Australia’s burning question: How can we build better bushfire resilience?

Source(s)
Zurich Insurance Group Limited

As Australia braces itself for another bushfire season by conducting winter fuel reduction burns in many regions, Zurich Insurance, in collaboration with the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre and the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis, has released a report exploring the factors that contributed to the devastating Tasmanian bushfires of late 2018-19, which burnt 200,000ha across half of the island.

“As climate change and shifting weather patterns continue to impact bushfire risk, frequency and severity around the globe, learning lessons from past events and identifying actions to manage this risk is critical – the recommendations in this report are particularly important given the 2019-20 Australian mainland bushfires that followed, gaining global attention for the sheer scale and severity,” said Mervyn Rea, Head of Zurich Resilience Solutions in Australia and New Zealand.

The report, written by disaster resilience experts, Dr Adriana Keating and Professor John Handmer is Australia’s first ‘Post Event Review Capability’ (PERC). The report deep dives into the risk reduction and preparedness measures that were in place before the 2018-19 Tasmanian bushfire event, as well as the community-based response and recovery. It showcases successes in community response and recovery and identifies opportunities to further build resilience in Tasmania, across Australia, and globally including recommendations that can be used by bushfire-prone communities to help reduce the severity of future catastrophic events.

“As a global leader in managing risk, it is Zurich's practice to analyse contributions to catastrophic weather events, so we can learn how to better help our customers and communities effectively reduce risk. I am really proud that our Zurich General Insurance business in Australia is able to support this important report, which is one of 17 post event reviews of disasters produced by Zurich around the world since 2013," said Tim Plant, Chief Executive Officer, General Insurance – Australia & New Zealand.

This report is Zurich’s 17th post-event review of a disaster and its first report studying a disaster in Australia.

This study harnessed Zurich’s award-winning Post Event Review Capability (PERC), an open-source methodology designed both to evaluate how natural hazard events turn into disasters and to provide practical recommendations to promote resilience.

Report Recommendation highlights:

Risk Reduction and preparedness. Create an adaptive bushfire risk management plan, with a high-quality model of current and future bushfire risk. Communities should be at the centre of resilience and preparedness programs, and all potential impacts should be considered including smoke pollution. Prescribed burning in wilderness areas should be complemented with other hazard management strategies, such as fuel breaks, particularly to protect townships and other important assets and infrastructure, as well as valuable ecosystems. Working relationships between fire agencies, landowners and conservationists should be reinvigorated and governments need to adopt stringent CO2 emission reduction targets as part of long-term adaptation.

Emergency response. Clarify bushfire protection priorities, including defining when environmental assets should take priority over infrastructure. Contribute to the national conversation on the impact of bushfire smoke on health. Embrace that there is no single solution to “solve” the problem, and the approach requires comprehensive resolutions.

Community response and recovery. Prepare and plan for a longer phase of community response, including evacuations. Ensure that Local Governments are planning for emergencies together and incorporate cross-LGA secondment agreements for emergency situations. Clarify and codify the role of the community sector in emergencies and resolution processes, and regularly review the strategy for making best use of emergency volunteers. Identify and implement lessons regarding the provision of recovery grants. Provide support to complete the learning and improvement cycle after event reviews.

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