Children need to plan for bushfires too
As serious bushfires continue to burn around Australia, families in high-risk areas are giving a lot of thought to their bushfire survival plans. But what role should children play in the planning process? How much information should parents share with their children about their family’s plan? And what can parents do if their children become anxious about bushfire hazards and disasters this bushfire season?
Recent Bushfire CRC research conducted by Dr Briony Towers from RMIT’s Centre for Risk and Community Safety provides some evidence-based answers to these important questions.
Dr Towers interviewed 140 children (aged between 5 and 12 years) living in high bushfire risk areas around Tasmania and Victoria to find out what they know about bushfire risk.
The study found that although children generally understood that a bushfire could occur in their area, they had very little understanding of how to protect themselves or their homes during a bushfire event. The most common misconceptions amongst the children included:
- Bushfires only travel along the ground and can be stopped by roads, rivers or creeks, swimming pools, brick walls
- If you stay to defend, you should evacuate when the fire front reaches the house
- If you evacuate, you should pack your valuables and then wait until the fire reaches your property
- If there is a bushfire coming, you should run to the letterbox
- It is possible to outrun a bushfire on foot
- The fire service or the police will tell you when it’s time to leave
- It will be hot, so you should wear bathers or shorts and a t-shirt.
However, the research also found that when children were given the opportunity to discuss bushfire mitigation and planning with more knowledgeable peers or adults, they were more than capable of understanding the fundamental principles of bushfire safety and survival.
In addition, when children had a clear understanding of the steps that can be taken to prevent or reduce bushfire impacts, they were less fearful and anxious about living in a high bushfire risk area.