Fire safety

On the surface the bushfire warning system proposed for trial in the Hills this fire season by private company Sirenus flies in the face of the message the CFS has spent millions of dollars trying to instil into residents.
The CFS tells us to plan for multiple contingencies and then to make a choice – to stay and defend or to go, and go early.
Sirenus and its promise of better, more useful and time-relevant information suggests Hills people might not have to go, or go early if the risk is disproportionate to their situation.
Subscribers can make their own decisions about their safety based on a wider source of references, including official sources such as the police, the Bureau of Meteorology and the CFS but also social media and crowd-sourced information from people on the ground.
That must sound alarm bells for authorities fearful of last-minute dashes for safety that lead to tragic ends.
Official warnings are based around the premise that it is safer for everyone if people seek appropriate shelter in an orderly and timely way, far from danger. However, the reality is that not everybody heeds the warnings or believes the warnings.
One of the biggest complaints to come out of Victoria’s Black Saturday fires of 2009 was about the quality of the information communicated to people at risk. As a result SA now has a new grading system of fire danger levels with “catastrophic” at the top.
That should have sorted out the residents confused about whether high fire danger was life-threatening or merely dangerous.
But last season many people stayed put on catastrophic days.
The more times there are catastrophic days where nothing happens or weather conditions change the previous night’s warning, the more people will become complacent or will resent their children being barred from school, not being able to go to work or losing a day’s business.
Sirenus may just play a part in teaching residents to monitor their own surroundings more closely and more often, creating a culture of checking, not ignoring, the environment.
Sirenus might just give people more relevant information on days that are not catastrophic but where the risk is still high when there is a fire in the neighborhood.
This season the CFS will also embrace social media through a smartphone app, Twitter and Facebook.
It remains to be seen whether, as a cautious, government-beholden agency, it will deliver the quality of information in a timely manner that people demand.
Either way, residents should keep in mind that the powerlines and the mobile network went down in the midst of the Black Saturday fires and technology is not foolproof.
Ultimately, everyone is responsible for their own safety and going early remains a wise choice.