Surviving bushfire: the role of shelters and sheltering practices during the Black Saturday bushfires
The decision of whether to leave or stay and defend is a well communicated public safety policy for those at risk from bushfire in Australia. Advice relating to sheltering practices during bushfire is less developed. This paper presents findings from a study of sheltering practices during the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. The study examined the circumstances and challenges experienced by residents when sheltering and/or exiting houses, sheds, and personal bunkers. The analysis considered a number of factors including human behaviour and decision making, house design and construction, the surrounding landscape and fire behaviour. The results show the need for contingency planning and the need for active sheltering, involving regular monitoring of conditions inside and outside the shelter and actions to protect the shelter and its occupants. Also discussed is the tenability and location of the shelters and key questions around how bushfire-related building controls can improve the predictability of shelter failure, reduce the rate of shelter tenability loss and facilitate egress. This research highlights the need for enhanced community engagement and education to encourage residents to plan and prepare for active sheltering.