Innovative collaboration now happening thanks to the Bushfire CRC structure
Before the establishment of the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre in 2003, Australia had not seen the extent of collaboration in bushfire research at a national or international level as is now happening, nor the innovative approaches to community safety brought with the introduction of the social sciences.
Having all of Australia’s fire and land management agencies in partnership with the best fire researchers in academia at the Bushfire CRC, has allowed a number of collaborative and innovative projects to succeed.
The Bushfire CRC Research Task Force established immediately after the 2009 Victorian bushfires and an international research symposium that brought fire experts from Australia, New Zealand and the United States together to develop stronger research links are two examples of activities that would not have happened had the Bushfire CRC structure not been in place.
While Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires were still burning in February 2009, the Bushfire CRC established a Task Force to undertake research on the fire ground into them.
Task Force members included researchers from state fire agencies and research organisations. They assessed more than 1300 homes, interviewed more than 600 residents, took more than 21,000 photographs and analysed the fire behaviour. As well as providing evidence for the subsequent 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, the Task Force has produced a huge trove of data for future research.
Some 10 witnesses at the Royal Commission were Bushfire CRC researchers. Five of the seven scientists who took part on a panel discussion for the Commission on prescribed burning were CRC researchers. CRC researcher, Professor John Handmer of RMIT University, Melbourne, produced a comprehensive analysis of the circumstances of the 173 deaths.
The commissioners commended the organisation, saying they had “.benefited from extensive research conducted by the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre.”
The purpose of the research was to provide the Australian fire and land management agencies with an independent analysis of the factors surrounding this series of fires, in which 173 people died.
The research considered which fires were ordinary or extreme and which were extraordinary; that is, exhibiting fire behaviour outside known experience. Three research teams looked at the impacts of a selected sample of fires in order to gain a broader understanding of all the fires. The research teams had mixed expertise in building analysis, human behaviour, community education, bushfire behaviour, fire weather, and fire investigation.
The Bushfire CRC conducted similar research on behalf of fire and land management agencies after the Canberra fires of 2003 and the Eyre Peninsula fires of 2005.
More than 40 invited Australian, New Zealand and United States researchers, practitioners and policy-makers gathered in Melbourne and Canberra from 14-18 June 2010 for a research symposium Fire in the Interface, scrutinising the increasingly urgent issue of fire at the urban-rural interface.
The symposium was organised by the Bushfire CRC in conjunction with the Australian departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Attorney General, and the US Department of Homeland Security.
The aim was to share knowledge on fire risk on the rural-urban interface and to explore areas for collaborative research projects in fire behaviour, rural-urban interface planning and community safety. The meeting acknowledged the many research projects currently addressing various parts of this issue and there was substantial agreement in the value of linking the work of researchers internationally.
The symposium identified a suite of potential bushfire/wildfire research that focuses on the areas of community safety and situational awareness, building planning and fire behaviour, as they relate to fire management before, during and after a bushfire or wildfire.
The next step is to more fully develop the research proposals and seek appropriate funding mechanisms to support the international collaboration.