'Wait and See': The Elephant in the Community Bushfire Safety Room

Presentation at Research Forum of the 2012 Bushfire CRC and AFAC Annual Conference.

Australian community bushfire safety policy identifies only two safe courses of action under bushfire threat; (i) leave well in advance of fire impact; or (ii) stay and defend a suitably-prepared property. Despite intensive community education campaigns promoting these courses of action, our recent research suggests that many residents, upon receiving a bushfire warning, intend to 'wait and see' how a fire develops before making a final decision to leave or to stay and defend. We propose that 'waiting and seeing' under imminent bushfire threat needs to be examined rather than simply derided (as appears to be the case) by authorities. With respect to the evidence, we draw on preliminary results from the decision-making under imminent bushfire threat research. This suggests that under bushfire threat, approximately one in three respondents intend to wait and see how a fire develops before committing to a survival action. Reported motivations for waiting to see include; (a) uncertainty about size/potential impact of fire; (b) efficacy beliefs about successfully defending against smaller fires; and (c) a belief that leaving for a place of safety at the last minute is a viable option. Triggers for choosing a final course of action include; (i) reports about fire direction and behaviour; (ii) official advice and warnings; and (iii) concerns about dependent household members. We ask whether community bushfire safety resources could better reflect the reality of community members' decision-making under the threat of bushfire. 'Wait and see' may not be considered a safe course of action by community safety policy makers and practitioners, but it is what many people do currently. We propose a need for a greater research focus on the challenge of householders choosing to wait and see when they are warned of a bushfire threat.

CRC Member: Author or Source Reference: