Increasing community volunteer numbers, particularly among young people, would have a flow-on effect that could help reduce the overall impact of bushfires, according to University of Sydney engineering project management student Sam Salteri.
Mr Salteri, 22, led the winning team at the Bushfire Risk, Recovery and Resilience event held at the Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre, Lawson on June 6, when 20 of the university's engineering students presented their research project findings.
As part of their academic studies the students carried out research in Blue Mountains neighbourhoods directly affected by October's bushfires to identify ways to boost the community's ability to deal with bushfires and their aftermath.
Winmalee resident John Donahoe, who lost his home, was among Blue Mountains residents who were interviewed by the students as well as captains of local bushfire brigades.
Mr Salteri's team found that increasing volunteers in groups like the Rural Fire Service or State Emergency Service would not only boost capacity to deal with bushfires but also strengthen informal communication channels.
It found the key area for improvement in volunteering numbers was in people under 35, in particular those under 18.
"The more people who know and understand evacuation procedures the more effective these procedures become," said Mr Salteri.
The students noted recent research has shown that post-disaster bushfire victims are less likely to work collaboratively with new volunteer groups.
"Having long-serving volunteers in place automatically allows a community to involve and integrate themselves better.
"It can lead to greater knowledge in the local community and potentially reduce the total number of houses and lives lost.
"This also increases the likelihood of achieving the government's 'no lives lost' metric."
The student teams also recommended the development and greater use of mobile apps designed to share vital developing information during and immediately following bushfire emergencies would be another useful and potentially life and property-saving tool.