High expectations on fire warnings

People near bushfires have unrealistic hopes about the warnings issued by authorities, a study has found.

Although updates, such as those on the Fires Near Me app, are only a fairly recent development in bushfire safety, expectations have grown that they should be very detailed and localised and in near real time.

This was one of the key findings of a study conducted for the NSW RFS by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre.

 A burnt road sign near Bell in January 2020.

A burnt road sign near Bell in January 2020.

There were 202 in-depth interviews conducted with people affected by the fires and a further 1,004 others completed an online survey. There were a number of people from the Blue Mountains in both groups.

The researchers looked at how risks were communicated, how well people were prepared and the experiences of tourists and visitors.

They found that 78 per cent of people relied on the Fires Near Me app and would continue to do so.

And while there were great benefits in providing more localised and detailed information about the likely spread and impact of bushfires, there were risks this might encourage people to delay taking action.

"Those who plan to leave during bushfires should do so long before they are directly threatened," the report said.

Lead researcher, Dr Josh Whittaker from the University of Wollongong, said: "Community expectations of warnings and information appear to be growing... People want this information in order to make more 'responsive' or 'timely' decisions about protective actions."

NSW RFS director of communications and engagement, Anthony Clark, said the study provided valuable feedback to authorities.

"The research sets out that while fire services like the RFS are critical in mitigating the risk, it isn't for government or emergency services alone. While the quality and amount of preparedness information and warnings improves, the community can't afford to become overly reliant. The community must do its part to prepare and respond," he said.