2020-21 Seasonal Bushfire Outlook and Prevention
Both Western Australia and Queensland can expect above normal fire potential as dry conditions are likely to persist despite the rain.
Fighting fit for bushfire season
In Australia, we live with fires each year as a regular occurrence of weather impact on the landscape. The La Nina weather pattern is already active for the 2020/21 bushfire season. This means that parts of Australia (north and eastern areas) will experience more rainfall during the spring. Both Western Australia and Queensland can expect above normal fire potential as dry conditions are likely to persist despite the rain.
What we know from last year's bushfire season
- October to January saw an unprecedented scale and duration of fires that burned across many regions of Australia
- A 'Bushfire' Royal Commission was established in response to the severity and impact of the fire season which caused loss of life, and property, wildlife, and environmental devastation
- 445 people lost their lives due to smoke, while 80 per cent of the population was affected by bushfire smoke. Some 3,000 hospital admissions were for respiratory illness, and 1,700 attended for asthma
- Those experiencing a bushfire were more exposed to mental health risks and trauma, especially if they felt their lives were in danger or they knew someone who had died, or if they had lost their home
- Smoke is presenting more often as a problem and with severity during major bushfires associated with climate change, making reduced air quality a serious health risk
- Hazardous air quality and air pollution during this period reached 11 times the base 'hazardous' air pollution level. Fine particulate matter PM2.5 is a concerning pollution that can cause health conditions, from sore eyes and itchy throats to respiratory issues as a result of particles entering the lungs and blood stream. Risks are naturally greater for vulnerable members of the community, including older people, pregnant women, children, and those with heart disease or immune deficiencies.
Reference: Bushfire season outlook 2020/21
Understanding the cost of bushfire damage
The 2019/20 bushfire season resulted in a staggering $2 billion in health costs. Of insurance claims relating to bushfires, the Insurance Council of Australia reported $2.2 billion in claims overall, with approximately half of that amount in claims for houses and $719 million for commercial properties. There was speculation it could be Australia's costliest natural disaster, given the damage to agriculture and wildlife, and impact on farmers. Other invisible costs are the loss of heritage properties and communal spaces serving young and older generations, and the trauma of experiencing natural disaster for survivors. The 'Bushfires Royal Commission' was established in the wake of the 2019/20 bushfires to assess coordination, preparedness and response to fires.
An important aspect of Royal Commission lies in determining recovery and how communities can build resilience into their recovery plan, understanding changing climatic conditions and learning how to adapt in order to reduce the risk and impact of natural disasters. The Royal Commission has released its final report which you can view here.
How to be ready for this bushfire season
CCI has a Surviving Bushfire Fact Sheet and Checklist to assist you in preparing for the season ahead, and in a COVID-19 environment with Government restrictions in place to stop the spread of the virus, it’s necessary to allocate extra time and organisation to comply with the restrictions when making your preparations.
Assess Dust and Smoke Related Risks to your organisation from Bushfires and put in place risk-mitigation measures
Risk assessment work should be done early to assess the impact of dust and smoke if it should affect your organisation. Dust and smoke can: reduce air quality and impact on visibility, penetrate buildings, settle onto equipment and impact the functioning of plant and grip of surfaces, pollute waterways and water storage tanks, and irritate the body's airways, nose and eyes.
Risk reducing measures should be in place to help people and property at risk of smoke and dust impact. These include:
- Implementation of a process to check air quality indexes in your state or territory
- Working with property management and Occupational Hygienists to monitor the air quality of your buildings or workplaces
- Regular inspection of your buildings air ventilation and extraction systems to ensure effective operations
- Decision for employees and contractors to work indoors where possible when air quality is impacted
- A reschedule of outdoor work if needed, until conditions improve
- PPE availability in the event of hazardous air quality conditions e.g. P2 rated face masks, eye protection
- Fire-fighting equipment must be inspected by authorities and serviced, as required by law
- Cleaning procedures to remove dust and debris from outdoor surfaces, and equipment check that operations are functioning normally – some may require professional cleaning and servicing.
Assess if your Organisation is located in a High-Risk Bushfire Zone and Implement your Bushfire Preparedness Plans
Conduct essential property maintenance – e.g. clearing gutters, maintaining vegetation away from buildings, removing combustible items away from buildings etc.
Display evacuation diagrams, and ensure your emergency plans are current
Check the Business Continuity Plan (BCP) is updated with contacts and that all relevant people understand their role and how it will evolve
Check your insurance cover is current and that you have adequate sums insured, because clean-up costs and rebuild sums must factor in the removal of any hazardous materials like asbestos and property construction to be built to new standards.
Disaster recovery takes solid support
Getting back to normal after a disaster such as a bushfire can take years, but the work of rebuilding lives, a community, schools and parishes, and organisations must all start immediately. It's difficult to imagine the scale of property loss and damage to agricultural land, wildlife, and industries but we see it more visibly each bushfire season. It's vital that you understand what you are covered for and whether your insurance is up to date. Bushfires destroy building structures as well as contents. Make sure that you have adequate sums insured and understand your insurance coverage needs.
You can contact CCI to find out more about your insurance coverage on 1800 011 028 or contact your Client Relationship Executive.
Learn more about being bushfire ready and know when to take cover
If bushfires have not affected your area it is not too late to prepare. Refer to CCI's Surviving Bushfire Fact Sheet and Checklist for more information on what you can do now to protect your people and property.