‘Wait and See’: The Elephant in the Community Bushfire Safety Room?

Australian community bushfire safety policy identifies two safe courses of action for householders under bushfire threat: leave well in advance of possible fire impact, or stay and defend a suitably-prepared property. Findings from a survey of residents of at-risk communities in south-eastern Australia were that under (hypothetical) bushfire threat on a day of Extreme Fire Danger 30% intended to wait and see how a fire developed before committing to a bushfire survival action. Reported reasons for waiting to see included: perceptions that the risk associated with waiting is low; expectations that others will warn or protect in case of serious threat developing; efficacy beliefs about successfully defending against smaller fires; and reluctance to leave because of potential costs and dangers associated with leaving unnecessarily, and with driving during a bushfire. We conclude that householders who intend to wait and see: (a) understand that bushfires are dangerous; (b) believe that waiting and seeing what develops does not involve significant risk; and (c) view waiting and seeing as an appropriate response to an initial bushfire warning. We suggest some ways fire agencies could better address this reality--‘wait and see’ may not be considered a safe course of action by community safety policy makers and practitioners, but it is what many householders at risk of bushfire intend to do at present.

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