Bushfire mitigation and preparation on the Toowoomba Region Escarpment: a research report for Toowoomba Regional Council

Ryan, Barbara ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3338-8887 and King, Rachel ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3302-0919 and Lokuge, Weena ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1370-1976 and Karunasena, Karu and Anderson, Esther (2020) Bushfire mitigation and preparation on the Toowoomba Region Escarpment: a research report for Toowoomba Regional Council. Project Report. University of Southern Queensland , Toowoomba, Australia. [Report]


This report was commissioned by Toowoomba Regional Council Disaster Management Officer, Jenna Buckley, to allow TRC to understand how people along the Toowoomba Region escarpment think about their bushfire risk and their role in bushfire preparation and mitigation, and to provide the foundation for a bushfire mitigation cost-benefit analysis for the Region. This report presents the results addressing these two key aims in parts – Part 1 will present the results and recommendations on risk perception and community preparation and mitigation activity, and Part 2 will outline cost-benefit analysis techniques and how these might be applied by Toowoomba Regional Council using an illustrative example from the Blue Mountains region.

We provide a range of insights, some with attached to recommendations, from the research. We also point out some of the shortcomings of the project, which included lack of exploration of psychological preparedness of the community.

Part 1 is presented in two sections – the first focused on preparation, and the second on mitigation. It details what we found from previous research on how people understand their danger from bushfire, the factors that affect this perception, how they understand getting ready for a bushfire, and what stops them from taking action. We found that until individuals realise their risk, getting them to prepare is not possible and that there are complex background factors that inform where people are on the scale of risk realisation. Also, archetypes of attitudes exist toward bushfire that can inform community engagement activities and messaging for successful behaviour change, and these archetypes include groups that 'don’t do bushfire' and won’t be budged.

We undertook a telephone survey of 323 landholders along the Toowoomba escarpment from Yarraman to Pilton. As expected, understanding of bushfire risk is low, with 69% of those surveyed believing they were at no risk or low risk. Preparation levels were extremely low: activity for safety planning scored 3.4/10, preparation for leaving scored 1.7/10, preparation of homes (which also reflects activities to keep a place looking good) scored 7/10, and activities that reduce the vulnerability of a house (more structural undertakings) scored 0.2/10 – less than 1/10. There seemed to be no relationship between risk recognition and preparation activity. Some people in high-risk areas did not undertake preparation activity beyond tidying up around their house.

The survey also investigated aspects of community engagement for preparation, which confirmed previous research that people generally think that getting ready is something they do when a fire is in the area. Our questions about evacuation and information seemed to be heard in the context of what they did during recent bushfires, rather than in response to the arrival of bushfire season. Regarding mitigation, we asked all participants questions about mitigation activities, but focused on the 81 householders who lived on one acre or more.

The mitigation section of Part 1 shows that people don’t undertake mitigation activities because they are confused about various vegetation legislation and what they are allowed to do in terms of mitigation, that they don’t know what to do, and that they are not resourced to undertake serious mitigation efforts. The results of the survey confirmed this: 25.1% of the 323 respondents said they did not know what to do and 19.2% identified other obstacles. These obstacles included put these in here. We drew out information from the 81 householders who lived on one acre or more and found their mitigation activities were low, but included graded, mowed or sprayed fire breaks and undertaking planned burns (just 16.0%).

We conducted two focus groups of members of the Toowoomba Region and Lockyer Valley Region local disaster management groups in an effort to map the mitigation picture and to identify obstacles to mitigation. A large number of barriers to and facilitators for mitigation emerged, including fragmentation of blocks as rural landholdings are broken up and inexperienced land/environment managers move in, fear of fire (linked to this inexperience), lack of resources to undertake non-planned burn mitigation, regulatory environment, and landholders’ enthusiasm (currently high because of the Millmerran and Pechey Fires).

Part 2 of the report presents an exploration of cost-benefit analysis processes and applications for bushfire mitigation that could be applicable to Toowoomba Region. Although there are few comprehensive studies available for CBA, a basic approach is proposed in this part of the report with an example provided, based on the Blue Mountains region in NSW, which shows a possible $3m benefit.

Overall, the research confirmed a lot of thoughts already held by Council and agency staff about preparation behaviour, but provided insights on underlying reasons and how to prompt positive changes. It also provides new thinking in the area of mitigation relating to community engagement. The cost benefit analysis section should provide food for thought on the value of mitigation and preparation activity, and of undertaking cost benefit analyses in the Toowoomba Region.

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Item Type: Report (Project Report)
Refereed: No
Item Status: Live Archive
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Institute for Resilient Regions - Centre for Heritage and Culture (1 Aug 2018 -)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Institute for Resilient Regions - Centre for Heritage and Culture (1 Aug 2018 -)
Date Deposited: 16 Jun 2021 02:43
Last Modified: 23 Jun 2021 06:17
Uncontrolled Keywords: bushfire mitigation; Toowoomba Region Escarpment
Fields of Research (2008): 20 Language, Communication and Culture > 2001 Communication and Media Studies > 200199 Communication and Media Studies not elsewhere classified
16 Studies in Human Society > 1699 Other Studies in Human Society > 169999 Studies in Human Society not elsewhere classified
Fields of Research (2020): 44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4499 Other human society > 449999 Other human society not elsewhere classified
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): D Environment > 96 Environment > 9610 Natural Hazards > 961004 Natural Hazards in Forest and Woodlands Environments
Socio-Economic Objectives (2020): 19 ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY, CLIMATE CHANGE AND NATURAL HAZARDS > 1904 Natural hazards > 190401 Climatological hazards (e.g. extreme temperatures, drought and wildfires)
URI: http://eprints.usq.edu.au/id/eprint/40527

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