Preparing ourselves for the challenge

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Are we prepared for the challenges from a greater number and more extreme bush fires? (courtsey from Australian Geographic)

Our focus in Australia appears to concentrate predominantly on the economy and potential changes in government. Meanwhile we have just experienced the ‘Angry Summer’ a prelude to what may lay in store for our future and demonstrated that tourism needs to do much more to prevent and be prepared for bush fires. However, tourism providers and communities appear to be either in denial, have other priorities or simply cannot afford to take steps to protect themselves and their visitors. The report from the Climate Commission states that:

  • • 2012-13 summer broken heat records, Climate change made bush fire conditions worse
  • Climate change influences extreme weather events, there nature, impact and intensity
  • Extreme hot weather is like to increase in Australia
  • It is critical we acknowledge that climate change and extreme weather events require us to be prepared
  • Climate Change is already impacting Australia and “highlight(s) the serious consequences of failing to adequately address climate change”

The Climate Commission noted that the summer of 2012-2013 recorded the‘Hottest January' on record, the ‘Hottest Summer' on record and the‘Hottest Day' on record for Australia as a whole.

Consider how these facts translated into bush fire events in NSW.

  • During a two week period in NSW during the summer of 2013 the RFS attended more than 300 bush and grass fires, with more than 650,000 hectares burnt, the loss of over 50 homes, thousands of livestock, fencing and farm equipment.
  • There were 99 activations of the Emergency Alert telephone warning systems, including 43 uses of the new location-based warning systems for mobiles.
  • The RFS public website received 8.5 million views, while there were more than 27 million views on the NSW RFS Facebook page, 15 million twitter and 12,000 downloads of the Fires Near Me app. In addition, the Bush Fire Information Line received over 26,000 calls.
  • During this period, there were 41 declarations of Section 44 status, with more than 10,500 fire-fighters from the NSW RFS, Fire & Rescue NSW National Parks and Forests NSW deployed.
  • Between 7th and 21st January, there were eight days where the Total Fire Bans were declared, including four state wide declarations.

It is true to say there were anxious moments and it has been argued before that the threat from climate change is so abstract that people find it difficult to consider what action they might take. Equally it can be argued that Australian tourism provides and destinations cannot connect with the potential threat of bush fires and appear to take a low level of prevention and preparedness. They seem to believe the emergency services are the lead resource that will rescue them and that government will foot the bill to help their region recover. However, increased bush fire threats will stretch resources and make tourism and communities in rural Australia vulnerable. This discussion paper recommends that we need to create motivating incentives to stimulate action through a parallel process