Running a business and living in rural Australia, having just made it safely through our worst bushfire season on record, was due to the hard work, skill and dedication of our fire and emergency services.
With a couple of close calls and one evacuation, I’m eternally grateful for not only the operational response and coordination, to fires that came within a few hundred metres of my business and home, but also the preparative work done in fuel reduction burns the previous year, by our state government. These two combined, saved so many lives, livelihoods and homes, not just here, but all over this beautiful country.
Most Emergency Services around the world don’t limit themselves to operational/response work, but also advise and educate their communities on; planning and preparation, inclusive of putting together an Emergency Kit (or Bushfire Kit, Fire Ready Kit, Survival Kit – depending where you live). Government organisations in Australia, spend large amounts of funds, resources and time on Community Engagement, with the goal of improving knowledge and resultant likely actions, during emergencies. This is to not only reduce the risk of harm/life loss for the residents, but also a readily evacuated household, reduces the workload and in turn the risks for emergency services too – it’s a win-win.
If you work in the fields of; Safety, Fire, Emergencies and similar, you’ll understand topics of; preparedness, risk, harm minimisation etc. and are likely to also have in depth knowledge of a multitude of regulations and standards, controlling everything from PPE, through to equipment maintenance. These provide a framework and guidance, helping you navigate a complex and high risk industry, with the majority of Australian households having limited to no knowledge of; emergency management, safety standards, regulation etc.
When Emergency Services provide advice to communities on what to have in an Emergency Kit, is most often provided as a list of items, so residents just need to read the list, identifying the items to gather and/or buy – easy right?
So why do so many households not purchase and put together a basic Emergency Kit?
Previous reports and studies in this area have come up with a multitude of reasons, often focused on varying human nature attributes and psychological blind spots, with a focus on the residents’ failings, people thinking: ‘this won’t happen to me’, ‘I’ll do it later…’, or thinking ‘I’ll get out, well before any fire/flood/storm is close by’ etc.
These are all valid reasons, as to why many non-safety trained people (i.e. 98% of our Communities) don’t prepare adequately for emergencies, but there are other reasons that have been overlooked or perhaps purposely avoided.
Think of the questions you may ask yourself about safety gear, if you’re given a list of items to acquire. The following three are what the average Joe or Josephine, living in your community might ask themselves and I’m assuming are similar to what you may ask too;
1) What exactly am I meant to buy?
2) Where can I buy it?
3) What Standards or requirements, should each item meet – if any?
Take a step back from all your knowledge about PPE, safety gear, risk mitigation, etc. and look with fresh eyes, as if you’re Josephine…she moved 6 months ago to a rural, high bushfire risk area, just attended a Community Engagement session from the local Fire Service, thought it was great, gets home, all motivated to put a Kit together.
Josephine pulls out the booklet she was given on planning and preparedness, finds the list of items to include in her kit and looks at the first 3 items.
a) Safety Goggles
b) Smoke Mask
Note: The items above, are written with the exact amount of information provided by an Australian State Fire/Emergency Guide, on what to include in your Kit;
She starts searching on the internet, first ‘goggles’; her screen fills with swimming goggles, so she tries ‘safety goggles, ‘fire goggles’ & ‘smoke goggles’; now her screen fills with goggles for; fighting fires, for chemical laboratories, with a smoke colour, tinted lens and for motorbikes, with the brand name ‘fire’– ranging from $5 – $500.
Josephine’s spent about 20 mins so far on one item and is more confused than before on what she should buy. Deciding to set that one aside, she moves on to smoke masks and gloves – should she get the $200 full face respirator, the masks from China (no standards, but Josephine doesn’t know about standards) or with the ‘gloves’ she’s now thinking if her polyester and rubber gardening gloves are OK – the advice just says ‘gloves’ and these protect her hands – right?
Why, when as experts, do we expect standards and guidance for the safety equipment we use and wear, but we don’t provide even a decent description of a PPE item, that we’re advising people, with no knowledge in this area to buy?
Josephine hit a wall with Question 1., but is still pretty keen, so she moves on to Q2. ‘Where can I buy it? Thinking maybe if she finds the right store, they can further advise her on specifics on a; wool blanket, face mask, radio and first aid kit, believing her best chance is a big national, hardware store chain, nearest one about a 1 hour drive away.
She puts aside 3 hours that weekend, heads on in and discovers they have face masks, but no; wool blankets, am/fm portable radios and although they have two first aid kits, both contain 90% band-aids/wipes and she doesn’t think they’re great quality. She’s now spent around 8 hours on; attending the
Community Engagement session, researching on the internet and driving to a store and so far has 1 item for her Kit.
How long till you’d put this task aside for another day and maybe it doesn’t ever get done?
What if you’re also one of the 2 million+ Australians without internet, and the million+ more with intermittent/poor internet, in some of the highest bushfire risk areas? There’s no stores in town, or even the nearest two after that, have more than 1 of the products on the list?
On to Question 3. What standards should they meet? Well from Q1. And 2. We can see Josephine doesn’t have more specific information than, for example ‘gloves’, what hope does she have of locating, reading, understanding and interpreting any standards for the items?
In all Josephine’s online searching, she comes across advice from a neighbouring State Government Fire Service, and thinks ‘great, maybe they’ll have some more detailed information’. Her glee soon turns to further frustration as she discovers their list of inclusions, not only don’t provide more information, but isn’t even the same list of items.
There’s currently no consistency between state and territories of Emergency Kit Inclusion advice in Australia, with each state having developed their own, growing and changing organically over the years, with lists length varying from 4 to 34 items for Bushfire Kits, inconsistent terminology for contents and Kit names and can depend on which of their multiple internal documents on this topic you’ve located, for what’s included on the list.
Josephine’s experience is a common one for many Australians; not sure exactly what to buy, where to buy it, to what standards, who’s a reputable seller and more…. Do you think the previous studies, for not getting an emergency kit ready are comprehensive in their conclusions?
Advising and educating the community on preparedness and planning for emergencies, is a critically important part of the great work our State Fire/Emergency Services do, however we are letting them and Communities down, if we stop the advice and guidance there.
What to put in a Kit, is only half the picture, where to buy the contents and what specific standards they should meet, if not also addressed, is setting our communities up for preparedness failure.
No Australian State Government Emergency Service is allowed to endorse, support, promote or otherwise a private business or product, however there are so many things we could be doing that doesn’t contravene legislation, as well as supports communities and emergency service workers alike. Here’s just a couple, I’m sure there’s more;
- State and Territories could collaborate with each other, providing consistent advice and terminology, including standards and better descriptions of items, for their residents.
- Emergency Services could find ways to work along-side legitimate private industries, that sell appropriate products, to ensure consumers know where they can access safety gear that is applicable to their needs and not from a scam or fraudulent business, especially when they’re panicked and scared.
- If a list of organizations can be provided to communities, that meet a few basic criteria;
- Based in Australia
- Sell items listed on the Emergency Kit advice
- Meet any standards that are listed
- Have a system, like a % next to each business name, with the % of items they stock on the list i.e. 5% (only sell masks) 90%, sell 18 of 20 items listed.
- Whether they are online or a physical store
- It’s made clear the list is not an endorsement of any product or company, but a starting point, to get communities heading in the right direction, improving the chances they’ll prepare, purchase the correct gear when they do and not get ripped off – a win-win for everyone.
If preparing an emergency kit costs a resident $200 and takes 1 hour, by going to two different stores on a list, or it costs $800, 20 hours and 6 different stores (still not sure you’ve bought the right gear) – which is more likely to get prepared?
Having more households properly prepared, in both planning and preparation, with emergency and bushfire kits, will ultimately improve outcomes for residents and emergency service workers.
Emergency & Bushfire Kits, where I’m CEO & Owner, ensures every Kit also includes 4 laminated reusable checklists and notices, with clipboard and marker pen. Helping people remember to grab all those additional items (quickly) when they’re evacuating (phone charges, medication etc.), an Evacuation Planning Map, Tips for Sheltering in Place (if too late to leave) and a Template to fill in that is left for Emergency Services, letting them know you’ve; evacuated, what direction, anyone unaccounted for etc.
All of these further contribute to expediting a household’s safe evacuation, freeing up Emergency Services to focus on fighting fires and dealing with the emergency, rather than diverting precious time and resources, increasing their own risks, trying to convince people to leave their homes.
For more information, go to www.EmergencyBK.com.au