Research reinforces what we know about warnings

New research undertaken in Australia relating to bushfires is repeatedly showing that what we know about human behaviour in bushfires isn’t changing.

Funny that. Dr Rob Gordon says we use the “reptilian brain” when responding to disasters. It’s been slowly adapting for hundreds of thousands of years, so its unlikely new technology is going to change it in the blink of an eye.

Jim Mclennan who’s been a great deal of research into how people and communities respond to disasters has recently sent me two research items which describe people’s preparation activities.

In summary he seems to be suggesting that warnings issued by weather agencies and emergency responders in Australia should be modified to ensure they meet a variety of different human needs.

DFES Bushfire Alerts and Warnings Report September 2013_Redacted

capturing_community_experiences_sa_bushfires_january_2014

capturing_community_experiences_sa_bushfires_january_2014

Jim McLennan (PhD) Bushfire Safety Researcher Chair, Science, Health & Engineering College Human Research Ethics Sub-Committee, Adjunct Professor, Department of Psychology & Counselling,  La Trobe University, Bundoora VIC 3086 AUSTRALIA

email: J.McLennan@latrobe.edu.au

 

 

 

Ten years of “emergency broadcasting” in Victoria – now what?

My professional position is as the Manager of Emergency Broadcasting and Community Development for The Australian Broadcasting Corporation Local Radio division. It was my delight to be able to attend on Friday March 28 an event to acknowledge the tenth anniversary of the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with The ABC, the Bureau of Meteorology and Victorian emergency agencies.

The agreement provided a reliable, 24/7 platform on which those agencies could issue warnings to the community at any time for any event, knowing the ABC would broadcast them repeatedly and for as long as necessary, to enable the community to respond to the event. We now make the same undertaking on TV and online (including social media).

The March 28 event was arranged by the Victorian Fire Commissioner Craig Lapsley, and the key note address was by the Victorian Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Hon Kim Wells.

“It is an honour to receive on behalf of all ABC staff a tribute from The Hon Kim Wells today marking ten years since Bruce Esplin and I signed the first MoU to commit the ABC to broadcast warnings delivered by the Bureau of Meteorology and the CFA.

The process of issuing warnings to the public has come a long way since the first, somewhat  hesitant and halting warning in January, 1997. Siusan McKenzie wrote the first warning for us in January 1997, and immediately suggested we wouldn’t be able to broadcast it.

Why – because Siusan knew we would not break into cricket coverage, and the warning, to be effective, would need to be issued repeatedly.

My then director Sue Howard advised me: ”Break in, but don’t tell anyone.”

All hell broke loose inside the ABC, but few now can recall those days long ago.

In fact this January the ABC has implemented a policy committing all staff to create processes to enable us to issue all high level warnings when requested by an emergency agency or government authority on whatever platform we feel is  useful.

This change of culture is highlighted by the fact that now our community expects to receive timely and effective warnings, and on a variety of platforms.

The partnership we have in place with the Bureau of Meteorology and emergency agencies is strong and robust.

Implementing something as new as the principal of “emergency broadcasting” which requires change of culture, attitude and operational procedures in a highly political and highly regulated environment isn’t easy.

It’s a credit to the people involved at the ABC and in emergency agencies that we’ve been able to make this work.

The goodwill is generated because Emergency Broadcasting makes a difference. Timely warnings save lives.

As a manager at The ABC I look at the way we broadcast to the community during disasters and  ask three things: are there any complaints from the community that they didn’t receive any warnings; did we look after our staff; and did things run smoothly.

 

Here in Victoria we can look at the recent example of the catastrophic fire day when there were five simultaneous emergency warnings including three in built up areas. It’s our nightmare, and it came on a nightmare day.

 

There were no complaints from the community that warnings were not received  even though there were emergency warnings in five places that day and hundreds of thousands of people were potentially affected.

 

We did look after our staff. Dealing with bushfires, to me, seems like an intensely personal and intimate activity, putting your life on the line to confront the flames. And sometimes issuing warnings is equally personal and confronting. One of the ABC staff who worked on the Mickleham fires stopped on the way to work and cried, remembering our performance on Black Saturday. The broadcaster nearly turned around, but eventually came to work. That person told me they felt an important job needed doing, and the ABC and emergency agencies were now much better at creating effective warnings. In other words it was safe to come to work.

 

And on that busy day our studio production team worked effectively with the State Control centre and Incident Controllers to provide warnings, context and advice.

 

It’s not lost on me how complex the process of issuing warnings can be. From the volunteer on the fire ground, to the SES worker on a riverbank or an weather forecaster at their desk, it’s difficult to first create sense out of the mess they are facing and then find ways to effectively communicate a message about threat and risk.

 

It’s interesting too that Emergency Broadcasting  is a management dominated initiative…I know staff and volunteers have an important operational role to play and I’m not underestimating that, but there is the work of policy development and strategic planning, stakeholder relationships, dealing with the public and high level enquiries. It’s shone a spotlight on the work of people like Neil Bibby, Bruce Esplin, Russel Rees, Alistair Hainsworth and Ward Rooney, Christine Nixon, Euan Ferguson, Craig Lapsley, Mary Barry, Ewan Waller, and the researchers, like Gary Morgan and John Handmer. And at the ABC, Sue Howard, Michael Mason, Kate Dundas, Mark Scott.

 

These managers took risks with emergency broadcasting. They put their reputations on the line to embrace the concept of emergency broadcasting, they nurtured it, defended it, and can take a great deal of responsibility for the fact it’s now part of the fabric of our life throughout Australia.

But acknowledging a tenth anniversary is also a chance to look forward. And there is more to be done.

As we learn more about the psychology of bushfires from people like Rob Gordon, it’s becoming more and more important to understand warnings have to take account of human behaviour. We know in a disaster human beings  use the side of their brain which works in graphics and images,  so we simply must have more graphics and images in our warnings, and this includes effective fire forecast maps.

We must be on TV. And while the ABC has now moved to ensure that all warnings are carried on News24 we as an industry must make further efforts to get commercial TV involved.

We must learn how to better engage on social media like Facebook and Instagram, to talk directly to the more mobile and younger adults who no longer have to look to their parents for advice at critical times because they have all the information literally in hand.

We must keep reviewing and improving and to do this we need to build even stronger relations with emergency agencies where we are trusted with forecast material and risk evaluations.

At the ABC I know the people involved in emergency broadcasting, and this includes broadcasters, producers, reporters, managers, technical people, MCR, transmission co-ordinators and those in IT and human resources, all of whom come together to make it possible for us to issue effective warnings.

I know them all personally, and am very proud of them, and I know they will all continue to do everything they can to ensure that we issue effective warnings and information when the community needs it.”

Ian Mannix

March 28, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

All I had was the radio – the need for radio when the power fails

Rachael Mead lives at Lobethal Road, Basket Range in the low hills outside Adelaide, in South Australia. Her husband was on a Country FIre Service volunteer truck during the unseasonal “Cherryville” bushfire which hit her valley in the first week of May. 

She has a bushfire plan. She moved the animals to another place when the fire started. She does not listen to 891 ABC Adelaide, (the emergency broadcaster) and was unaware of the sign on the freeway 10 km from her place that suggests she should listen to 891 in an emergency.

 She was not listening to the radio when the fire started as she was relying on her mobile phone access to the CFS website for information, but it eventually became apparent that she would lose power and access to the web site. She streamed 891 to her handset and walked around with it for a while, but then realised her phone battery would fail and she had no way of charging it. Rachael retrieved her battery powered radio from her “ready kit.”

 “I had never thought I would ever use that radio, but now I understand. I will have to change the batteries before every fire season, because without the radio I would have been lost. I would not have had information to enable me to stay and prepare. I would not have known when to turn the sprinklers on and to leave. I had seen the ribbon warnings on ABC TV in the past about other fires and thought that was a good idea, but I couldn’t watch TV when the power went off. The power was switched off by the power authority.”

 “I scanned the radio for a station broadcasting fire coverage, and came across 891 ABC Adelaide and thought because they were local they would probably have something. I waited until they did, and then had no reason to see if other stations had anything.

 “The half hour updates were accurate and useful in the most part. Coming at half hourly intervals meant I could go and do things and always come back at the right time, so I wasn’t glued to my kitchen bench and I could plan my actions.  It was very useful.

“When they came at  15 minute intervals and I also started receiving CFS alerts and the mobile phone started ringing more frequently and it was quite frantic, but then I found myself needing more and more information.

 “At one stage I contacted my husband on the CFS truck and he told me the information was inaccurate about where the fire had reached. They were discussing it quite a bit on the fire ground. I wondered who at the Uraidla Incident Control Centre was giving the radio the information.

 “I went up to the hill and watched the fire while listening on the stream. They were discussing dry cleaning with talk back, which was a bit surprising.

 “My neighbours were also listening to 891.

 “On Friday I had to change my fire plan when the power went out. I recall thinking they (891) were doing a very good job not inflaming the situation with inaccurate or sensationalist coverage. Some neighbours described to me that other media were quite sensationalist but I didn’t feel that with 891. They appeared to be very objective.

 “I cannot image how scared I would have been without the radio. I would have had to leave my house. It was a complete security to me. I was also in my house without even an animal for companionship.”

 “I was very worried about the forecast wind change on the Saturday and listened until 3pm, and recall thinking this was the first time I had ever listened to a footy game on the radio. I have no interest in football. It was the Richmond Tigers v Port Power. I remember thinking I would have appreciated more information during Saturday, as I was very worried about the wind shift.

 “I didnt check the websites after I turned on the radio because I had no power and needed to conserve my phone batteries.

 “The wind shift didn’t occur, and the rain almost started so I switched over the Poetica on Radio National, but when that finished I came back to 891 and listened to the news for any further information.”

 Rachael’s property was not affected.  

 http://redroomcompany.org/poet/rachael-mead/

 

 

Warning sirens to be enhanced in Victoria

(I changed this post 18/12/12) to reflect correspondence from the Victorian Fire Commssioner’s office. )

 

The Victorian Government in Australia has announced a pilot program to establish sirens in some bushfire prone communities this year.

Sirens are a form of warning. As can be seen from previous posts, many believe they are effective externally only; should be part of an integrated warning system; and need a voice activated announcement to provide context.

Many communities feel safer with sirens, other’s tend to believe they prevent people from being pro-active in their hazards behaviour. This leads to complacency.

Overwarning is an issue.

The Victorian system is not integrated.

(Note change here: This sentence from me is not correct: The Fire Commssioner’s office says: “Sirens are to be integrated with osom which means that the warnings go to social media, emergency broadcasters, website and also sets the sirens off.”)

The Victorian Bushfire Commissioner web site says they can be used as part of Victoria’s warning system for all hazards – including flood, fire and storm.

“In the future a siren sounded anywhere in Victoria will have one of two consistent meanings:

  • CFA Brigade siren – a signal sounded for up to 90-seconds will indicate a CFA Brigade has responded to an emergency incident nearby.
  • CFA Brigade sirens and community sirens – a prolonged, 5-minute signal will indicate a significant emergency is underway in the local area, conditions are changing and people must seek further information and take immediate action.

The sound of a siren is a trigger for people to seek more information from other sources, including emergency broadcasters, the Victorian Bushfire Information Line or emergency services websites.

The sirens in Victoria appear to be tone only.

Here is the Victorian Govermnment news release:

Sirens to alert community at pilot locations this summer

Thursday, 22 November 2012 From the Deputy Premier, From the Minister for Police and Emergency Services

Sirens will be used as an additional warning tool across 13 local government areas this summer fire season, as part of a Victorian Coalition Government pilot program . The pilot will see 46 community sirens used to alert 39 towns or communities to any significant emergency or potential danger that could impact on them. Of these sirens, 28 will be located across three council areas to alert communities in the fire-prone Dandenong Ranges.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Police and Emergency Services Peter Ryan said the pilot locations were chosen based on their bushfire risk and access to a working CFA brigade siren or community siren.

“We know Victorian communities want sirens to be used as a warning tool and this pilot will make sure the correct processes are in place, and the community understands their use, before they are rolled out in other appropriate locations across Victoria,” Mr Ryan said.

“The pilot locations are primarily those where CFA brigade stations or infrastructure already have working sirens, however community-owned sirens in Ferny Creek, Steel’s Creek, Blackwood and Greendale will also be activated.

“Sirens are not a stand-alone means of warning the community, they are designed to alert people when a significant emergency is threatening the local area and to seek further information from other channels.

“Residents should then refer to alerts and warnings issued through emergency broadcasters, www.cfa.vic.gov.au, www.ses.vic.gov.au, SKY News television, local ABC radio, the FireReady app for smartphones, and the Victorian Bushfire Information Line or Flood Information Line,” Mr Ryan said. All sirens are being upgraded to connect to existing warning systems so the community has access to multiple, simultaneous alerts about emergency incidents in their area. The sirens will warn of fire, hazardous material incidents, floods and severe storms, in line with the Use of Sirens for Brigade and Community Alerting policy released by the Coalition Government in May.

The pilot siren locations are Lavers Hill, Wye River, Lorne, Cockatoo, Gembrook, Mt Martha, Noojee, Boolarra, Yinnar, Loch Sport, Kinglake, Kinglake West, Flowerdale, The Basin, Belgrave, Belgrave South, Belgrave Heights, Clematis, Emerald, Olinda, Kallista, The Patch, Kalorama, Mt Evelyn, Menzies Creek, Monbulk, Sassafras, Selby, Upwey, Upper Ferntree Gully, Silvan, Narre Warren East, Macclesfield, Blackwood, Greendale, Euroa, Myrtleford, Ferny Creek and Steels Creek. Some locations will have more than one siren. For more information about the Use of Sirens for Brigade and Community Alerting or the sirens pilot visit www.firecommissioner.vic.gov.au

The tale of two warnings

 At the time of writing there are two fires causing authorities some headaches. Overnight it appears about 30 members of the fishing village at Musselroe Bay in North Eastern Tasmania evacuated themselves to the local boat ramp ahead of a bushfire which “jumped containment lines.”

The Tasmania Fire Service issued an emergency warning at 9.35 pm last night and advised residents the township would be affected within half an hour. Today the situation has changed and the town is under a “Watch and Act.”

Meantime Inciweb gives us warnings for a fire at at Fern Lake in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. (Warning reproduced below, under the Tasmanian Fire Service Watch and Act warning.)

The Rocky Mountains Fire service believes more is better, and the amount of information available to residents and travellers is exhaustive.

For Australian The TFS takes a different approach with brevity being paramount but with a lot more effort being put into finding an effective description of the fire, to highlight to readers the threat they might face, and in context too, with fire behaviour being pinpointed. This is part of the Auystralian Bushfires Warning National FGramework, and while it sounds a little clunky, it certainly accurately characterises the fire behaviour.

The fact that the community meeting was being broadcast live from Colorado is exciting to see. ABC Radio in Victoria has been broadcasting community meetings for about a year to much community acclaim.

 

Bushfire Watch & Act Message

CUCKOO CREEK, MUSSELROE BAY
200367

Current from:03/12/2012 01:21 PM     until:  03/12/2012 08:00 PM   or further notice 
 

There is a large bushfire at Cuckoo Creek, MUSSELROE BAY

The fire danger rating in this area is high . Fire under these conditions can be difficult to control .

This fire may affect the communities of Musselroe Bay township 

This bushfire is currently not controlled.

There may be embers, smoke and ash falling on Musselroe Bay township and surrounding areas.

Reported Road Closures:  none at this time but smoke may be covering parts of Musselroe Road and there is a possibility of this road being closed due to increased fire activity

What to do:

Activate your bushfire plan now

If you are away from home: Do not try to return to your home as the roads in this area could be highly dangerous.

Non residents should stay away from the affected areas.

Monitor ABC Local Radio & TFS Website – www.fire.tas.gov.au for further instructions

Community Information:
Fire remains contained on the West side of Musselroe Road and South of River Road.TFS crews have conducted back burn operations between the fire front and Musselroe Road in an effort to contain the fire.

Crew numbers are being increased throughout the day in expectation of increasing wind strengths.
 

Aurora crews on site managing threats to power infrastructure.

If there is any fire activity causing you concern please report it to the TFS by calling Triple Zero (000).
 

TFS Attending Resources:
Resources Arrived:
  2 x MEDIUM TANKER
  3 x LIGHT TANKER
  1 x PERSONNEL CARRIERResources Mobilised:
  1 x TFS
  1 x PERSONNEL CARRIER

Non-TFS Attending Resources:
 Meantime over at Colorado, the Inciweb information is voluminous, and has effective evacuation information, and road closures, but little context.

Fern Lake Fire Announcement Incident 

 Evacuation and Pre-Evacuation Information Incident:

Fern Lake Fire Wildfire Released: 4 hrs. ago

EVACUATION INFORMATION There is a Red Flag warning today. Based on wind forecasts for this evening, residents should be aware that pre-evacuation and evacuation notices could be expanded. Sign up for emergency notifications at www.leta911.org. Changes in current evacuation and pre-evacuation orders are also made through reverse notification. The scope and necessity of evacuations is continuously evaluated. At this time, only individuals with a medical necessity are allowed to re-enter the evacuation area of the Highway 66 corridor with an escort from the Sheriff’s office. The Highway 66 corridor, including all adjacent streets, remains in evacuation. Electrical power is still on in the area. Last night, expanded pre-evacuation reverse notifications were sent to the Marys Lake Road area to include the area from Moraine Avenue and Rock Ridge Road South to Highway 7 and Fish Creek Road. The pre-evacuation notice includes both the east and west sides of Marys Lake Road. Pre-evacuation means that residents should be ready to leave if they receive an evacuation notice. Residents of High Drive and adjacent streets are also on pre-evacuation notice. The residents in this area must present identification to law enforcement at the High Drive road block. No others will be allowed in the area. The evacuation center will transition from the Estes Park High School to the Mountain View Bible Fellowship at 3 p.m. on today, Dec. 2. This location will be used for sheltering and continued evacuee updates. Mountain View Bible Fellowship is located at 1575 South Saint Vrain Ave. /Highway 7, at the corner of Peak View Drive. The transition to the church has been moved up from 5 p.m. to 3 p.m. today. The cooperating agencies, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army are staffing this evacuation center. Information is provided to evacuees on site. Large animals may be taken to the Stanley Park Fairgrounds at 1209 Manford Ave. INCIDENT INFORMATION SOURCES AND BRIEFINGS There will be a community and evacuee meeting at 5 pm today (Dec. 2) at Town Hall in the board room, 170 MacGregor Avenue. This meeting will be live streamed at www.estes.org/boardsandmeetings broadcast live on local cable channel 12. A media briefing will be held at approximately 6 p.m., immediately following the community meeting will be a press briefing at Town Hall. Information on this fire is available at: · http://www.inciweb.org/ · Twitter: @inciweb and #FernLakeFire · Public information line: 970-577-3716 (Open 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. Dec. 2 and Dec. 3) · Media Information line: 970-577-3718 (Open 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. Dec. 2 and Dec. 3) END Unit Information Rocky Mountain National Park National Park Service Incident Contacts Fern Lake Fire Information Phone: 970-577-3716 Hours: 8a-10p daily Traci Weaver Phone: 307-690-1128 more contacts »«

Announcement – 14 min. ago Evacuation and Pre-Evacuation Information Announcement – 4 hrs. ago Fern Lake Fire Dec. 2, 2:30 PM Update News – 5 hrs. ago Community Meeting Tonight and a Red Flag Warning Announcement – 10 hrs. ago

The Pink Firetruck

Fire fighters at Victoria, British Columbia, got into the spirit of Breast cancer awareness month and changed the colour of their main pumper. The truck will remain pink for just a month. Some of the crew wear pink t shirts under their standard issue blue open necked shirts as well.

The hose on the front bumper has been tied to represent the Breast Cancer ribbon!

Bushfire evacuation

 Evacuations from hazardous areas are a standard part of the tool kit of the US emergency manager.The protocols vary from place to place, and they are still ironing out some of the problems in some areas. It doesn’t appear to be a universal or mandatory obligation.

Evacuation route in Washington DC. The public is expected to know when a “snow emergency” is declared, and then not to park on these routes to enable the snow ploughs to operate unimpeded. Cars would be towed away for the ignorant.

 

Tsunami evacuation route sign, waterfront, San Francisco

Uptown Manhattan.

There are many times an evacuation isn’t possible: tornadoes and rapidly moving fires come to mind.  Evacuations are, however, a significant and expected part of the warning system.

Like Australia police have various laws they can use to force people to evacuate, but in reality, they will be very reluctant to physically remove a person from their home if they want to try and defend it. Persuasion is their most effective tool. One Canadian emertency manager said: There are rules that can be put in place to remove children from dangerous places.” That soon convinces parents to follow.

An American emergency agency staff member said the following phrase  is persuasive:  “Before I go I need to know how tall you are so I can bring the right size body bag back.” 

The law is outlined in Community Wildfire Protection Plans, which are implemented in nearly all fire prone regions. This is from Lane County in California:

THE LAW

A county, city or municipal corporation may authorize an agency or official to order mandatory evacuations of residents and other individuals after a declaration of a state of emergency within the jurisdiction is declared. An evacuation under an ordinance or resolution authorized by this section shall be ordered only when necessary for public safety or when necessary for the efficient conduct of activities that minimize or mitigate the effects of the emergency

(ORS 401.309). BE AWARE; after a mandatory evacuation order goes into effect emergency responders will notrisk their lives to save you should you choose to stay at your home after the order

Evacuation procedures need to be planned and trained for. Many roads have warning signs along them which are opened only when an evacuation is in place, restricting travel on the whole road to one direction.

The public needs to know when to evacuate, and where to go. Clearly this is a business that needs good local pre-planning. Doug Gantt, Fire Manager Officer with The US Forest Service says: “You have to front load all this stuff.”

It is the decision of the Incident Controller who will advise the Sheriff that the fire threatens homes or a community, and the evacuation is carried out by law enforcement officers.

During the Pondarosa Fires, Shingletown was issued with a “voluntary evacuation notice,” which was superseded about two hours later by a “mandatory evacuation notice.”

Down at Manton when the fire was out of control and time was much shorter, things worked a little differently. One genteel soul told me (after advising me to cover my ears) “The sheriff’s car drove into my drive, sounded the siren, and he yelled:”You’d better get the fuck outta here.”

This is how the evacuation notices unfolded for the multiple fires in the Wenatchee Fire complex in Washington State from September 11, 2012. The web site contains all the details of the way the evacuations launched, ramped up, and then gradually were downgraded.

This is how the the first warning was posted on Inciweb:

Incident: Wenatchee Complex Wildfire
Released: 9/11/2012

Level 1, 2, and 3 Evacuation Status is akin to a “Ready, Set, Go” level of evacuation notices with Level 1 asking residents to be ready to evacuate if conditions change, Level 2 means residents should be set to go at a moment’s notice, Level 3 means authorities are advising residents to evacuate because their homes are in imminent danger (under Level 3, residents will not be allowed to return to their homes until fire danger decreases).

Evacuations remain in place for the following areas affected by the Byrd Canyon Fire:

· Downey Canyon – Level 1

· State Route 971 Navarre Coulee Road (east side) – Level 2

· State Route 971 Navarre Coulee Road (west side) – Level 3

· State Route 97A Tunnel to Davis Canyon – Level 3

· State Route 97A from Byrd Canyon to State Route 971 – Level 3

 The explanations at the top of the warning were inserted because the fire managers werent confident the community was fully aware of the evacuation procedures. No survey has been done about how many people evacuated, or when, but no-one died or was injured.

Over time the evacuation levels were reduced.

Emergency broadcasting

Emergency broadcasting began a few hours late in the day of January 21, 1997.
Homes in Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges were burning, but there was no adequate and useful advice for residents confronted by the advancing flames. Three people died – I have included a tribute to them in “Great Australian Bushfire Stories.” (You can buy it online)

Emergency broadcasting will be described later, but it should now incorporate all elements of community information – radio, tv, mobile, digital; loud speaker; whatever else comes along.

There are no strict principles, although ABC Local Radio has some internal guidelines.
But we can create some of our own. The foundations would be drawn from principles of warnings; principles of broadcasting; principles of community development; and there are principles of resilience.  More on this later.