Bushfire Season is Nearly Upon Us - Is Your School Prepared for its Bushfire Risks?

Published
15 October 2020

The bushfire season of 2019/20 affected every Australian and has left physical scars on our country and emotional scars on the people involved. Whether your school community was directly affected by bushfires or not, we all witnessed the devastation and empathised with the communities and the survivors. We are still counting the losses of lives and properties, the loss of wildlife and the damage to the environment.

In Is your school bushfire ready? School Governance reminded all schools that they need to be prepared for bushfires and the raft of potential life threatening hazards that can accompany them. Even schools set in suburban landscapes can be affected by bushfires if they have bush areas on campus or if they are in proximity to public open space or small pockets of undeveloped land.

In a similar article in late 2019, The Increasing Prevalence of Bushfires: Even Metropolitan Schools Can Be Affected we argued that your bushfire risk­ management process, as part of your school’s total enterprise risk management system, can provide your school with a framework for the effective management of bushfire (and bushfire-related) threats and accommodate our changing climate and weather patterns. A risk management process will focus your school’s attention on both the threats and the emergencies/critical incidents and on the context in which these are set within the school.

 

Preparation

School Governance has previously listed several valuable resources for schools regarding bush fire preparedness. Updated resources for 2020 include:

The list of practical applications below, republished (and updated) from several School Governance articles, should be a reminder for all schools and may assist them in updating their mitigation strategies for bushfires.

  1. Your school should be annually assessed by a qualified consultant or company regarding its bushfire risk status. A consultant may also be able to assist your school with the development of your bushfire management plan and development of your safer place or zone.
  2. Prepare the physical surrounds of your school. This means meeting your local government firebreak regulations and having fuel sources (fuel load reduction) cleared at least 20 metres from around buildings.
  3. Create an Asset Protection Zone by removing tree branches that overhang buildings.
  4. Prepare for ember attacks by ensuring that air-conditioners can be turned off and by having no leaf litter and other fuel sources in guttering or on roof spaces.
  5. Ensure that all flammable products/materials (e.g. petroleum fuel for garden equipment or other combustible products) can be stored safely.
  6. Ensure that all evacuation paths are clear of clutter. Remember to include provisions for any member of your school community with a disability. Getting a wheelchair through a sandy open space is not a clear evacuation path.
  7. Evacuation assembly points must have clear signage and, like evacuation paths, they must be free of all clutter and have appropriate access to emergency equipment.
  8. Ensure that your campus safer zone, safer space or shelter-in-space (Vic) is prepared and ready in the event that it might be used to save lives – for example, having water supplies, blankets, first aid kits, communication devices and so forth updated and readily accessible. Please note that your campus safer zone, safer space or shelter-in-space should be assessed and approved by a qualified bushfire consultant to ensure that it is appropriate for your school’s needs and for your school environment.
  9. Log onto your state or territory (or regional) fire service website (see the examples towards the end of this article) to access the fire safety information for your jurisdiction and to access the most up-to-date fire warnings. If possible, enrol your school to receive the email and phone warnings issued by your local or jurisdictional fire and emergency department.
  10. Regularly log onto the Bureau of Meteorology  (BOM) website to access the most up-to-date weather patterns and warnings regarding severe weather conditions and fire condition warnings for your local community.
  11. Regularly log onto the department of parks and wildlife in your state or territory. Some fire warnings that take place in gazetted parks and on Commonwealth land may be reported first by the relevant parks authority and not by the fire services.
  12. Log onto your state or territory school association website and refer to any bushfire policy guidelines that may be available for school use.
  13. Monitor ABC Radio  in your local area-the Australian Broadcasting Corporation receives fire and emergency services as well as BOM Fire Weather Warnings for most areas of the country-they broadcast these warnings as and when necessary.
  14. Appoint staff to monitor the parks and wildlife services and BOM websites on a daily or more regular basis, depending on fire warnings and the BOM Fire Weather Warning for your region. Note that, if your school has students who are attending a camp site or another venue off site, a responsible supervisor for the camp/tour excursion should be allocated this role.
  15. Train your staff in the use of fire-fighting equipment such as fire extinguishers, fire blankets and fire hoses. If you consider that you have a risk of ‘accidental’ fires at your school, you may need to train your grounds staff, science staff, manual arts, food preparation and canteen staff in the use of the extinguishers etc. Annual training in the use of equipment to extinguish fires before they become real problems is essential. In addition, staff and some volunteers should be first aid trained and trained to deal with trauma and crisis.
  16. Have an up-to-date Emergency and Critical Incident Plan (or Emergency Management Plan-Vic) that includes bush fire or fire preparedness, lock down (to a safer location on campus) or evacuation (to a safer location on or off campus). This should also include out of hours events. Has your plan been communicated to all of your students, staff, relief staff, parents, student transport company and the local police, fire or other emergency services offices?
  17. Has your school conducted an emergency evacuation or lock-down drill? Is one planned for later in Term 4 or perhaps very early in Term 1?
  18. Ensure that your communication plans regarding your school’s level of preparedness for fires and critical incidents have been shared with ALL members of your school community, and this includes having plans in place in the event of a lock down or evacuation.
  19. Ensure that your emergency communication equipment, class rolls and visitor logbooks, contact details of parents/guardians, first aid kits, provisions for students with special needs and so on are all up-to-date and able to be collected in the event of an evacuation. These need to include direct communication with emergency services.

We also recommend that schools in regional or bushfire prone areas develop their bushfire plan with their local fire and emergencies services department and the local police.

 

Fire Emergency Services

The following are links to the websites of fire services across the country:

 

Conclusion

Will your school be bushfire ready for the 2020/21 bushfire season? What are the consequences if you have a bushfire risk and you choose to ignore it?


We believe that no school will be complacent regarding bushfires, following the bushfire disasters and tragedies of 2019/20. However, the time to act and prepare for the bushfire season is now, before it begins, and not afterwards.

In addition, given the immense workload and extreme busyness of the first few weeks of Term 1 in any school, it would be preferable for all planning to take place now so that you need only have to do a final check and one or two evacuation/lockdown drills at the commencement of the new school year.

To assist schools with these challenges and to prepare for the 2020/21 bushfire season, the learning team at CompliSpace has curated/created a free Bushfire Safety & Wellbeing Professional Online Learning List that covers both the practical and emotional sides of bushfire readiness and recovery. Please see the link below for this free resource.

 

 

FREE: Bushfire Safety & Wellbeing Professional Learning for Schools

 

Learn more about our Bushfire Online Learning

 

 

Craig D’cruz

With 37 years of educational experience, Craig D’cruz is the National Education Lead at CompliSpace. Craig provides direction on education matters including new products, program/module content and training. Previously Craig held the roles of Industrial Officer at the Association of Independent Schools of WA, he was the Principal of a K-12 non-government school, Deputy Principal of a systemic non-government school and he has had teaching and leadership experience in both the independent and Catholic school sectors. Craig currently sits on the board of a large non-government school and is a regular presenter on behalf of CompliSpace and other educational bodies on issues relating to school governance, school culture and leadership.