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The following discussion summarises the Commission’s interim report, its conclusions, and the areas in which
it has made recommendations for the 2009–10 bushfire season. A full list of the recommendations can be found at the end of the Executive Summary. Details of these conclusions and recommendations and the evidence that support them are set out in the interim report.


In February 2009 the whole of southeast Australia was experiencing a severe and protracted drought. During January 2009 much of Victoria had no rain and most areas of the State had recorded near record lows.

In late January 2009 heatwave conditions developed across Victoria and on 7 February many all-time temperature records were set. In Melbourne the temperature reached 46.4°C. The previous record was 45.6°C set on Black Friday (13 January 1939).

These extreme conditions were recognised by the Victorian Government and fire agencies. Prior to 7 February, Victorians were warned that the forecast weather was worse than Ash Wednesday, and senior government officials, from the Premier down, warned that it was likely to be ‘the worst day ever in the history of the State’.

These dreadful expectations were matched by the calamity that resulted on 7 February.

Many long-serving Country Fire Authority officers had not experienced such fires. The rate of spread of the fires equalled the maximum previously recorded, and the prolific spotting made fire behaviour on the day unique.
Reports referred to flames leaping 100 metres into the air, generating heat so intense that aluminium road signs melted. The plume of the fires created a convection effect that generated winds so strong that trees appeared
to have been screwed from the ground.

One hundred and seventy-three people died in the fires. The personal cost cannot be overestimated. The Commission has glimpsed the ruin and observed the raw emotions of those left behind. Whilst physical recovery is underway, many of the losses are permanent.


Figure 1: 2009 Victorian bushfires



This map covers the fires up to 23 February 2009, including those discussed in this report.

The Royal Commission

It is against this background that the Hon Bernard Teague AO, Mr Ron McLeod AM and Ms Susan Pascoe AM
were appointed to be Commissioners of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission with Terms of Reference that required it to produce an interim report by 17 August 2009 and a final report by 31 July 2010.

A Royal Commission is an administrative inquiry established by Executive Government which, by long tradition, operates independently. A Royal Commission is a valuable mechanism by which the circumstances of the involvement of government or government agencies in an event like the 7 February bushfires can be thoroughly examined in a public setting. A Royal Commission has broad investigative powers. It is not under a duty to reach
a definitive verdict. It has a duty to report on the nature of its inquiries, explaining what conclusions were drawn
from its investigations and what advice it should give the Executive Government based on its deliberations.


Community consultations

From the outset the Commission saw its interaction with all Victorians, and in particular those affected by the fires, as a vital cornerstone of its work. The Commission’s first priority was to meet with and listen to people from the communities directly affected by the fires. Between 18 March and 9 April the Commission held 26 community consultations in 14 fire locations. Some 1200 people attended.

The consultations enabled the Commission to hear first-hand about people’s experiences and gain valuable insights
into how individuals and communities had dealt with the disaster. It was a privilege to be allowed into these communities to hear highly personal accounts of the difficult experiences and losses suffered.

Participants’ experiences have influenced the priority of issues covered in the Commission’s interim report.
The people involved in the consultations talked about their preparation for the fire, how they felt the emergency
effort was managed, the communication of warnings, and recovery efforts (Chapter 2).

The four weeks of the consultations provided an important opportunity for those involved to come together and
talk about their experiences. This, in itself, was a valuable outcome of the discussions.




Public submissions were invited from any person or organisation with information relevant to the Commission’s Terms of Reference. Over 1200 submissions were received prior to the closing date for the interim report. They have come from across Victoria, from people in fire-affected and unaffected areas, and from around Australia and overseas.

The submissions have helped the Commission to frame its work program. They have contributed to identifying shortcomings and deficiencies that needed investigation. Many helpful suggestions and observations have been made that have assisted the Commission in assessing issues and priorities.

Figure 2 summarises the topics raised and the number of submissions on each topic. The issues raised in submissions are summarised in Chapter 3.

Figure 2: Submissions by key topics



Public Hearings

Royal Commissions commonly conduct open and public hearings, which enable the gathering of evidence
in a form that permits parties potentially materially affected by the evidence to be represented, and to be
in a position to test the evidence.

Counsel Assisting lead the evidence and the parties who have been granted leave to appear may cross-examine witnesses. In this way any concerns about natural justice and procedural fairness principles can be satisfied.

The gathering of evidence in this fashion is a vital part of the Commission’s work. It has occupied a major portion of the Commission’s time to this point. Part of the function of Counsel Assisting is to test the evidence that is given, even if this is an uncomfortable experience for witnesses concerned. Ultimately, it is the three Commissioners who must decide what conclusions are drawn from the evidence that is called.

Many witnesses called have been State officials or members of the emergency services agencies. Others have been expert witnesses or from organisations that have an interest in aspects of the Commission’s work.

During each day of the public hearings, evidence was given by private individuals who were able to inform the Commission of their own experiences during the fires. In this way the Commission has been able to maintain a close connection between the community interest and the bodies associated with the management and response to the bushfires.

The Commission was conscious of the widespread interest in its proceedings and arranged live web-streaming of the public hearings. This has been widely welcomed. Libraries throughout Victoria (including the State Library) made facilities available for people to view or listen to the live streaming and to access and download transcripts from the hearings. This has assisted the Commission in providing an open and accessible process for fire-affected communities and the wider Victorian community. The Commission thanks the State Library and all the other libraries for helping to make the hearings accessible to a very wide audience.

February 2009 fires

February 7 was an extremely busy day for fire agencies with many small fires and a significant number of larger fires burning across Victoria. In many cases quick actions by the CFA meant that small fires were controlled quickly and caused minimal damage. For example, one of the smaller fires that warrants mention is one that started in Upper Ferntree Gully during the afternoon. Twenty-one CFA appliances and 168 personnel attended this fire, assisted by a heavy helicopter that was redeployed from Bunyip. The fire was eventually brought under control at about 9:30pm. The CFA described the fire as having the ‘most significant potential’ for losses on the day, because it burned at the foothills of Mt Dandenong, in a heavily populated area of Melbourne.



Figure 3: Satellite image showing the fires burning at 3:55pm on 7 February 2009




The Commission is examining 12 of the largest fires, in which lives were lost or significant damage occurred.
These are the Kilmore East, Murrindindi, Churchill, Delburn, Bunyip, Narre Warren, Beechworth-Mudgegonga, Bendigo, Redesdale, Coleraine, Horsham and Pomborneit-Weerite fires.

Chapter 1 of this report records some detail on each of these fires. Their location is illustrated in Figure 1.
Detailed evidence has only been received on the Kilmore East fire, but the Commission intends to continue with
its investigation of the fires in the next phase of its work.

While the major damage from the fires occurred on 7 February, even after that date considerable fire activity remained. The Kilmore East–Murrindindi fire, for example, was not under control until 10 March and not considered safe until 27 April. Similarly, the Bunyip fire was not under control until 15 March.

The Commission’s detailed examination of how the authorities dealt with the Kilmore East fire complemented other evidence it received on bushfire operations and policy, and has enabled it to reach conclusions on changes that should be implemented for the 2009–10 bushfire season.



Warnings and Information

Timely warnings save lives. The community expects and depends on detailed and high quality information prior to, during, and after bushfires. The community is also entitled to receive timely and accurate bushfire warnings whenever possible, based on the intelligence available to the control agencies.

Though they are distinct concepts, the provision of information (Chapter 5), warnings (Chapter 4) and the response to emergency calls (Chapter 12) are inextricably linked. Ongoing information about bushfires prepares the community and educates on the appropriate steps to take if a warning is issued. In contrast, a bushfire warning is specific advice about an imminent event. Such a warning should propel the community into action in response to a specific threat — ideally, armed with the information and education which has prepared them to respond.

Prior to 7 February the State Government devoted unprecedented efforts and resources to informing the community about the fire risks Victoria faced. That campaign clearly had benefits, but it could not, on its own, translate levels of awareness and preparedness into universal action that minimised risk on the day of the fires. Indeed, no campaign will have universal success. The effectiveness of any campaign depends on the quality of information, the modes of dissemination and the willingness and capacity of people to hear, understand and act on the message. This is a shared responsibility between government and the people.

However, there were a number of weaknesses and failures with Victoria’s information and warning systems on
7 February. Warnings were often delayed which meant that many people were not warned at all or the amount of
time they had to respond to the warnings was much less than it should have been. The warnings that were issued often did not give people a clear understanding of the location and severity of the fire and how they should respond.

The methods of delivery of the warnings were also inadequate. Some techniques for raising awareness such as the use of an emergency warning signal to capture people’s attention when warnings are broadcast were not used. Similarly, other avenues for issuing and raising awareness of warnings were not encouraged, such as the use of local sirens or the use of commercial radio and television.

Finally, the sources of information and warnings that were available during the fire did not cope well with the level of demand. People had difficulty getting onto the relevant websites and about 80 per cent of the calls to the Victorian Bushfire Information Line were unanswered. Often the information available through these sources was incomplete or out of date.

During the afternoon of 7 February the emergency telephone call services (Telstra’s Triple Zero service and the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority) experienced unprecedented demand which resulted in serious failures. Large numbers of calls were not answered and many callers could not be connected to the relevant authorities, leading to a significant number of abandoned calls. The collapse of the system caused extreme stress to both the callers and the operators.

There are opportunities to improve the content, sources and means of disseminating bushfire information and warnings to the public. The Commission’s recommendations cover the following:

•    improving the quality of bushfire information and warning messages by adopting standard language already developed for national usage

•    simplifying the format of bushfire warnings

•    reintroducing the Standard Emergency Warning Signal to draw attention to broadcast warnings about life threatening fires

•    extending the broadcasting of official warnings to commercial radio and television

•    allowing the reintroduction of sirens in local communities where there is demand for them

•    supporting the acceleration of the full introduction of a nationally developed telephone based automatic
warning system

•    pursuing research into the development of improved fire danger index systems

•    enhancing the role of the Bureau of Meteorology in issuing daily information on bushfire risk

•    improving technology and processes to accelerate the updating of common bushfire information
on agency websites

•    increasing the capacity of the bushfire emergency networks, the Victorian Bushfire Information Line, Telstra’s
Triple Zero service and the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority to better handle peak demands, and to work more collaboratively during severe fire risk days.

Many of these changes will need to be accompanied by an education campaign so that people understand the changes and how to interpret the information that is provided.

Protecting People During Bushfires

Stay or Go

In Victoria, community response to bushfire is guided by a policy that directs residents to Prepare, Stay and Defend or Leave Early, known more commonly as the ‘stay or go’ policy (Chapter 7). This policy has been developed over many years and reflects an understanding from research into past fires that with proper planning and prior preparation, most buildings can be successfully defended from a bushfire. The alternative is to plan to leave early.

An analysis of this policy approach against the background of the recent fires has led the Commission to conclude that there has been insufficient emphasis on the risks of staying and defending. Unquestionably the safest course
is always to leave early. To stay may still be an appropriate option for some, particularly in less dangerous bushfires, but a number of conditions need to be satisfied.

To stay requires considerable effort to prepare a property and make it defendable. But some properties, because
of their nature and locality, will not be defendable in extremely dangerous bushfires.

To defend a property successfully requires considerable physical effort and emotional strain. Often more than one person needs to be involved. It is a task for those who are physically fit and mentally strong. It is not a place for children, older people or the infirm.

Properties also need to have a range of auxiliary equipment to bushfire standards, and an ample water supply
that will not be affected by a loss of mains power.

In addition, the concept of defendable space needs to be given stronger recognition as an important element
in the range of bushfire protection policies and processes.

These messages need greater acknowledgement in the written publications, training and advice provided
by the CFA.

The Commission has recommended that the emphasis of CFA community education literature and advice
be changed and improved to more realistically acknowledge the risks of extremely dangerous bushfires.

For those who choose to stay and defend, the risks should be spelt out more plainly, including the risk of death. People should also be encouraged to recognise that not all houses are defendable in all situations and contingencies need to be considered in case the plan to stay and defend fails.

It is recommended that the CFA should have the authority to give specific advice about the defendability of individual properties and whether residents should relocate rather than trying to stay and defend. Aids for self assessment of a home’s defendability should also be improved and made more readily available.

For those who plan to leave, there should be more explicit advice on triggers that should be used to determine
when to go.

People need to have options other than the simple alternatives of ‘stay’ or ‘go’. The experience of these fires demonstrates that a personal fire plan needs to recognise that a person’s preferred option may not be possible and sometimes fails. In the view of the Commission, the availability of local areas of refuge is an important and essential complement to the ‘stay or go’ policy.


The State’s fire refuges policy introduced in 2005 has not resulted in any new refuges being established in Victoria, and has raised questions about the few existing refuges that continue to be recognised. In the Commission’s view, the current lack of refuges fails to provide for those who find themselves in danger when their plans fail, are overwhelmed by circumstances, change their minds, or have no plan. The lack of refuges in Victoria also fails to assist people in areas threatened by fire who are away from their homes, such as employees, visitors, tourists, travellers and campers. Any option, which reduces the risk to people in these circumstances, warrants consideration by the State (Chapter 8).

A new approach, which is capable of providing more options for the community, should be embraced. Such an approach would shift the emphasis away from an exclusive focus on purpose built structures acting as refuges,
and permit the use of existing venues (including car parks, amenities blocks and dam walls) and open spaces
(such as ovals, sporting grounds and race tracks).

A regime for designating community fire refuges should balance achievable criteria for their identification and operation, with the need to provide a range of options with appropriate minimum safety standards. The Commission has recommended that the State commence identifying and establishing designated community refuges, particularly in areas of high bushfire risk.

The State suggested the Commission should consider other options such as ‘safer places in a neighbourhood, informal places of shelter and township protection plans’. In this context, the State said that it will, for the next bushfire season, start identifying appropriate sites as ‘neighbourhood safer places’ and will educate the public
about the appropriate use of those places. This initiative is welcomed and supported by the Commission.

The CFA should endeavour to give priority to providing resources to assist the defence of designated community refuges and neighbourhood safer places during the passage of a fire front to enhance the safety of those who may seek to rely on these facilities.


The Commission received little support for compulsory evacuation. However, the evidence before the Commission indicates that people need more guidance on whether they should plan to relocate because their house cannot be defended, and on the ease with which they can leave safely. There was recognition that bushfire warnings in some locations should advise people to urgently leave, even with an approaching fire (Chapter 6).

The responsibility for recommending relocation should rest with the Incident Controller managing the fire, who is considered to be in the best place to make such judgments. The recommendations of the Incident Controller would be advisory. The existence of community designated refuges and neighbourhood safer places is relevant in this context as is advice from the police on the availability of safe open exit roads.

Three government schools (Strathewen Primary School, Marysville Primary School, Middle Kinglake Primary
School) and three kindergartens (Kinglake Kindergarten, Flowerdale Kindergarten and Marysville Kindergarten)
were destroyed by fire on 7 February.

Bushfire policies for schools in Victoria, as at 7 February, were less than ideal. There was no state-wide policy requiring government schools to evacuate, close or use a fire refuge in event of fire.

Since 7 February, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) has implemented significant policy changes:

•    a new procedure for school closures on total fire ban days and days of extreme fire risk

•    a safety audit of refuges in schools in the Eastern and Northern Metropolitan Regions

•    provision of the Bushfire Safety Checklist to children’s services.

DEECD is commended for moving quickly and decisively, but further work needs to be done. The Commission
has recommended that DEECD complete its review of refuges and complete priority rectification work to refuges
in schools. It should also review the adequacy of bushfire protection measures for kindergartens, child care centres, preschools and early learning centres.

Local Government

Local government is a significant player in regulating and supporting townships and communities under their jurisdiction. Recommendations have been made that will enable municipal councils to have a preventative role in leading and contributing to some initiatives aimed at helping to make their communities safer and to protect people during bushfires. They are being asked specifically to review their Municipal Emergency Management Plans to ensure that they include appropriate provision for refuges and relocations that may occur during bushfires.

Police Roadblocks

Roadblocks were a particular source of frustration and annoyance during the fires. The main criticism was that they were applied too inflexibly and added an additional burden to people already highly stressed. The Commission has recommended that Victoria Police review its guidelines on the operation of roadblocks with the aim of creating a more flexible set of procedures, particularly for local people whose bona fides can be established (Chapter 10).


Areas of Victoria at risk of bushfire are identified in several different ways. The evidence to date has revealed different processes for identifying areas at risk for the purposes of emergency management planning, land use planning and building regulation.

The Commission notes that fragmented planning, including risk identification, was one of the factors that led to the development of the Integrated Fire Management Planning Framework endorsed in principle by the State in September 2006, but not yet implemented.

The Commission endorses the concept of integrated, whole of government fire management planning. This has
the potential to lead to the introduction of planning processes that make communities safer and are easier to use.
This project should be given higher priority.


Victoria’s Emergency Management Act 1986 was enacted following the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983, to provide a legislative foundation for emergency management involving an all hazards, all agencies approach, and appropriate coordination of all agencies involved in the response to, or recovery from, an emergency.

The ‘all hazards’ approach to emergency management recognises that all emergencies cause similar problems and that many of the measures required to deal with emergencies are generic. The ‘all agencies’ aspect of Victoria’s emergency management arrangements recognises that all agencies have a role in emergency management and protecting the community from identified risks.

Whatever arrangements the State chooses to follow during the forthcoming bushfire season, the Commission intends to examine further the emergency management arrangements for bushfires. This is considered necessary to ensure that the lessons from the 2009 bushfires can be taken into account in determining the strategic emergency management structure that will best serve Victoria for the future.

From the evidence heard to date, the Commission believes that immediate changes are required to the State Emergency Response Plan (SERP). The SERP does not clearly designate the agency responsible for issuing warnings and recommending relocation.

In addition, the means by which warnings were issued and evacuations were made on 7 February bore little resemblance to the arrangements in the SERP.

Diffuse or unclear responsibility for warnings and relocation is at best unhelpful and at worst life threatening in an emergency. It is unsatisfactory that the SERP does not designate clearly the responsibilities of agencies and emergency response coordinators to issue warnings and to advise people to relocate during an emergency. The Commission has recommended that the SERP be amended to give clear responsibility to the control agency to issue warnings. (Chapter 10). To avoid confusion as to which agency is responsible for these matters, emergency response coordinators should not be responsible for warnings and advice to relocate.


Operational Matters

Examination of the management of the Kilmore East fire has identified several areas where the Commission is satisfied that it has sufficient evidence to warrant recommending some changes to operational arrangements for bushfire management (Chapter 9). Desirably, these changes would be in place before the next bushfire season.

During the public hearings reference was made to the lack of statutory responsibility in the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 for issuing community warnings. The Commission is of the view that this responsibility should have been understood and accepted by the CFA as a normal part of its functions. However, to remove any ambiguity between the roles of the CFA and Victoria Police, the Commission has recommended that the legislation be amended. The State has indicated that it accepts the need for an amendment. Unambiguous arrangements should be in place for the next bushfire season.

A complementary authority for the Chief Fire Officer of the Department of Sustainability and Environment is recommended in the form of a formal delegation of powers.

Other recommendations have been made relating to the selection of the Incident Controller on the basis of competence, and to the widening of the responsibilities of the Incident Controller in issuing bushfire warnings
including when staff may not be directly responsible for management of the fire.

Finally, State Duty Officers’ responsibilities for ensuring that proper staffing and set up of pre-designated Incident Control Centres should be made more explicit.

Commonwealth Role

The Commonwealth plays an important role in supporting the states and territories, particularly in the recovery
phase. It continued this role after the 7 February bushfires, with considerable assistance, particularly from the Australian Defence Force. The Commonwealth has also encouraged national approaches to disaster management (Chapter 11).

The Commonwealth has said it is willing to discuss with the states and territories the nature of its contribution, which the Commission welcomes. This includes exploring whether Commonwealth technology could be used to improve the contribution that remote imagery plays in supporting bushfire suppression operations. More regular contact between Commonwealth entities and state and territory fire agencies is recommended. This would strengthen the relationship and understanding of both levels of government.

Implementation by the 2010 Fire Season

Overall, the State Government carries much of the responsibility for deciding on the direction of change, funding it, and charging the various State agencies with the implementation tasks that will arise from the Commission’s recommendations. The Commission is sympathetic to the views expressed by State’s Counsel in the final stages
of the recent round of hearings that some matters raised in Counsel Assisting’s suggested recommendations would
be difficult to implement in time for the 2009–10 bushfire season.

As far as possible, the Commission has endeavoured to frame its recommendations with a realistic assessment of the State’s concerns in mind. The Commission agrees with the State that it is important to develop a comprehensive package of material to assist in the re-education of the community to understand the significant role individuals and households must play, in any new arrangements. Recommendations have been framed with this in mind.

However, in some areas the lessons from the Commission’s analysis so far of the 2009 bushfires are so compelling that it would be unfortunate if the benefits of these changes are not made available to the community in the forthcoming bushfire season.

The 2009–10 bushfire season might or might not be as serious as the past season. The awareness of the number
of lives lost in 2009, strengthens the Commission’s resolve to encourage the State to do all in its power to implement those recommendations that have a direct bearing on the protection and safety of individuals and communities.


The Commission is required to deliver a final report on 31 July 2010. A further 28 weeks of public hearings are scheduled to examine the issues specified in the Commission’s Terms of Reference. An outline of the program
of hearings and topics to be covered is in Chapter 13 of this report.

The overarching focus of the work of the Commission will remain on the protection of human life. Recommendations to minimise the likelihood of a reoccurrence of the tragedy of 7 February will be provided to the people of Victoria in memory of family and friends lost in the bushfires.


The Commission makes 51 recommendations in this interim report. In making these recommendations the Commission focused predominantly on changes that can be implemented prior to the 2009–10 bushfire season
to enhance the protection of human lives.

The Commission has set dates for the relevant responsible party or parties to advise the Commission
on the implementation of each recommendation. Specifically, parties are to provide to the Commission:

•    an Implementation Plan by 30 September 2009 — being brief advice setting out the proposed response, allocated responsibilities and schedule to implement a recommendation; and

•    a Delivery Report by 31 March 2010 — being a more detailed report on the progress made towards implementing each recommendation and, where appropriate, the outcomes and effectiveness of the response.

In respect of each recommendation, the Commission is seeking a single report. Where a number of parties are responsible for a recommendation, the Commission would appreciate one party coordinating a single, consolidated report. Further, with respect to Recommendations 6.4 and 8.2, it would assist the Commission if the Municipal Association of Victoria coordinates the Implementation Plan and Delivery Report, consolidating the responses by relevant individual municipal councils.

The recommendations from each chapter are listed below (not all chapters contain recommendations).



Chapter 4 Warnings



The State ensure that bushfire warnings issued in Victoria:

•   are founded on the principle of maximising the potential to save human lives;

•   embody the principles encapsulated in Recommendation 8.5 of the Council of Australian Governments report, the National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management (2004);

•   embody the principles endorsed in the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council Draft Discussion Paper, A National Systems Approach to Community Warning (May 2009); and

•   incorporate the use of the Common Alerting Protocol, as adapted for the Australian context.


The State ensure that the content of bushfire warnings issued in Victoria reflects the principles set out in the Commonwealth policy paper Emergency Warnings — Choosing Your Words (2008). In particular, all bushfire warnings issued in Victoria must use clear language, avoid euphemisms, and contain explicit information in relation to:

•   the severity, location, predicted direction and likely time of impact of bushfires on specific communities and locations; and

•   the predicted severity of impact of the bushfire and whether a specific fire poses a threat to human life.


The State commission research into the development of a new fire severity scale that denotes the risk posed by dangerous and extremely dangerous bushfires (similar to the cyclone categories 1 to 5).


The State ensure bushfire warnings in Victoria are confined to two categories or stages:

•   Bushfire Information — a message providing information to the community on a bushfire that is ‘going’
and has the potential to threaten public safety; and

•   Bushfire Warning — a warning to the community about any dangerous or extremely dangerous bushfire, particularly one that is burning out of control and poses a threat to human life.


The State ensure that the Standard Emergency Warning Signal (SEWS) be used in Victoria to precede each bushfire warning or group of warnings for bushfires that are dangerous or extremely dangerous, particularly for a fire that is burning out of control and poses a threat to human life, subject to appropriate limits on the maximum frequency of use.


The State invite commercial operators to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), similar to its MOU with the ABC, on the dissemination of bushfire warning messages and the use of the Standard Emergency Warning Signal by those operators.



The Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner and the CFA develop guidelines for the use of sirens in communities that decide to use a siren as part of their response to bushfires.


The Australian Government, Council of Australian Governments and the State determine whether it is technically possible to implement the second phase of the national telephony-based warning system
(that is, the delivery of warning messages to mobile phones based on the physical location of a handset at the time of the emergency) with a view to implementation for the 2009–10 bushfire season.


Chapter 5 Information



The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council and the Bureau of Meteorology collaborate with researchers to explore options for the fire danger indices and fire danger ratings including:

•   an additional fire danger rating beyond ‘Extreme’;

•   adjusting the existing fire danger ratings to correspond to higher Fire Danger Index values; and

•   developing a revised fire severity scale for use in bushfire warnings based on new fire danger ratings.


The Bureau of Meteorology include the Forest Fire Danger Index and the Grass Fire Danger Index in its fire weather warnings and general weather forecasts on its website and in material distributed to the media.


The State ensure that a single, multi-agency portal for bushfire information be established that uploads information simultaneously to both CFA and DSE websites.


The State ensure that the single multi-agency portal for bushfire information be designed to allow Incident Control Centres to directly post information and warnings.


The State ensure the Victorian Bushfire Information Line is funded to enable it to provide greater surge capacity during extreme events and to improve the efficiency of its internal information function.


Chapter 6 Relocation



The State amend the State Emergency Response Plan so that the word relocation is used in preference
to the word evacuation (except in cases where evacuation is clearly more appropriate).


The CFA amend its policy Advice to the Community Before and During Wildfire to enable trained CFA personnel to recommend to particular households, communities or locations that they plan to leave early, based on an assessment of defendability, the vulnerabilities of the people there, and the degree of ease with which people are able to leave the area in relative safety.


The CFA and DSE amend operational policies to require the Incident Controller to assess whether relocation should occur and to recommend relocation when warranted.


Municipal councils review their Municipal Emergency Management Plans to ensure there is appropriate provision for relocation during bushfires, in particular, to indicate the location and arrangements associated with designated emergency relief centres.



Chapter 7 Stay or Go



The CFA revise the publications and programs by which it communicates with the community about preparing for bushfires and what to do in the event of a bushfire to:

•   reinforce existing advice that community members should prepare, and decide, well before a fire occurs, whether to leave early or stay and defend their homes; and

•   clearly convey the following principles:

•    the safest option is always to leave early rather than to stay and defend,

•    not all homes are defendable in all circumstances and householders are advised to undertake
an individual assessment of defendability,

•    unless a property is defendable the advice is to leave early,

•    the impact of topography, fire weather and fire intensity on defendability should be factored
into household assessments,

•    the risks of staying to defend include the risk of physical injury and death,

•    contingencies are needed as the best-made plans may fail,

•    even if a plan is to stay, preparations to enable leaving should also be made, including the
preparation of a ‘relocation’ kit specifying the location of designated community fire refuges,

•    there could be psychological impacts of staying to defend a property, it is inadvisable for children to be present during the defence of properties, practical steps are needed to protect the vulnerable. Families with young children, older people, and disabled people are advised to plan for early relocation, advice on triggers for when to leave to incorporate the need for flexibility, the dangers of leaving late and the undertaking that a warning may not be received, and advice in relation to the policy specifically targeted to urban communities on the urban/rural interface.


The CFA consider the means of providing individual advice to residents in bushfire prone areas, as to the defendability of their homes.


The CFA ensure its members are fully trained as to the changes to the advice to the community set out
in Recommendation 7.1.


The CFA train facilitators and educators and ensure manuals, brochures and other materials are enhanced to incorporate changes to the advice to the community in relation to the ‘stay or go’ policy and the changes recommended elsewhere in this report.


The State and its agencies implement an advertising and awareness campaign on the changes to policy and practices as set out in this report, such as the Standard Emergency Warning Signal, telephony-based warning system, use of sirens by local communities, refuges and relocation.

Chapter 8 Risk and Refuge



The CFA report to the Commission on the outcome of the trials of the Victorian Fire Risk Register and progress with its implementation.


The Municipal Association of Victoria report to the Commission on the progress of amendments to Municipal Emergency Management Plans by those municipal councils trialling the Victorian Fire Risk Register.


The CFA give priority where possible to provide resources to assist in the defence of designated community fire refuges and neighbourhood safer places at times when they are likely to be in use.


The State replace the 2005 Fire Refuges in Victoria: Policy and Practice following its current review
by the Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner.


The State promulgate criteria for the identification and operation of neighbourhood safer places,
and involve councils and local communities in their development and implementation as appropriate.


The State to have commenced progressively identifying, establishing and advertising designated community refuges and neighbourhood safer places, giving priority to areas where bushfire risk is identified as high.


Municipal councils record the location of designated community fire refuges and neighbourhood safer places in Municipal Fire Prevention Plans and Municipal Emergency Management Plans, and inform residents and visitors about their use and location.


The State to have developed uniform signs for designated community fire refuges and neighbourhood safer places in Victoria.


The CFA maintain an up to date, state-wide list showing the precise location of all designated community fire refuges and neighbourhood safer places, and provide the list to DSE, Victoria Police, the State Emergency Service, the Municipal Association of Victoria, the Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner, and the Victorian Bushfire Information Line.


The State report to the Commission on the results of the implementation and effectiveness of its township protection plan program and neighbourhood safer places program.




The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development complete a review of all refuges in all schools in areas at risk of bushfire.


The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development give priority to rectification works to refuges identified in the Victorian Managed Insurance Authority report.


The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development review the adequacy of bushfire fire protection measures in children’s services facilities including kindergartens, child care centres, preschools and early learning centres.



Chapter 9 Incident Management: a Case Study



The State ensure that State Duty Officers of the CFA and DSE be given direct responsibility for ensuring pre-designated level 3 Incident Control Centres within their respective control are properly staffed and equipped to enable immediate operation in the case of a fire on high fire risk days.


The CFA and DSE agree procedures to ensure the most experienced, qualified and competent person
is appointed as Incident Controller for each fire, irrespective of the point of ignition of the fire.


The CFA and DSE ensure that where a level 3 Incident Controller or officer of equivalent ranking
is satisfied that a bushfire warning is required, then such Incident Controller is authorised to release
a warning where the designated Incident Controller is temporarily unavailable.


The State amend the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 to provide that the Chief Officer has responsibility
to issue warnings and provide information to the community concerning the risk of bushfires.


The CFA effect a standing delegation of the responsibility for providing information and issuing warnings to the DSE Chief Fire Officer where a fire is directed to be under the control of a DSE
Incident Controller.




Chapter 10 Emergency Management



The State amend the State Emergency Response Plan:

so the control agency for a fire is responsible for issuing and communicating warnings; and to remove from emergency response coordinators the responsibility of ensuring the control agency gives consideration to alerting the public to dangers and potential dangers arising from an emergency.


The State revise the Emergency Management Manual Victoria consistent with the interim report recommendations in relation to the ‘stay or go’ policy, warnings and relocations.


The State settle the higher level emergency management and coordination arrangements that will apply during the bushfire season, noting that the Commission intends to take evidence on longer-term arrangements during its 2010 public hearings.


The State report to the Commission on the outcome of the current review by Victoria Police of the
State Emergency Response Plan.


Victoria Police, in consultation with CFA and DSE, review the guidelines for the operation of roadblocks during bushfires, including how to:

formulate the terms of a discretion to police on roadblocks to allow entry to:

residents returning to their homes;

people delivering relief and aid to residents and to animals; 

essential services crews; and

expedite the exercise of the discretion in favour of persons able to establish their bona fides.


The CFA and DSE amend operating protocols to ensure that when an Incident Controller requests Victoria Police establish a roadblock to an area threatened by a bushfire, the Incident Controller simultaneously issues a bushfire warning to residents of that area.




Chapter 11 Commonwealth Response



The Commonwealth facilitate discussions between relevant Commonwealth agencies (including Emergency Management Australia, Defence, Defence Imagery Geospatial Organisation and Geoscience Australia) and state and territory fire services to identify ways in which Commonwealth resources might be applied more rapidly and effectively during extremely dangerous bushfires, including investigating the potential for these resources to be used for detecting, tracking and suppressing bushfires.


The Commonwealth, through Emergency Management Australia, provide briefings at least once a year to state and territory agencies regarding arrangements available (including through Defence) to support jurisdictions during disasters and emergencies, including bushfires. State and territory representatives should advise relevant Ministers and the Chief Officers of emergency services (including fire services)
of the outcomes of these briefings.



Chapter 12 Emergency calls



The Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner formally advise the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority and Telstra Triple Zero of forecast severe fire risk days and particularly
days where there is a risk of extremely dangerous bushfires.


The State ensure the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA) is funded to provide greater surge capacity during extreme events, including establishing additional work stations for fire
calls at ESTA centres.


The State further promote, through the Council of Australian Governments, more effective emergency
call service arrangements throughout Australia.