already starting to see the critical and timely influence of this research with many organisations embedding the key principles and frameworks of the ANDRI into their doctrine and planning processes.”

It is only through the collaborative approach taken by the research team that mutually beneficial outcomes have been possible, with Emergency Management Victoria’s learnings feeding back into the larger national approach.

In Western Australia, the framework from the Australian Natural Disaster Index has been adopted by the Department of Fire and Emergency Service to frame their monitoring and evaluation framework, assessing their programs to ensure they support specific disaster resilience outcomes.

Carbon abatement through better fire mapping

Carbon abatement through better fire mapping

Australia’s tropical savannas are extremely fire prone, with many millions of hectares burnt every year, contributing greatly to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Sophisticated fire mapping and modelling of fire severity, undertaken by the Tools supporting fire management in northern Australia team, led by Adjunct Prof Jeremey Russell-Smith and Dr Andrew Edwards at Charles Darwin University, is helping fire and land managers assess greenhouse gas emissions and develop carbon abatement plans.

Previously, fire seasonality was used to calculate emissions, fires occurring in the latter part of the northern fire season (after 31 July) releasing double the CO2 emissions into the atmosphere than fires occurring early in the dry season. Although this calculation is based on years of data, CDU researchers are developing a new greenhouse gas emissions abatement methodology, using actual fire effect, leading to improved accuracy of the calculations of greenhouse gas emissions.

Another important tool, the Savanna Monitoring and Evaluation Reporting Framework provides users with the ability to monitor their fire management and evaluate its effects, providing a single standardised reporting system to assess and compare the outcomes of fire management across 70 per cent of the continent. 

Information from the reports is used to apply local, ecological and traditional knowledge to improve biodiversity and landscape management. The savanna-wide web-based software enables land and fire managers to generate reports on all national parks, with plans to expand into all properties in northern Australia.

With the emergence of new industries such as carbon farming, which was officially recognised as an industry by the Northern Territory Government in October 2018, and the influence of climate change, bushfire management is rapidly changing in northern Australia, requiring decisions to be prioritised based on risk, and detailed mapping to support these decisions. With such large areas to cover, web-based mapping is fundamental to better improving these land management practices.

Andrew Turner, Director of Strategic Services at Bushfires NT, says the organisation uses the savanna mapping tools daily.

“They are crucial to all aspects of fire management – planning, mitigation, suppression, monitoring, and evaluation and reporting,” Andrew says.

Currently northern Australia is generating over $30 million annually in this new carbon burning sector, on over 300,000 km2, still only 40 per cent of the potential extent for these savanna burning projects. The fire severity mapping process developed by the research team is an integral part of the process of improving the methodology and has only been possible through the extensive collaboration process undertaken with other
researchers from across Australia and around the world.

Finding fires faster

Finding fires faster

The development of new and innovative algorithms are supporting near-continuous active fire surveillance from space unlike any other satellite hotspot products previously available.  

Using the latest geostationary satellite-based earth observation systems and the Himawari satellite, the Fire surveillance and hazard mapping team from RMIT University, led by Prof Simon Jones and Dr Karin Reinke, will help fire managers with early fire detections to hone in on bushfires.

Most satellite-based fire detection algorithms are susceptible to the effects of clouds, as well as the accuracy of the land surface temperatures observed around a potential fire. But thanks to the research into an algorithm designed to take advantage of the 10-minute observations available from Himawari-8, and that is specifically tuned to Australian conditions and seasons, a robust and computationally rapid method for early fire detection across Australia has been developed.

Simeon Telfer, a fire manager from South Australia’s Department of Environment and Water, says the research can make a difference to operations.

“Due to the increased availability of the satellite data and faster processing, there is an opportunity for earlier detections, and for ongoing remote observations of fires to be made,” Simeon says.

This means some fires could be detected hours earlier than was previously possible, leading to quicker deployment of firefighters and firefighting aircraft, as well as warnings to the public. 

A trial with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service over summer 2018/2019 helped to focus the research. Currently, bushfires are primarily detected when a member of the public calls Triple Zero, and occasionally from other satellites that may be passing over the area. The researchers worked with the NSW RFS to assess how much faster the new algorithm can detect fires compared to current methods.

The project is also improving the accuracy of vegetation monitoring for flammability, as well as saving critical personnel hours, through the development of a smartphone application. The Fuels3D app combines off-the-shelf digital cameras and/or smartphones with computer vision and photogrammetric techniques to calculate vegetation structure and fuel hazard metrics.  This reduces individual bias in estimating bushfire risk and ensures more accurate and consistent data is collected, as individual bias is completely removed. Fuels3D allows anyone to take a vegetation fuel sample; it has the potential for pre- and post-burn mapping and can provide inputs into fire behaviour modelling and risk assessment and planning.

Satellites to help show when the bush is ready to burn

Satellites to help show when the bush is ready to burn

Fire and land managers are set to benefit from a new vegetation condition and flammability online mapping tool—the first of its kind to be introduced in Australia.

Dr Marta Yebra at the Australian National University leads the Mapping bushfire hazards and impacts project, which has developed the web-based system. As bushfires erupted along the east coast of Australia in November 2019, Marta was in the State Operations Centre at the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, working closely alongside fire behaviour analysts.

“Our research is being used here by the RFS to make informed decisions about where a fire may spread, and what areas should be prioritised when sending resources and equipment,” Marta said.

Effectively providing a clearer picture of immediate fire risks, the Australian Flammability Monitoring System uses satellite data to collect information on live moisture content in trees, shrubs and grass. It then displays this information on an interactive map, which will help fire managers in their prescribed burning efforts and prepositioning of firefighting resources.

Different filters and settings on the system give emergency services and land management agencies a new way to help evaluate the risk of a bushfire occurring in certain parts of the country, based on the dryness of soil and fuels and the flammability of vegetation. The prototype system uses satellite data to provide a clear picture of the landscape where there are high levels of vegetation and soil dryness, which are the perfect conditions for a severe bushfire.

The cutting-edge technology was recognised with the Outstanding Achievement in Research Utilisation Award from the CRC in 2019. The data available through the system is invaluable to fire and land management agencies, explains Dr Adam Leavesley, the Research Utilisation Manager at the ACT Parks and Conservation Service.

“Fire managers across Australia need to understand when our landscape is in a position that is either not going to burn, burn in a way that will allow us to control a fire, or when conditions are so dry that if a fire starts it will be very dangerous and difficult to control,” Adam says.

“The Australian Flammability Monitoring System is going to give us a really good guide across the whole country to how we expect fire to behave on any particular day. This will help agencies position resources during a bushfire, keeping our people safe, and also with prescribed burn planning, particularly in mountainous locations where flammability changes depending on which side of a mountain you are on.”

“It has been an amazing partnership with the research team. It is great quality science from a team that is driven by wanting to see their work make an impact – that has been the key to getting us to this stage.”

Access the Australian Flammability Monitoring System at

A new model for helping

A new model for helping

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.

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 and Dr Blythe McLennan is regularly sought by individual agencies and organisations in the development of guides and policies around volunteering and spontaneous volunteering.

Dr McLennan was acknowledged for leadership and research in community resilience and disaster recovery recently, when presented with the 2018 Quiet Achiever Awards by Emergency Management Victoria Commissioner Andrew Crisp.

Research from the CRC project Out of uniform: building community resilience through non-traditional emergency volunteering has influenced key national initiatives, with findings from the study used extensively for the development of the National Spontaneous Volunteer Strategy by the Australia–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.

Building on this, the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience has drawn directly on the research to develop a new handbook on spontaneous volunteer management. The handbook provides important guidance for organisations on how to incorporate the principles of the National Spontaneous Volunteer Strategy, and the most recent research on spontaneous volunteering, into their own plans and procedures.

Work on the development of this handbook was recognised by the CRC in 2019 with an Excellence in Research Utilisation Award given to Dr McLennan and AIDR’s Amanda Lamont. Emergency services are also using the research, with the New South Wales State Emergency Service using the findings to shape how the organisation will recruit volunteers.

“Findings from the research really helped to shape our Volunteering Reimagined strategy, launched in 2017,” says Andrew McCullough, Volunteering Strategist at the New South Wales State Emergency Service.

“The NSW SES is planning to lead in this space, and it is only with the help and the research of the CRC that this is possible,” he says.

In Western Australia, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services has used the research to develop new directions in volunteering, while South Australia’s Department of Communities and Social Inclusion, Volunteering ACT and Volunteering Victoria have also been influenced by the work in developing policies and guides to volunteer management, both during emergencies and in recovery. Be Ready Warrandyte, a community group in one of Melbourne’s high bushfire risk suburbs, has drawn extensively on the research to help educate and support their local community.

Paul Davis, Manager, Volunteer Development and Change, Emergency Management Victoria, says the research is shifting the narrative around emergency volunteering from one of crisis and decline, to one of transformation and opportunity. “This is in fact good news as it may be the very shift that we need to drive organisational change. This is where we must focus our energy and efforts; as communities change, so must we. If we don’t, we face a very real chance of being left behind and looking back at what might have been.”

Findings from this research are now informing a new CRC project on sustainable volunteering, focusing on how to best adapt emergency management agencies to these new ways of volunteering. This new research will centre around exploring the developments that are likely to occur over the next decade that will require adaption, as well as barriers to organisational change.