Bushfire risk perception: a study of the perceived vulnerability of domestic architecture in bushfire prone areas

Bushfires, along with floods, tsunami, cyclones, earthquakes, etc, are defined as natural hazards.  When the built environment is placed within areas susceptible to these weather events, human settlement is invariably negatively affected.  Loss of life and damage to property are possible consequences and yet people continue to choose to live in these areas. This research seeks to investigate occupants’ perception of the bushfire risk of their homes and immediate environs. 

Research Questions

1.    For residents living in bushfire prone areas, what attributes of domestic architecture and the immediate environs impact on their perception of safety?  Do these reflect the risk as assessed by fire authorities and do these perceptions influence behaviour before and during a bushfire attack?

2.    Can architectural interventions change resident’s perception of risk? Do these changed perceptions reflect the risk as assessed by fire authorities and would these changed perceptions influence behaviour before and during a bushfire attack?


A questionnaire will be delivered to residents living in a variety of bushfire risk locations in the Blue Mountains, NSW.  The sample for the questionnaire will be selected streets that represent the urban rural fringe and low, medium and high bushfire risk areas.  It will test the variable of vulnerability by looking at how residents’ currently perceive the level of risk their home and surrounds represent.  Given this perception what is their anticipated response to a bushfire, will they stay and defend or leave?  Following the questionnaire a smaller sample of respondents will be interviewed to ascertain the risk that the construction of their individual homes represents.

With a starting point of a safe room within a house or a bunker close to the main building, a range of possible architectural interventions will also be considered and criteria specifications developed.

Research Outcomes and Significance

It is hoped that this research will identify the aspects of domestic architecture and its immediate environs which give rise to the perception of safety or otherwise for residents living in bushfire prone areas. That it will provide fire authorities and decision makers with new information which can enable them to further understand and manage residents’ perception of bushfire risk, specifically: improve house and property design for buildings in bushfire prone areas and increase residential engagement in the areas of property maintenance and response to a bushfire attack.

Related news

AFAC 2013 Conference Logo
The formal proceedings of the Research Forum, held as part of the 2013 Bushfire CRC and AFAC Conference in Melbourne are now available.
A fire-safer home
As we witnessed in September and October 2013 in NSW, transferring the suburban house into a setting susceptible to bushfires causes a lot of problems.
Home cut into a sloping block of land
Douglas Brown’s interest in designing homes with improved bushfire protection is both professional and deeply personal.

External References

Douglas' project is investigating and designing core or safe-room options within domestic architecture as an adaptive integrated solution to both fire protection and sustainable building design practices. He was interviewed at the 2010 Bushfire CRC annual conference in Darwin.

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