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Bushfire Resilience Project for Aboriginal Communities (BRAC)

A NSW Rural Fire Service project - August 2011 to August 2012

The Bushfire Resilience Project for Aboriginal Communities (BRAC) was a project involving the NSW Rural Fire Service, Aboriginal groups and communities, Fire and Rescue NSW and Bush Fire Management Committees. Bushfire risk assessments and mitigation strategies were developed for 34 remote aboriginal communities across NSW. Visits by NSW RFS and Local Bushfire Control facilitated valuable outreach, strengthening the cooperative relationship members of the community have with NSW combat agencies. 

About the project

Objective

The objective of the Bushfire Resilience for Remote Aboriginal Communities (BRAC) Project was to increase resilience of remote aboriginal communities to the threats posed by fire by undertaking hazard & risk assessments to determine the preparedness levels of individual aboriginal communities from the impacts of fire & other hazards.

The reason for the development of this project was for these assessments to be undertaken and for recommendations/strategies to be provided to better enable these communities to mitigate against these hazards and risks and to increase preparedness levels. The NSW Rural Fire Service provided appropriate mitigation strategies including; Firefighting training programs, hazard reduction, hazard complaints/inspections, house vulnerability assessment, Identification of potential "state mitigation work crew" tasks, identification of vulnerable community/individuals, possible provision of community suppression equipment. Hazards & risks identified that were not the responsibility of the RFS where referred to the appropriate agency, land council or body.

Audience

The target audience for this project were 34 remote aboriginal communities across NSW.

Partnerships

Lead agency: NSW Rural Fire Service

  • Aboriginal community members
  • Key local Aboriginal land council members
  • State Aboriginal land council members
  • Department of Aboriginal Affairs
  • Aboriginal media producers
  • RFS District Managers
  • Bush Fire Management Committees
  • Other service providers e.g. State Water
  • Fire & Rescue NSW
  • RFS Rural Fire Brigades which encompass targeted communities

Community Engagement Approach


BRAC aimed to undertake a hazard and risk assessment from the risk of fires and then make recommendations regarding fire safety measures in all aboriginal communities within Rural Fire Service jurisdiction in NSW..

The NSW Government, as a member of the Remote Indigenous Communities Advisory Committee (RICAC), collaborated in the development of the National Emergency Management Strategy - Keeping Our Mob Safe 2007 (Australian Emergency Management website)

Priorities

Seven priorities are listed in this strategy to assist in emergency management in remote Indigenous communities.

This Rural Fire Service project contributed to the following 'Keeping Our Mob Safe' priorities in the area of fire emergency in NSW:

Priority 1 - Decision making structures in remote indigenous communities for emergency management

Priority 2 - Communication and engagement with remote indigenous communities on emergency management

Priority 3 - Community emergency management planning for remote indigenous communities

Priority 4 - Community resourcing for emergency management in remote indigenous communities

Priority 5 - Coordinated and cooperative approach to emergency management in remote indigenous communities

Priority 6 - Empowering indigenous people through emergency management training

Priority 7 - Education of indigenous people

Guiding actions listed under priority 2 of 'Keeping our Mob Safe' (communication and engagement with remote Indigenous communities in emergency management) were utilised in community engagement activities.

Consultation

A consultative approach was used involving the key stakeholders within Aboriginal communities to identify risks/hazards. Identified options to treat risks were flexible based on the combined input of the RFS and the Aboriginal community involved in the risk assessment process.

Aboriginal community members were asked to identify and prioritise the fire risks/hazards within their community. The RFS then worked with the community to develop mitigation strategies tailored to suit community needs. The  RFS Aboriginal Services Coordinator was closely involved in the project and provided advice on the most appropriate engagement approach based on cultural protocols and local governance structures.

The key lessons learned from this approach to community engagement were that the strong links and good working relationships between the RFS and stakeholders were developed which enabled the appropriate research to be undertaken to develop 34 comprehensive reports to be written and distributed. These reports included background information, observations made, photographs of potential risks/hazards, assessment of the risk of fire within the discrete Aboriginal community and draft recommendations to mitigate these risks/hazards together with a draft Bush Fire Survival Map and Draft Preparation Map being produced.

The initiative was successful because all identified discrete Aboriginal communities in RFS jurisdiction across NSW had risk assessments carried out on them with a comprehensive written report on the findings. Equipment (Community Fire Units) were provided to communities where appropriate. 

Key challenges / Risks

The key challenges/risks identified and were able to be addressed are as follows:

  1. Fire season impacting upon timeframe   
    Treatment - Ensured that a focus remained on the project throughout the fire season

  2. Sickness, Illness or injury  
    Treatment - Ensured communications between business representatives and the project was in a state where it could be picked up by another person

  3. Communities reluctant to participate in project  
    Treatment - Utilised networks in State Aboriginal Land Council and RFS (Aboriginal Liaison Officer) to reassure community leaders of project's positive nature

  4. Resistance from RFS District Offices  
    Treatment - Supported district staff with project awareness and provided funding for immediate treatment works where appropriate. RFS Aboriginal Liaison Officer  provided advice and support.

Project outcomes


The outputs/benefits of the project were:

  • A risk assessment report for each aboriginal community including recommendations to improve the resilience of these communities to the threats posed by fire

  • Training and/or preparedness equipment provided to aboriginal communities

  • Hazard reduction activities to reduce fuel loads and provide Asset Protection Zones/Strategic Fire Advantage Zones

  • Enhancement in the engagement of aboriginal communities in fire fuel reduction, fire safety and prevention activities, as well as increasing the community's knowledge of bush fire risk in their local area

  • Heightened opportunity to strengthen relationships between the NSW RFS, Aboriginal Lands Council and discrete aboriginal communities

  • Flexible membership opportunities where Community Fire Units were formed in aboriginal communities

  • Potential increase in aboriginal membership with the NSW RFS

The outcome was improved emergency management capability to the threats posed by fire within discrete aboriginal communities in NSW.

Feedback

No formal feedback mechanisms were used however positive feedback from all participants/partners involved in the project was received. All of the feedback received had a common thread - in that strategies/mitigation assessments be implemented in the identified discrete communities.

Support from the NSW State Aboriginal Land Council was given for the NSW RFS to apply through the NDRP for funding to implement Stage 2 of the project which will address/action findings.

Next steps

Stage 2 of the project has been successful in receiving funding through the NDRP. This project will be carried out over a 18 month period in 2013 & 2014.

The NSW RFS will work in partnership with the State Aboriginal Lands Council.


Further information


For more information about the Bushfire Resilience Project for Aboriginal Communities project, please contact Paul Smith on 02 6382 5677 or by email paul.smith@rfs.nsw.gov.au.

application/pdf Assessment Report for the Toomelah Aboriginal Community
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application/pdf Toomelah Bushfire Preparation Map
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application/pdf Toomelah Bushfire Survival Plan
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application/pdf Assessment Report for the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community
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application/pdf Wreck Bay Bushfire Preparation Map
  PDF File 384.5 kb View File Now Download File Now

application/pdf Wreck Bay Bushfire Survival Plan
  PDF File 562.4 kb View File Now Download File Now

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