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142 responses to “Black Saturday – should 'stay or go' policy be overturned? Guest post by John Davidson”

  1. CMMC

    Don Watson ascribes much of the blame to the paralysing effects of mamagerial-speak, in a scenario where the last thing you need is paralysis.

    http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/language-like-this-should-be-put-to-the-torch-20090918-fv9x.html

  2. CMMC

    Don Watson ascribes much of the blame to the paralysing effects of mamagerial-speak, in a scenario where the last thing you need is paralysis.

    http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/language-like-this-should-be-put-to-the-torch-20090918-fv9x.html

  3. Katz

    If the primary objective is to save human lives from a fire then it is vital to understand how a fire kills.

    Fires can be graded along a continuum from being defensible to being utterly indefensible. The Black Saturday fires were at the extreme end of indefensible.

    Fires are dynamic. Their lethality is mostly influenced by wind conditions. In Victoria, the strong northerly followed by the southerly buster define the most lethal fires.

    These changes in weather conditions can be predicted to within 8 to 10 hours starting about three to four days before the lethal day.

    For the very cautious and the otherwise unengaged, that window leaves plenty of opportunity to quit areas of high bushfire danger.

    But that isn’t how people live their lives. Most are too caught up in the busyness of the day to drop everything and run.

    Moreover, even on Black Saturday only a tiny minority of the bushfire danger zone of Victoria actually burned. Those living in the path of the actual fire can reasonably ask “what are the chances”?

    Finally, there is a cultural propensity among folks to stay and “defend”, as if this were a valiant act.

    Given all those factors, it is unlikely that a policy of “leave early” would be very effective. A whole lot more people have to burn before that idea cuts through.

  4. Katz

    If the primary objective is to save human lives from a fire then it is vital to understand how a fire kills.

    Fires can be graded along a continuum from being defensible to being utterly indefensible. The Black Saturday fires were at the extreme end of indefensible.

    Fires are dynamic. Their lethality is mostly influenced by wind conditions. In Victoria, the strong northerly followed by the southerly buster define the most lethal fires.

    These changes in weather conditions can be predicted to within 8 to 10 hours starting about three to four days before the lethal day.

    For the very cautious and the otherwise unengaged, that window leaves plenty of opportunity to quit areas of high bushfire danger.

    But that isn’t how people live their lives. Most are too caught up in the busyness of the day to drop everything and run.

    Moreover, even on Black Saturday only a tiny minority of the bushfire danger zone of Victoria actually burned. Those living in the path of the actual fire can reasonably ask “what are the chances”?

    Finally, there is a cultural propensity among folks to stay and “defend”, as if this were a valiant act.

    Given all those factors, it is unlikely that a policy of “leave early” would be very effective. A whole lot more people have to burn before that idea cuts through.

  5. Fran Barlow

    My personal view is that we ought to be starting with the most general problem — the proximity of residential buildings and potential fireground and work backwards from there. The first test of a residential development in areas where bushfire is a serious issue is access and egress, as that is the primary variable in the decisioon to stay and defend or leave. If the development encompasses areas where rapid retreat to safe ground is likely to be cut by fire or others leaving, then the development is unsafe. In that sense, the emotional “we’re going to rebuild” policy, though understandable was irrational. A warm inner glow does not compensate for a hot outer glow.

    I’d like to have seen dedicated and maintained refuge areas with multiple access to each housing and retail development. Ideally, each would not only be well cleared, and have shelter, but have scope for first aid, and access for vehicles, water, wireless communications plus a repeater tower, mobile phone tower and so forth and be large enough to accomodate helicopter arrival and departures. A levy on each development should fund installation and maintenance. One could co-locate CFA resources there of course.

    The broader point though is that we do need to be respecting our bushland wilderness. While controlled burns to remove excess ground fuel are essential, it’s a mistake to think that this can ever give the kind of security one would want from precariously placed developments. Councils do like housing development and people love bush outlooks, but in the end one must consider the capacity of individuals at large to make this kind of calculus, especially on behalf of dependents and rescue workers.

    There can be little doubt that climate change will bring with it an increase in the incidence of megafires, especially in the southern half of Australia. We need to be doing adaptation and prevention aat least as aggressively as remedial action.

  6. Fran Barlow

    My personal view is that we ought to be starting with the most general problem — the proximity of residential buildings and potential fireground and work backwards from there. The first test of a residential development in areas where bushfire is a serious issue is access and egress, as that is the primary variable in the decisioon to stay and defend or leave. If the development encompasses areas where rapid retreat to safe ground is likely to be cut by fire or others leaving, then the development is unsafe. In that sense, the emotional “we’re going to rebuild” policy, though understandable was irrational. A warm inner glow does not compensate for a hot outer glow.

    I’d like to have seen dedicated and maintained refuge areas with multiple access to each housing and retail development. Ideally, each would not only be well cleared, and have shelter, but have scope for first aid, and access for vehicles, water, wireless communications plus a repeater tower, mobile phone tower and so forth and be large enough to accomodate helicopter arrival and departures. A levy on each development should fund installation and maintenance. One could co-locate CFA resources there of course.

    The broader point though is that we do need to be respecting our bushland wilderness. While controlled burns to remove excess ground fuel are essential, it’s a mistake to think that this can ever give the kind of security one would want from precariously placed developments. Councils do like housing development and people love bush outlooks, but in the end one must consider the capacity of individuals at large to make this kind of calculus, especially on behalf of dependents and rescue workers.

    There can be little doubt that climate change will bring with it an increase in the incidence of megafires, especially in the southern half of Australia. We need to be doing adaptation and prevention aat least as aggressively as remedial action.

  7. Robert Merkel

    Counsel assisting’s lengthy submissions to the inquiry are here, along with some responses from various organizations.

    Jack Rush (counsel assisting) has been a bit of a show pony (Christine Nixon’s dinner party was the ultimate in red herrings), but his recommendations deserve some thought, and share something with John’s D thoughts in this post. At some point I’d like to try and summarize the recommendations, but it might be better to wait until the actual Royal Commission brings down its report.

    There is much I agree with in Rush’s submission, but on first bite I think some of his conclusions have something of the whiff of hard cases making bad law. It’s worth taking a look at the Volunteer Fire Brigade’s submission too, rejecting some of Rush’s key recommendations. As they point out, an emphasis on pseudo-mandatory evacuations, which might indeed be appropriate for a township like Kinglake, may not make any sense at all for a widely distributed rural community in the more isolated parts of Victoria.

    In any case, one thing that bothers me about the whole Royal Commission process is that Victoria (and southern Australia more broadly) can respond to the threat of bushfires in a number of different, equally valid ways, based on tradeoffs between what risks we are prepared to run and how much we are collectively prepared to spend. The Royal Commission process short-circuits that debate.

  8. Robert Merkel

    Counsel assisting’s lengthy submissions to the inquiry are here, along with some responses from various organizations.

    Jack Rush (counsel assisting) has been a bit of a show pony (Christine Nixon’s dinner party was the ultimate in red herrings), but his recommendations deserve some thought, and share something with John’s D thoughts in this post. At some point I’d like to try and summarize the recommendations, but it might be better to wait until the actual Royal Commission brings down its report.

    There is much I agree with in Rush’s submission, but on first bite I think some of his conclusions have something of the whiff of hard cases making bad law. It’s worth taking a look at the Volunteer Fire Brigade’s submission too, rejecting some of Rush’s key recommendations. As they point out, an emphasis on pseudo-mandatory evacuations, which might indeed be appropriate for a township like Kinglake, may not make any sense at all for a widely distributed rural community in the more isolated parts of Victoria.

    In any case, one thing that bothers me about the whole Royal Commission process is that Victoria (and southern Australia more broadly) can respond to the threat of bushfires in a number of different, equally valid ways, based on tradeoffs between what risks we are prepared to run and how much we are collectively prepared to spend. The Royal Commission process short-circuits that debate.

  9. Robert Merkel

    Fran, my view is that communal refuges themselves represent a not insubstantial risk from transit (though read Jack Rush’s submission to the commission for some discussion of this).

    I’m still a bit disappointed that insufficient thought has been given to the idea of personal bunkers in high-risk areas. Given the amounts that some people reportedly spend on their fire preparation (upwards of $50,000), an appropriately designed and approved bunker for maybe $10,000 would seem a relatively cheap investment.

  10. Robert Merkel

    Fran, my view is that communal refuges themselves represent a not insubstantial risk from transit (though read Jack Rush’s submission to the commission for some discussion of this).

    I’m still a bit disappointed that insufficient thought has been given to the idea of personal bunkers in high-risk areas. Given the amounts that some people reportedly spend on their fire preparation (upwards of $50,000), an appropriately designed and approved bunker for maybe $10,000 would seem a relatively cheap investment.

  11. tigtog

    @Rob Merkel

    I’m still a bit disappointed that insufficient thought has been given to the idea of personal bunkers in high-risk areas.

    I’ve never understood why so many town planning/building approval bodies in Australia seem to be so against earth-covered homes. They have all sorts of energy-saving advantages and they are relatively easy to make extremely fire-resistant and thus useful safety bunkers in themselves. Why aren’t the Blue Mountains here in NSW chock-full of them? Because they can’t get planning permission.

  12. tigtog

    @Rob Merkel

    I’m still a bit disappointed that insufficient thought has been given to the idea of personal bunkers in high-risk areas.

    I’ve never understood why so many town planning/building approval bodies in Australia seem to be so against earth-covered homes. They have all sorts of energy-saving advantages and they are relatively easy to make extremely fire-resistant and thus useful safety bunkers in themselves. Why aren’t the Blue Mountains here in NSW chock-full of them? Because they can’t get planning permission.

  13. paul c

    It was obvious from early on in the mass media reporting of Australia’s first major climate change induced disaster that spin was first priority, truth last. As soon as the camera unrelentingly focussed on sentiment, and flooded the screens with tears, it was clear we were witnessing a political cover up. Poular emotion was successfully diverted away from the state by the old and tested procedure of long investigation. Valuable though it is.
    Too senior to fail- like the large banks, that appears to be the sentiment behind the media defence of the Victorian government emergency authorities, from the minister to Nixon down. One resignation only of the CFFA chief is quite incredible for such an unnecessary loss of life, and shows the shallowness of Australian democracy. Talk of scalp hungry lawyers is utter crap, just another case of doubt peddling spin. Blame the messenger rather than face reality! Complete dereliction of duty, and incompetence is the story we are getting used to hear about those supposedly in charge. If its banks and regulators we lose our money, but with emergency services and fire authorities its our lives at stake. Mangerialism is no longer sufficient as we move into an era of frequent extreme natural events/crises. Defence of lack of leadership seems to be about maintaining people’s confidence in the institutions, and that the illusion is maintained that the appropriate sort of people do get these senior positions. The painful fact is incontrovertibly obvious that they were not and are not. As the moderator of this post Brian , has made clear on many occasions, the problem of lack of leadership is not just a State problem in Victoria but a Federal issue as well. In more normal times you can get away with more or less competent managers, but ‘normal’ times can no longer be relied on.

  14. paul c

    It was obvious from early on in the mass media reporting of Australia’s first major climate change induced disaster that spin was first priority, truth last. As soon as the camera unrelentingly focussed on sentiment, and flooded the screens with tears, it was clear we were witnessing a political cover up. Poular emotion was successfully diverted away from the state by the old and tested procedure of long investigation. Valuable though it is.
    Too senior to fail- like the large banks, that appears to be the sentiment behind the media defence of the Victorian government emergency authorities, from the minister to Nixon down. One resignation only of the CFFA chief is quite incredible for such an unnecessary loss of life, and shows the shallowness of Australian democracy. Talk of scalp hungry lawyers is utter crap, just another case of doubt peddling spin. Blame the messenger rather than face reality! Complete dereliction of duty, and incompetence is the story we are getting used to hear about those supposedly in charge. If its banks and regulators we lose our money, but with emergency services and fire authorities its our lives at stake. Mangerialism is no longer sufficient as we move into an era of frequent extreme natural events/crises. Defence of lack of leadership seems to be about maintaining people’s confidence in the institutions, and that the illusion is maintained that the appropriate sort of people do get these senior positions. The painful fact is incontrovertibly obvious that they were not and are not. As the moderator of this post Brian , has made clear on many occasions, the problem of lack of leadership is not just a State problem in Victoria but a Federal issue as well. In more normal times you can get away with more or less competent managers, but ‘normal’ times can no longer be relied on.

  15. Fran Barlow

    I’m personally not all that keen on the idea of a personal bunker. Given the relative infrquency of its likely usage, the cost and the logistics and hazards of getting safety personnel in to rescue people …

    I think the communal shelter is a far better fit for the risk and logistics. You could build them fairly close to developments and spread the cost across 200 or so residences. Having the mobile phone towers and wireless repeaters there would be a year round asset.

    On a separate issue about earth based houses, I think this is a good idea. I’ve read a bit about “rammed earth” of late and it does sound interesting. Mind you, for environmental reasons, I quite like the idea of having a house built substantially below ground — it saves enormously on insulation, resists fire wind damage, doesn’t require painting, and maybe more secure against intrusion. You can use a lot more recycled materials too, since outward appearance isn’t so key.

    Construction would obviously be a bit more expensive but over 25 years, you are probably going to get that cost back with interest.

  16. Fran Barlow

    I’m personally not all that keen on the idea of a personal bunker. Given the relative infrquency of its likely usage, the cost and the logistics and hazards of getting safety personnel in to rescue people …

    I think the communal shelter is a far better fit for the risk and logistics. You could build them fairly close to developments and spread the cost across 200 or so residences. Having the mobile phone towers and wireless repeaters there would be a year round asset.

    On a separate issue about earth based houses, I think this is a good idea. I’ve read a bit about “rammed earth” of late and it does sound interesting. Mind you, for environmental reasons, I quite like the idea of having a house built substantially below ground — it saves enormously on insulation, resists fire wind damage, doesn’t require painting, and maybe more secure against intrusion. You can use a lot more recycled materials too, since outward appearance isn’t so key.

    Construction would obviously be a bit more expensive but over 25 years, you are probably going to get that cost back with interest.

  17. Ambigulous

    “It would be useful to know whether any defenders died in houses that did have an effective refuge that could be accessed from the house during the height of the fire. ”

    I heard of 3 people who died in what they had assumed was an effective refuge (a cellar of solid construction) inside their house, south of Traralgon. Apparently flames entered the cellar. By definition, that refuge proved not to be “effective” on that day.

    I second Katz in asserting that conditions on that day were at the extreme end of the scale.

  18. Ambigulous

    “It would be useful to know whether any defenders died in houses that did have an effective refuge that could be accessed from the house during the height of the fire. ”

    I heard of 3 people who died in what they had assumed was an effective refuge (a cellar of solid construction) inside their house, south of Traralgon. Apparently flames entered the cellar. By definition, that refuge proved not to be “effective” on that day.

    I second Katz in asserting that conditions on that day were at the extreme end of the scale.

  19. Zorronsky

    Responsibility for making people safe in these situations should rest locally and along the lines Fran suggests. I’ve been through two major fires, Ash Wednesday in the Adelaide Hills and ’06 in the Grampians. Black Saturday with howling winds at 47c[tho' mercifully no close fire] shocked me as for the first time I felt a blaze would be indefensible. The chaotic responses by locals and visitors alike was the result of people thinking somebody higher in the chain of authority would somehow be able to give a lead but not so. Campers were told to pack up and leave yet they came in to Halls Gap asking where they were to go to but there were no safe answers and so they wandered around totally confused. A safe area should have facility for the aged and infirm and for children and,in tourist areas, for visitors. Local matters and requiring local action. Councils may not be the best answer either as mega council areas bring back the problems I referred to earlier of waiting for permission to facilitate procedures from people who may not be under direct threat.

  20. Zorronsky

    Responsibility for making people safe in these situations should rest locally and along the lines Fran suggests. I’ve been through two major fires, Ash Wednesday in the Adelaide Hills and ’06 in the Grampians. Black Saturday with howling winds at 47c[tho' mercifully no close fire] shocked me as for the first time I felt a blaze would be indefensible. The chaotic responses by locals and visitors alike was the result of people thinking somebody higher in the chain of authority would somehow be able to give a lead but not so. Campers were told to pack up and leave yet they came in to Halls Gap asking where they were to go to but there were no safe answers and so they wandered around totally confused. A safe area should have facility for the aged and infirm and for children and,in tourist areas, for visitors. Local matters and requiring local action. Councils may not be the best answer either as mega council areas bring back the problems I referred to earlier of waiting for permission to facilitate procedures from people who may not be under direct threat.

  21. KeiThy

    Confusion Kills…..

    Where are the fire bunkers???

    Thinksafe SAM should have come into it at some point you would have thought!

  22. KeiThy

    Confusion Kills…..

    Where are the fire bunkers???

    Thinksafe SAM should have come into it at some point you would have thought!

  23. professor rat

    Worst idea to come out of BS?

    The lunatic notion of mandatory evacuations.

    Best idea?

    The notion floated by Powercor of cutting power to heavily treed parts of the state on superbad days. The Kilmore fire that took the most lives was most probably sparked by a power-line. So why not treat superhot and windy days as a sort of ‘General strike”

    And bring in siestas while your at it. We live in a semi-arid hot environment.

  24. professor rat

    Worst idea to come out of BS?

    The lunatic notion of mandatory evacuations.

    Best idea?

    The notion floated by Powercor of cutting power to heavily treed parts of the state on superbad days. The Kilmore fire that took the most lives was most probably sparked by a power-line. So why not treat superhot and windy days as a sort of ‘General strike”

    And bring in siestas while your at it. We live in a semi-arid hot environment.

  25. John D

    Ambigulous @9: My understanding is that one of the problems with using basements is that people have to wait until the burnt out house cools down. Refuges have to allow both safe access when it is unsafe to go outside and safe access to the outside world even if the house is burning.

    Fran: Agree with what you said about house location and community refuges. However, refuges at the home are important because people will want to defend their homes.
    I like to finish investigations by saying: “This injury/damage wouldn’t have been less likely to have happened if:” and “This wouldn’t have been as serious if:”

    In terms of house design I am keen on the concept of the “mechanical house”. In this context it might mean a house that opens out to be in contact with nature most of the time then hunkers down into a a fire proof house when the need is there.

  26. John D

    Ambigulous @9: My understanding is that one of the problems with using basements is that people have to wait until the burnt out house cools down. Refuges have to allow both safe access when it is unsafe to go outside and safe access to the outside world even if the house is burning.

    Fran: Agree with what you said about house location and community refuges. However, refuges at the home are important because people will want to defend their homes.
    I like to finish investigations by saying: “This injury/damage wouldn’t have been less likely to have happened if:” and “This wouldn’t have been as serious if:”

    In terms of house design I am keen on the concept of the “mechanical house”. In this context it might mean a house that opens out to be in contact with nature most of the time then hunkers down into a a fire proof house when the need is there.

  27. Helen

    What about a house with some kind of stored water high up which releases and floods the roof and walls once the surrounding heat gets above a certain level? But I’m sure this would have been thought of before, so there must be something wrong with it.

  28. Helen

    What about a house with some kind of stored water high up which releases and floods the roof and walls once the surrounding heat gets above a certain level? But I’m sure this would have been thought of before, so there must be something wrong with it.

  29. Katz

    What about a house with some kind of stored water high up which releases and floods the roof and walls once the surrounding heat gets above a certain level? But I’m sure this would have been thought of before, so there must be something wrong with it.

    One of our houses that burned on Ash Wednesday had a 1500 gallon galvanised iron tank half full. After the fire we found the tank 300 metres from where it stood.

    The water had boiled out of it and then the wind blew it away.

    I have a huge respect for the Victorian bushfire.

  30. Katz

    What about a house with some kind of stored water high up which releases and floods the roof and walls once the surrounding heat gets above a certain level? But I’m sure this would have been thought of before, so there must be something wrong with it.

    One of our houses that burned on Ash Wednesday had a 1500 gallon galvanised iron tank half full. After the fire we found the tank 300 metres from where it stood.

    The water had boiled out of it and then the wind blew it away.

    I have a huge respect for the Victorian bushfire.

  31. Fran Barlow

    John D

    Fran: Agree with what you said about house location and community refuges. However, refuges at the home are important because people will want to defend their homes.

    Certainly John D if someone wants to put in a personal secure area to take shelter in so as to allow them to defend up to the last, I’m not going to object. Yet I think that we should actively discourage people from defending their homes because as one contributor to the commission put it, the factors that would allow you to make an informed decision about the feasibility of that course are apt to change very quickly — much more quickly than it is reasonable for any peron to be able to respond to and perhaps in the decision envelope where you ought, with the information to be tossing up whether to escape or not. A tree that collapses across a roadway you were relying on to escape is not something you are going to find out about until it is rather too late. Nor will you know how many others will be on the road when you leave.

    Providing you have two or three highly secure routes (perhaps with the trees set back well from the road, culverts that can be filled with water on the side, to a community refuge and it isn’t too far away, this is probably going to be the best late option, but really, for vulnerable people, you want them out of there quick smart. Providing the comms are all up, this is quite feasible.

  32. Fran Barlow

    John D

    Fran: Agree with what you said about house location and community refuges. However, refuges at the home are important because people will want to defend their homes.

    Certainly John D if someone wants to put in a personal secure area to take shelter in so as to allow them to defend up to the last, I’m not going to object. Yet I think that we should actively discourage people from defending their homes because as one contributor to the commission put it, the factors that would allow you to make an informed decision about the feasibility of that course are apt to change very quickly — much more quickly than it is reasonable for any peron to be able to respond to and perhaps in the decision envelope where you ought, with the information to be tossing up whether to escape or not. A tree that collapses across a roadway you were relying on to escape is not something you are going to find out about until it is rather too late. Nor will you know how many others will be on the road when you leave.

    Providing you have two or three highly secure routes (perhaps with the trees set back well from the road, culverts that can be filled with water on the side, to a community refuge and it isn’t too far away, this is probably going to be the best late option, but really, for vulnerable people, you want them out of there quick smart. Providing the comms are all up, this is quite feasible.

  33. Chris

    The other problem with personal shelters is that they will not be well maintained. So we’ll end up with people thinking they have a safe place to shelter only to discover when its too late that its not. Community refuges are much more likely to be well maintained.

    I agree with some other points – I think allowing power companies to cut off power on very high risk days is a good thing. They can’t make them 100% reliable when it comes to high winds. And as a side effect we’d most likely see a lot more people voluntarily evacuate if they have no power.

    We also need to take the approach by councils which is starting to happen with areas on the coast which are at risk of flood with rising sea levels. Clearly mark and warn people when buying properties that they are in a high bushfire risk area. Make them sign something acknowledging this when putting an offer on a property or applying to rent a property in these areas. Should also consider similar planned retreat strategies from extremely high risk areas (eg one road in only). And not allow new development or rebuilding if there is a fire.

  34. Chris

    The other problem with personal shelters is that they will not be well maintained. So we’ll end up with people thinking they have a safe place to shelter only to discover when its too late that its not. Community refuges are much more likely to be well maintained.

    I agree with some other points – I think allowing power companies to cut off power on very high risk days is a good thing. They can’t make them 100% reliable when it comes to high winds. And as a side effect we’d most likely see a lot more people voluntarily evacuate if they have no power.

    We also need to take the approach by councils which is starting to happen with areas on the coast which are at risk of flood with rising sea levels. Clearly mark and warn people when buying properties that they are in a high bushfire risk area. Make them sign something acknowledging this when putting an offer on a property or applying to rent a property in these areas. Should also consider similar planned retreat strategies from extremely high risk areas (eg one road in only). And not allow new development or rebuilding if there is a fire.

  35. Moz

    Cutting the power also has the effect of reminding people that something serious is afoot.

    I’m in two minds – I feel quite strongly that if people would rather die at home they should be allowed to. It’s not our place to force them to ensure their own safety, whether the risk is cancer or bushfire, even assuming we can actually do so. But on the other hand, assuring ourselves that people have made informed choices is quite hard.

    Having maintained a refuge for a number of years it’s not easy or cheap, even with purely passive measures. Active measures like water pumps and SCUBA equipment add another layer of complexity. Designing a refuge to work well is even harder, and a poor refuge is often worse than no refuge.

    Finally, holding the line between finding out what went wrong and finding someone to blame is not as hard as some people would like to pretend. The aviation industry is fighting very hard on this one even as we speak, with the encroachment of lawyers into areas they are not competant to hold opinions on continuing to be a problem. But the basic pattern is well known and well implemented. I’d even go so far as to say it’s easy to tell from a distance which is in use: if it’s headed by an engineer or scientist it’s about what happened; if it’s headed by a lawyer or politician it’s looking for someone to blame.

    Specifically, I do not give a rats what Christine Nixon did or did not do. I’m glad that she wasn’t getting in the way of people trying to solve the problem when she was in not condition to work effectively. But if she should have done something different I think we have an obligation to make that clear. I don’t think hanging her from a lamppost counts as “making it clear”.

  36. Moz

    Cutting the power also has the effect of reminding people that something serious is afoot.

    I’m in two minds – I feel quite strongly that if people would rather die at home they should be allowed to. It’s not our place to force them to ensure their own safety, whether the risk is cancer or bushfire, even assuming we can actually do so. But on the other hand, assuring ourselves that people have made informed choices is quite hard.

    Having maintained a refuge for a number of years it’s not easy or cheap, even with purely passive measures. Active measures like water pumps and SCUBA equipment add another layer of complexity. Designing a refuge to work well is even harder, and a poor refuge is often worse than no refuge.

    Finally, holding the line between finding out what went wrong and finding someone to blame is not as hard as some people would like to pretend. The aviation industry is fighting very hard on this one even as we speak, with the encroachment of lawyers into areas they are not competant to hold opinions on continuing to be a problem. But the basic pattern is well known and well implemented. I’d even go so far as to say it’s easy to tell from a distance which is in use: if it’s headed by an engineer or scientist it’s about what happened; if it’s headed by a lawyer or politician it’s looking for someone to blame.

    Specifically, I do not give a rats what Christine Nixon did or did not do. I’m glad that she wasn’t getting in the way of people trying to solve the problem when she was in not condition to work effectively. But if she should have done something different I think we have an obligation to make that clear. I don’t think hanging her from a lamppost counts as “making it clear”.

  37. John D

    Chris @17: one of the reasons I favour the yellow to orange to red alert system is that it gives people to check their refuge, gutters pumps etc and get them up to defend level or realize that you aren’t prepared to defend and get ready to evacuate if alarm level gets to the level at which you should evacuate.

    There is no fundamental reason why a safe refuge, automatic or remote controlled fire fighting system or a fireproof house cannot be designed. However, I lack the technical expertise to say what each of these requires, how much it would cost or how much expertise it would take to operate. One of the points that I was trying to make in the post is that requirements will be different for different houses in different locations at different stages in the re-vegetation cycle. One of the dangers is that we will become so obsessed with answers that will deal with any situation that we price out options that would be OK under some or most situations.

    One issue we need to understand is why only 1.5% left their homes as a result of red alerts.

  38. John D

    Chris @17: one of the reasons I favour the yellow to orange to red alert system is that it gives people to check their refuge, gutters pumps etc and get them up to defend level or realize that you aren’t prepared to defend and get ready to evacuate if alarm level gets to the level at which you should evacuate.

    There is no fundamental reason why a safe refuge, automatic or remote controlled fire fighting system or a fireproof house cannot be designed. However, I lack the technical expertise to say what each of these requires, how much it would cost or how much expertise it would take to operate. One of the points that I was trying to make in the post is that requirements will be different for different houses in different locations at different stages in the re-vegetation cycle. One of the dangers is that we will become so obsessed with answers that will deal with any situation that we price out options that would be OK under some or most situations.

    One issue we need to understand is why only 1.5% left their homes as a result of red alerts.

  39. jules

    I wasn’t in Victoria last year, but from what i understand the conditions were ridiculous.

    In those cases I honestly think all bets are off. At some point on a day like that there’ll be a systemic failure, especially with the C and C structures in Victoria.

    John D -

    “The conclusion was that people died defending despite following all the defence recommendations in the CFA’s booklet.

    Flaws in preparation and fire fighting technique appear to have contributed to some of the stay and defend deaths. Others may have occurred because people were trying to defend the undefendable.”

    How much focus was on being mentally prepared in Victoria.

    One story I heard was of people who after surviving numerous overruns by the fire front in their house eventually lost the fight to save their place, and somehow managed to get their vehicle and drive to burnt out ground around their place and shelter in the vehicle as various fronts hit them again, they car protected them from radiant heat and apparently cos they were in burnt out ground they weren’t hit by sustained fire.

    Now they survived, and I assume the story is accurate cos I heard it at a debrief for a NSW crew that was down there in the days and weeks following.

    I’m only telling this story to illustrate that these people never lost their head, and even when it would seem they should have died they were able to maximise their chances for survival.

    Honestly I think its the sort of story that anyone who thinks of defending in those or any conditions should hear if its accurate, cos it illustrates the sort of mentality thats needed to attempt to properly defend the house.

    Its worth considering whether some of the people who died failing to defend their houses would have died in the same circumstances. It seems these people kept their wits about them didn’t panic when they were potentially without shelter in an inferno and maximised their chances of survival.

    Perhaps some of those who died in what I assume was a panic may have survived if they had not paniced?

    Its a serious question. Perhaps some situations are undefendable, but … perhaps not all situations. Perhaps the mentaliy of people trying to defend their homes should be considered, (at least by them before they try.)

    If you don’t perform under the most extreme pressure … it may be a touchy subject but the fact is that when the shit hits the fan some people cope, and some people don’t, and some people excel.

    Lots of speculation based on an anecdote, but given the source its worth consideration. (You’ll have to take my word on that tho.)

    Preparation is more than clearing the fuel, building sprinkler systems and the physical tasks. Its being mentally or emotionally or spiritually ready to face an intense life threatening situation. One where the actual physical conditions are extreme, the information you get about your situation is minimal and lost in sensory overload from other environmental cues. (Smell, feel – intense heat and occasional burns from embers, lack or oxygen, poor visibility overwhelming noise.

    Also being prepared for the demands on your body – if you get heat exposure conditions they could kill you themselves, or induce really bad decision making. Etc etc.

    People who are going to defend their houses probably need a pre season briefing on what to expect and how to prepare and maintaiin the right frame of mind and things like making sure you keep hydrated etc etc.

    Interesting post John D, there’s some interesting points there that need further discussion. I might take them one at a time.

  40. jules

    I wasn’t in Victoria last year, but from what i understand the conditions were ridiculous.

    In those cases I honestly think all bets are off. At some point on a day like that there’ll be a systemic failure, especially with the C and C structures in Victoria.

    John D -

    “The conclusion was that people died defending despite following all the defence recommendations in the CFA’s booklet.

    Flaws in preparation and fire fighting technique appear to have contributed to some of the stay and defend deaths. Others may have occurred because people were trying to defend the undefendable.”

    How much focus was on being mentally prepared in Victoria.

    One story I heard was of people who after surviving numerous overruns by the fire front in their house eventually lost the fight to save their place, and somehow managed to get their vehicle and drive to burnt out ground around their place and shelter in the vehicle as various fronts hit them again, they car protected them from radiant heat and apparently cos they were in burnt out ground they weren’t hit by sustained fire.

    Now they survived, and I assume the story is accurate cos I heard it at a debrief for a NSW crew that was down there in the days and weeks following.

    I’m only telling this story to illustrate that these people never lost their head, and even when it would seem they should have died they were able to maximise their chances for survival.

    Honestly I think its the sort of story that anyone who thinks of defending in those or any conditions should hear if its accurate, cos it illustrates the sort of mentality thats needed to attempt to properly defend the house.

    Its worth considering whether some of the people who died failing to defend their houses would have died in the same circumstances. It seems these people kept their wits about them didn’t panic when they were potentially without shelter in an inferno and maximised their chances of survival.

    Perhaps some of those who died in what I assume was a panic may have survived if they had not paniced?

    Its a serious question. Perhaps some situations are undefendable, but … perhaps not all situations. Perhaps the mentaliy of people trying to defend their homes should be considered, (at least by them before they try.)

    If you don’t perform under the most extreme pressure … it may be a touchy subject but the fact is that when the shit hits the fan some people cope, and some people don’t, and some people excel.

    Lots of speculation based on an anecdote, but given the source its worth consideration. (You’ll have to take my word on that tho.)

    Preparation is more than clearing the fuel, building sprinkler systems and the physical tasks. Its being mentally or emotionally or spiritually ready to face an intense life threatening situation. One where the actual physical conditions are extreme, the information you get about your situation is minimal and lost in sensory overload from other environmental cues. (Smell, feel – intense heat and occasional burns from embers, lack or oxygen, poor visibility overwhelming noise.

    Also being prepared for the demands on your body – if you get heat exposure conditions they could kill you themselves, or induce really bad decision making. Etc etc.

    People who are going to defend their houses probably need a pre season briefing on what to expect and how to prepare and maintaiin the right frame of mind and things like making sure you keep hydrated etc etc.

    Interesting post John D, there’s some interesting points there that need further discussion. I might take them one at a time.

  41. John D

    Interesting comment Jules. There are lots of things that people might do to increase their chances of survival but if you have never faced the full power of a black Saturday fire you don’t really know how you will react if it all starts to go wrong. Sometimes it is hard to know who will handle a crisis best.

    If I was going to make a logical decision to defend I would want to be reasonable sure that I had either a safe house or a workable plan B and was not depending on a pump keeping on working to survive. It would also help to have expert advice before I decided what I should do.

    Having said this it still makes sense to do things that will help the odds in your favour if you can’t get away in time or get blocked when you do try to get away. A good plan, training, survival equipment and knowledge of how others survived in earlier fires all may have saved some of the lives lost.

  42. John D

    Interesting comment Jules. There are lots of things that people might do to increase their chances of survival but if you have never faced the full power of a black Saturday fire you don’t really know how you will react if it all starts to go wrong. Sometimes it is hard to know who will handle a crisis best.

    If I was going to make a logical decision to defend I would want to be reasonable sure that I had either a safe house or a workable plan B and was not depending on a pump keeping on working to survive. It would also help to have expert advice before I decided what I should do.

    Having said this it still makes sense to do things that will help the odds in your favour if you can’t get away in time or get blocked when you do try to get away. A good plan, training, survival equipment and knowledge of how others survived in earlier fires all may have saved some of the lives lost.

  43. jules

    “Public refuges: These are important both as a means of saving late deciders, reducing traffic travel times and reducing the amount of traffic on evacuation routes.”

    This is really problematic.

    How many of you live in bushfire prone areas?

    Given any thought to this? (IE where you would go if you needed a safe place in a bushfire?) If you have, and really thought about it, you may understand where I’m coming from.

    We need an understanding of the limits of these places, and probably ultimately a network of safer areas and larger evacuation centres. But people probably need to understand that they will be on their own and unable to depend on assistance at anywhere smaller than an evacuation centre.

    I dunno if its possible to provide enough public refuges and actually provide any sort of support to all them in a situation like last year, except on an ad hoc basis dependent on luck and any number of unforseeable factors.

    Honestly when it comes to this the only real solution is actual grass roots stuff. People taking responsibility for their own local area, maybe their road, or hamlet, and work with their local fireys (ideally join them) understanding the limits of what can be done in a situation like Black Saturday.

    There are logistic problems galore with this, and I’m half distracted by lateline, but consider this, if you have to travel more than a km or two on a road to find a public refuge you start exposing yourself to greater risk from being caught unaware by fires, trapped, losing visibility on the roads etc etc.

    If you aren’t exactly clear on how to get there, and have a plan that get you there quickly accurately and without mowing down your neighbours in the process, or being mown down yourself you may be setting yourself up for trouble. It may provide people with an unrealistic sense of safety.

    If so we are setting ourselves up for a repeat of the disaster we had last time.

    None of this will work without active community participation. But more than that, community ownership of the process is essential.

    Its actually wrong to assume or expect more than the most basic leadership to come from anything beyond a local level in situations like that. The fire was moving faster than information about it could. (That doesn’t mean there isn’t valid criticism of that leadership or the structures around it etc but they’re irrelevent to this particular point.)

    Even with the best information etc etc and a perfect system working properly – unless people know which very close safe place they can rely on, and preferably have a choice, then I wonder how safe they will end up being.

    I’m not saying its a bad idea cos its got excellent potential, but it will be dangerous if it is approached in a half arsed way.

    More to come.

  44. jules

    “Public refuges: These are important both as a means of saving late deciders, reducing traffic travel times and reducing the amount of traffic on evacuation routes.”

    This is really problematic.

    How many of you live in bushfire prone areas?

    Given any thought to this? (IE where you would go if you needed a safe place in a bushfire?) If you have, and really thought about it, you may understand where I’m coming from.

    We need an understanding of the limits of these places, and probably ultimately a network of safer areas and larger evacuation centres. But people probably need to understand that they will be on their own and unable to depend on assistance at anywhere smaller than an evacuation centre.

    I dunno if its possible to provide enough public refuges and actually provide any sort of support to all them in a situation like last year, except on an ad hoc basis dependent on luck and any number of unforseeable factors.

    Honestly when it comes to this the only real solution is actual grass roots stuff. People taking responsibility for their own local area, maybe their road, or hamlet, and work with their local fireys (ideally join them) understanding the limits of what can be done in a situation like Black Saturday.

    There are logistic problems galore with this, and I’m half distracted by lateline, but consider this, if you have to travel more than a km or two on a road to find a public refuge you start exposing yourself to greater risk from being caught unaware by fires, trapped, losing visibility on the roads etc etc.

    If you aren’t exactly clear on how to get there, and have a plan that get you there quickly accurately and without mowing down your neighbours in the process, or being mown down yourself you may be setting yourself up for trouble. It may provide people with an unrealistic sense of safety.

    If so we are setting ourselves up for a repeat of the disaster we had last time.

    None of this will work without active community participation. But more than that, community ownership of the process is essential.

    Its actually wrong to assume or expect more than the most basic leadership to come from anything beyond a local level in situations like that. The fire was moving faster than information about it could. (That doesn’t mean there isn’t valid criticism of that leadership or the structures around it etc but they’re irrelevent to this particular point.)

    Even with the best information etc etc and a perfect system working properly – unless people know which very close safe place they can rely on, and preferably have a choice, then I wonder how safe they will end up being.

    I’m not saying its a bad idea cos its got excellent potential, but it will be dangerous if it is approached in a half arsed way.

    More to come.

  45. jules

    “There are lots of things that people might do to increase their chances of survival but if you have never faced the full power of a black Saturday fire you don’t really know how you will react if it all starts to go wrong. Sometimes it is hard to know who will handle a crisis best.”

    Yeah thats what I was getting at.

    And if you haven’t been in that situation before then its worth considering how you might react, and other methods of dealing with extremes that work for people.

    “If I was going to make a logical decision to defend I would want to be reasonable sure that I had either a safe house or a workable plan B and was not depending on a pump keeping on working to survive. It would also help to have expert advice before I decided what I should do.”

    Yeah.

    There’s lots about that post that I want to talk about but I may not get back till Sunday. Public refuges or safe places tho … they need a lot of consideration, by individuals as ppart of their planning imo.

    Maybe a series of “safe places” – depending where the fires coming from?

  46. jules

    “There are lots of things that people might do to increase their chances of survival but if you have never faced the full power of a black Saturday fire you don’t really know how you will react if it all starts to go wrong. Sometimes it is hard to know who will handle a crisis best.”

    Yeah thats what I was getting at.

    And if you haven’t been in that situation before then its worth considering how you might react, and other methods of dealing with extremes that work for people.

    “If I was going to make a logical decision to defend I would want to be reasonable sure that I had either a safe house or a workable plan B and was not depending on a pump keeping on working to survive. It would also help to have expert advice before I decided what I should do.”

    Yeah.

    There’s lots about that post that I want to talk about but I may not get back till Sunday. Public refuges or safe places tho … they need a lot of consideration, by individuals as ppart of their planning imo.

    Maybe a series of “safe places” – depending where the fires coming from?

  47. Zorronsky

    The best thing you can have going for you on a black saturday is luck. How many people succumbed to smoke? Unless safe havens have the right facilities on such a day they are worse than useless. Do you fancy sitting in the sun on a 47c day with a 50 knot wind blowing smoke and reducing visibility to a few metres for 5 or 6 hours?
    And if old “Joe Blow” and his wife and cat and dog do leave early are they going to sit in the car for a couple of days? And that’s supposing there is a car or a license.
    It must be a local effort to cover all these bases.

  48. Zorronsky

    The best thing you can have going for you on a black saturday is luck. How many people succumbed to smoke? Unless safe havens have the right facilities on such a day they are worse than useless. Do you fancy sitting in the sun on a 47c day with a 50 knot wind blowing smoke and reducing visibility to a few metres for 5 or 6 hours?
    And if old “Joe Blow” and his wife and cat and dog do leave early are they going to sit in the car for a couple of days? And that’s supposing there is a car or a license.
    It must be a local effort to cover all these bases.

  49. Zorronsky

    BTW we are almost to the winter solstice. Last November we had a series of 40 plus degree days after the wettest year for over a decade. Yet all we have are talk fests. Extreme events are more common and there’s no guarantee they wont be an annual occurrence so where’s the action? Oh! that’s right, it’s more important to get a few heads on stakes.

  50. Zorronsky

    BTW we are almost to the winter solstice. Last November we had a series of 40 plus degree days after the wettest year for over a decade. Yet all we have are talk fests. Extreme events are more common and there’s no guarantee they wont be an annual occurrence so where’s the action? Oh! that’s right, it’s more important to get a few heads on stakes.

  51. H-Marysville

    A very interesting article and some very interesting comments on both side. One comment from the article
    “So firstly there is a people problem. For some reason people were ignoring policy and acting in what appeared to be a risky manner.”
    YES – it was a people problem – people chose not to listen to the nedia warnings, instead stay inside with the Air Conditioner and theXbox or similiar.
    I’m not going to go into all the details that I know personally, BUT…… some people died to lack of preparation, some because they thought the CFA would come and be their knight in shining armour. Others died because they thought it couldn’t happen to them, others through sheer bad luck and some because they made silly mistakes and in Marysville many died because the water system was compromised due to buildings being engulfed and the fire systems disgorging through open-ended pipes. I can put a name to each and every event above :(
    Some solutions provided in the comments may or may not work, some because of peoples attitudes, some because of lazy and some could be down-right deadly.
    My family comes from a fire affected area and here are some things that people aren’t telling you about bunkers.
    Bunkers, [empty link - moderator]
    Evacuations are another that is hard to enforce and the Australian Public will often not stand for being forcibely removed
    Evacuations,
    “Neighbourhood Safer Places” is another stupid ket’s not sure type name for a football oval. Only problem is that not all football ovals meet the ‘code’ that the government has put in place
    Safer Places,
    Another thing that has NOT been touched by anyone in the short term, thinking ahead, how many Code Red days will break a family financially BEFORE they start ignoring the warnings? – I say 2-3. Code Red Days will mean little in 2-3 years.
    Code Red Days and Kids

    Life is precious and all this talk is achieving little, we need more action, action that isn;t cotton-wool action, but real action with real outcome. Were are Victoria’s safer places? – I’ve seen ONE and that is NOT in my own area.
    Good luck out there!

  52. H-Marysville

    A very interesting article and some very interesting comments on both side. One comment from the article
    “So firstly there is a people problem. For some reason people were ignoring policy and acting in what appeared to be a risky manner.”
    YES – it was a people problem – people chose not to listen to the nedia warnings, instead stay inside with the Air Conditioner and theXbox or similiar.
    I’m not going to go into all the details that I know personally, BUT…… some people died to lack of preparation, some because they thought the CFA would come and be their knight in shining armour. Others died because they thought it couldn’t happen to them, others through sheer bad luck and some because they made silly mistakes and in Marysville many died because the water system was compromised due to buildings being engulfed and the fire systems disgorging through open-ended pipes. I can put a name to each and every event above :(
    Some solutions provided in the comments may or may not work, some because of peoples attitudes, some because of lazy and some could be down-right deadly.
    My family comes from a fire affected area and here are some things that people aren’t telling you about bunkers.
    Bunkers, [empty link - moderator]
    Evacuations are another that is hard to enforce and the Australian Public will often not stand for being forcibely removed
    Evacuations,
    “Neighbourhood Safer Places” is another stupid ket’s not sure type name for a football oval. Only problem is that not all football ovals meet the ‘code’ that the government has put in place
    Safer Places,
    Another thing that has NOT been touched by anyone in the short term, thinking ahead, how many Code Red days will break a family financially BEFORE they start ignoring the warnings? – I say 2-3. Code Red Days will mean little in 2-3 years.
    Code Red Days and Kids

    Life is precious and all this talk is achieving little, we need more action, action that isn;t cotton-wool action, but real action with real outcome. Were are Victoria’s safer places? – I’ve seen ONE and that is NOT in my own area.
    Good luck out there!

  53. John D

    H-Marysville: Interesting set of links that answer some of the questions being asked by myself and others. Your evacuation link highlights many of the good reasons why people are reluctant to leave and reinforces and why it is important that the response to Black Saturday must assume that there will be a “mix of people who choose to leave early, defend and procrastinate.”
    Would it be possible to fix up the bunker link or at least give us some of the key points if this is not possible? Also how much of what you talk about in your 2009 posts has been fixed by now or has it all been left pending waiting for the commission’s report?

  54. John D

    H-Marysville: Interesting set of links that answer some of the questions being asked by myself and others. Your evacuation link highlights many of the good reasons why people are reluctant to leave and reinforces and why it is important that the response to Black Saturday must assume that there will be a “mix of people who choose to leave early, defend and procrastinate.”
    Would it be possible to fix up the bunker link or at least give us some of the key points if this is not possible? Also how much of what you talk about in your 2009 posts has been fixed by now or has it all been left pending waiting for the commission’s report?

  55. H-Marysville

    Sorry John, Sorry everyone – here is the Bunker link and here is one from November 2009 Bunker Post-November
    On the day I had and still have intentions of leaving my property – I grew up in Marysville and still have family connections there. My parents have the same approach, and when the fire threatened them, they stayed, they fought, they ‘won’ although it was a hollow victory.
    My biggest concern with bunkers in not tomorrow, not the day after, but 20 years time, if another fire like Black Saturday does hit an area where a fire bunker has been installed, if the property has changed hands, and if the residents took refuge in sad bunker, can that bunker be readily located by emergency services? The bunkers have to be sealed, to prevent air escaping, what if the air runs out? A permanant tomb? – I dread the thought with all my heart.
    Re-visit that blog – there are many posts there, that give food for thought, show what should and should not be done when confronted by fire, and how how bad things were both during and for months after the fires.
    Thank-you
    The 1939 fires killed 71, 2009 fires killed 173, what will the toll be of the next BIG Bushfire?
    The government is not responsible for our survival, we are and until people understand that – little will change, even with a Royal Commission.

  56. H-Marysville

    Sorry John, Sorry everyone – here is the Bunker link and here is one from November 2009 Bunker Post-November
    On the day I had and still have intentions of leaving my property – I grew up in Marysville and still have family connections there. My parents have the same approach, and when the fire threatened them, they stayed, they fought, they ‘won’ although it was a hollow victory.
    My biggest concern with bunkers in not tomorrow, not the day after, but 20 years time, if another fire like Black Saturday does hit an area where a fire bunker has been installed, if the property has changed hands, and if the residents took refuge in sad bunker, can that bunker be readily located by emergency services? The bunkers have to be sealed, to prevent air escaping, what if the air runs out? A permanant tomb? – I dread the thought with all my heart.
    Re-visit that blog – there are many posts there, that give food for thought, show what should and should not be done when confronted by fire, and how how bad things were both during and for months after the fires.
    Thank-you
    The 1939 fires killed 71, 2009 fires killed 173, what will the toll be of the next BIG Bushfire?
    The government is not responsible for our survival, we are and until people understand that – little will change, even with a Royal Commission.

  57. H-Marysville

    I really must proof-read my posts :(
    On the day I had and still have NO intentions of leaving my property – I grew up in Marysville and still have family connections there. My parents have the same approach, and when the fire threatened them, they stayed, they fought, they ‘won’ although it was a hollow victory.

  58. H-Marysville

    I really must proof-read my posts :(
    On the day I had and still have NO intentions of leaving my property – I grew up in Marysville and still have family connections there. My parents have the same approach, and when the fire threatened them, they stayed, they fought, they ‘won’ although it was a hollow victory.

  59. Ronnie

    The stay or go policy is an inherent compromise. As someone who has undergone bushfire fighting training, I think it is silly to believe that untrained residents who know very little about fire behaviour should be encouraged to stay and defend their properties, sometimes with nothing more than a garden hose. The only reason that such a policy has been enacted is because of political pressure from residents of fire-prone areas not to be forced to evacuate.
    The only fire plan people should have is an evacuation plan – leave the fire fighting to the fire brigades and join as a volunteer if you want to play a role.

  60. Ronnie

    The stay or go policy is an inherent compromise. As someone who has undergone bushfire fighting training, I think it is silly to believe that untrained residents who know very little about fire behaviour should be encouraged to stay and defend their properties, sometimes with nothing more than a garden hose. The only reason that such a policy has been enacted is because of political pressure from residents of fire-prone areas not to be forced to evacuate.
    The only fire plan people should have is an evacuation plan – leave the fire fighting to the fire brigades and join as a volunteer if you want to play a role.

  61. H-Marysville

    Evacuation is NOT the only answer – in fact in the case of Mt Dandenong, evacuating could kill more people that it saves. For the Mt Dandenong area to be fully evacuated is estimated will take something like 6-12 hours and that’s people willingly evacuating, not having emergency services hounding them out Mt Dandenong Evacuation
    And when people do leave, where do they go? The fiasco of the evening of the 9th, saw people fighting over what little accommodation was available outside the area that was threatened, Some people drove out of the immediate area of danger, with family, found accommodation and then were hounded to leave, because they didn’t nearly lose their life. The human beast is a strange one.
    H

  62. H-Marysville

    Evacuation is NOT the only answer – in fact in the case of Mt Dandenong, evacuating could kill more people that it saves. For the Mt Dandenong area to be fully evacuated is estimated will take something like 6-12 hours and that’s people willingly evacuating, not having emergency services hounding them out Mt Dandenong Evacuation
    And when people do leave, where do they go? The fiasco of the evening of the 9th, saw people fighting over what little accommodation was available outside the area that was threatened, Some people drove out of the immediate area of danger, with family, found accommodation and then were hounded to leave, because they didn’t nearly lose their life. The human beast is a strange one.
    H

  63. OldSkeptic

    One thing became obvious to me, when the bushfire actually happened and people were talking to ABC radio, was that was ‘firestorm’, not a normal bushfire.

    Trouble is that the whole system was geared for standard bushfire and could not cope with the speed and intensity of the firestorm.

    Bit like a a car with only one gear.

    Firestorms move very fast. I talked to one guy who was out Kilmore way on the day and he told about driving at 80kmh and watching the firefront passing him (off to the side of course, otherwise he would have been dead). People seeing smoke in the distance and thought they had an hour or more, were caught when the fire front was on them in minutes.

    Taking a systems theory approach, the fire management and communications systems simply could not keep up and fell further and further behind reality. What was needed was to switch off the central control and move to delegated authroity close to the fronts, to be able to react fast enough to events.

    Sadly, there was no plan B in the system, so it continued to lag events falling further behind as time went on, until it was irrelevent and quite possibly counter effective.

    The ‘stay or go’ has to be put into context, quite effective with a normal bushfire, but should be ‘go or seek a shelter’ for a firestorm.

    The other main factor with a firestorm is the radient heat, which is much greater than a normal fire. At 50m it was like a blowtorch. The heat, plus the wind intensity meant that many houses and lives were lost when the windows and/or doors blew in. The radient heat was strong enough to ignite inside the house, in which case you had no chance.

    The idea about staying in your home is that it provides a good thermal barrier and, even if the house ignites from the outside, then it will probably last long enough for the fire front to pass, then you can escape.

    When it ignites from the inside, you are basically doomed.

    So what is needed is a multi-speed system, that can be adjusted to the circumstance. With a firestorm the response times have to be in minutes, not hours. Plus you have to expect that communications will be degraded as phone lines, mobile telephone towers and radio repeaters go down, even if just from power lines going under. This means switching to a decentralised authority close to the fronts, with the central command playing just a backup strategic and logistic role, rather than as a direct (and increasingling irrelevent) command centre.

    Local shelters are essential as the speed of the fire means that ‘going’ may simply not be possible in some cases.

  64. OldSkeptic

    One thing became obvious to me, when the bushfire actually happened and people were talking to ABC radio, was that was ‘firestorm’, not a normal bushfire.

    Trouble is that the whole system was geared for standard bushfire and could not cope with the speed and intensity of the firestorm.

    Bit like a a car with only one gear.

    Firestorms move very fast. I talked to one guy who was out Kilmore way on the day and he told about driving at 80kmh and watching the firefront passing him (off to the side of course, otherwise he would have been dead). People seeing smoke in the distance and thought they had an hour or more, were caught when the fire front was on them in minutes.

    Taking a systems theory approach, the fire management and communications systems simply could not keep up and fell further and further behind reality. What was needed was to switch off the central control and move to delegated authroity close to the fronts, to be able to react fast enough to events.

    Sadly, there was no plan B in the system, so it continued to lag events falling further behind as time went on, until it was irrelevent and quite possibly counter effective.

    The ‘stay or go’ has to be put into context, quite effective with a normal bushfire, but should be ‘go or seek a shelter’ for a firestorm.

    The other main factor with a firestorm is the radient heat, which is much greater than a normal fire. At 50m it was like a blowtorch. The heat, plus the wind intensity meant that many houses and lives were lost when the windows and/or doors blew in. The radient heat was strong enough to ignite inside the house, in which case you had no chance.

    The idea about staying in your home is that it provides a good thermal barrier and, even if the house ignites from the outside, then it will probably last long enough for the fire front to pass, then you can escape.

    When it ignites from the inside, you are basically doomed.

    So what is needed is a multi-speed system, that can be adjusted to the circumstance. With a firestorm the response times have to be in minutes, not hours. Plus you have to expect that communications will be degraded as phone lines, mobile telephone towers and radio repeaters go down, even if just from power lines going under. This means switching to a decentralised authority close to the fronts, with the central command playing just a backup strategic and logistic role, rather than as a direct (and increasingling irrelevent) command centre.

    Local shelters are essential as the speed of the fire means that ‘going’ may simply not be possible in some cases.

  65. Brian

    My overwhelming feeling is that I wouldn’t ever in a million years choose to live in an area with so much risk. I remember talking to a bloke in Townsville after cyclone Althea in the 1970s. They had spent the night under a weatherboard house while the house rocked above them. But it stayed there and they were OK.

    His response was to build a house in the beach suburb of Pallarenda, with a big concrete slab and cyclone bolts to hold the roof on. As he drove me around to show me his pride and joy, he mentioned that once in 500 years a 50-foot swell washes over the area.

    Just. Couldn’t. Live. There.

  66. Brian

    My overwhelming feeling is that I wouldn’t ever in a million years choose to live in an area with so much risk. I remember talking to a bloke in Townsville after cyclone Althea in the 1970s. They had spent the night under a weatherboard house while the house rocked above them. But it stayed there and they were OK.

    His response was to build a house in the beach suburb of Pallarenda, with a big concrete slab and cyclone bolts to hold the roof on. As he drove me around to show me his pride and joy, he mentioned that once in 500 years a 50-foot swell washes over the area.

    Just. Couldn’t. Live. There.

  67. John D

    H-Marysville: For some reason your bunker links still aren’t working even though the others are. What you said about bunkers left sealed for years is very important. People are frequently killed entering confined spaces that have been left shut for years because rusting or rotting of wood etc. uses up all the oxygen. There are additional risks when the space is exposed to the earth.
    Al the links that were working simply emphasize that “GO” may sound simple but the reality is more complex than that.
    The only really safe options are to be nowhere near the fire or to be in a properly designed and prepared refuge that at least someone in the refuge knows what has to be done.
    Ronnie @30: Agree that there will always be some risk if you are trying to defend instead of simply retreating to the refuge. You can reduce the risks to some extent by knowing what precautions to take while you are trying to fight the fire, having more than one adult fighting the fire etc. – But there will still be risks. The ABC article said that:

    only 5 per cent of those who died – eight or nine people – were actively defending at the exact moment of their deaths.

    It was not clear whether these people could have saved their lives by retreating or whether the point had been reached where fighting the fire was their only hope.
    The sheer uncertainty of it all says that it is important to finish the statement: People would be less likely to die if…. Absolute safety would be nice but doing things that increased chances of survival probably saved a lot of people on the day.
    One of the things that struck me during the fires and reading some of the M-Marysville posts was the difference between what we did about cyclones on Groote Eylandt during the seventies and what didn’t happen in the Victorian fire risk areas. On Groote cyclone procedures were part of the induction and cyclone procedures reviewed and areas inspected at the start of the cyclone season. Once a yellow alert was called the actions that went with this alert include visiting all the houses in the town and helping to clean up debris that might have become a flying hazard during the cyclone. Further action took place during the orange alert and everyone was in shelter during the red alert. Easy to do in a closed mining town but communities in high fire danger areas should be looking to do some of the equivalent things.

  68. John D

    H-Marysville: For some reason your bunker links still aren’t working even though the others are. What you said about bunkers left sealed for years is very important. People are frequently killed entering confined spaces that have been left shut for years because rusting or rotting of wood etc. uses up all the oxygen. There are additional risks when the space is exposed to the earth.
    Al the links that were working simply emphasize that “GO” may sound simple but the reality is more complex than that.
    The only really safe options are to be nowhere near the fire or to be in a properly designed and prepared refuge that at least someone in the refuge knows what has to be done.
    Ronnie @30: Agree that there will always be some risk if you are trying to defend instead of simply retreating to the refuge. You can reduce the risks to some extent by knowing what precautions to take while you are trying to fight the fire, having more than one adult fighting the fire etc. – But there will still be risks. The ABC article said that:

    only 5 per cent of those who died – eight or nine people – were actively defending at the exact moment of their deaths.

    It was not clear whether these people could have saved their lives by retreating or whether the point had been reached where fighting the fire was their only hope.
    The sheer uncertainty of it all says that it is important to finish the statement: People would be less likely to die if…. Absolute safety would be nice but doing things that increased chances of survival probably saved a lot of people on the day.
    One of the things that struck me during the fires and reading some of the M-Marysville posts was the difference between what we did about cyclones on Groote Eylandt during the seventies and what didn’t happen in the Victorian fire risk areas. On Groote cyclone procedures were part of the induction and cyclone procedures reviewed and areas inspected at the start of the cyclone season. Once a yellow alert was called the actions that went with this alert include visiting all the houses in the town and helping to clean up debris that might have become a flying hazard during the cyclone. Further action took place during the orange alert and everyone was in shelter during the red alert. Easy to do in a closed mining town but communities in high fire danger areas should be looking to do some of the equivalent things.

  69. H-Marysville

    Oh John :( – I even tested them this time!

    Here’s the copy and paste versions http://itaintalwaysso.blogspot.com/2010/03/fire-bunkers-in-news-again-are-they.html

    http://itaintalwaysso.blogspot.com/2009/11/fire-bunkers-are-they-safe.html

    I don’t know what else to add – other than there will be another post soon, showing that the ‘NSP’ (Neighbourhood Safer Places) Signage is pitiful and even worse than the current CFA warning signs of danger (which aren’t actually a warning sign, so much as a guide)

    But that is another story – I live to tell the tale – 173 others do not. My parents lived to tell their tale but 37 people we knew did not. Through accident, design or misadventure, only those close know the full story.

    It was a heart breaking time and for those that made it through, still a herat breaking time.

    I’m not sure what else can be done – other than ensuring that people do NOT rely on others to keep them informed, EACH and EVERY person on high fire danger days MUST be accountable for their own actions and not try to blame someone else.

  70. H-Marysville

    Oh John :( – I even tested them this time!

    Here’s the copy and paste versions http://itaintalwaysso.blogspot.com/2010/03/fire-bunkers-in-news-again-are-they.html

    http://itaintalwaysso.blogspot.com/2009/11/fire-bunkers-are-they-safe.html

    I don’t know what else to add – other than there will be another post soon, showing that the ‘NSP’ (Neighbourhood Safer Places) Signage is pitiful and even worse than the current CFA warning signs of danger (which aren’t actually a warning sign, so much as a guide)

    But that is another story – I live to tell the tale – 173 others do not. My parents lived to tell their tale but 37 people we knew did not. Through accident, design or misadventure, only those close know the full story.

    It was a heart breaking time and for those that made it through, still a herat breaking time.

    I’m not sure what else can be done – other than ensuring that people do NOT rely on others to keep them informed, EACH and EVERY person on high fire danger days MUST be accountable for their own actions and not try to blame someone else.

  71. wilful

    Compulsory evacuations is such an absurd idea (even if legal) – it takes thirty seconds thought to dismiss it. people seem to forget that extreme fire weather affects very large areas or even the whole state, and nobody knows where a fire may start. We are to evacuate all of the Great Ocean road area during the peak holiday seson? All of the dandenongs? Bollocks. People may comply the first one or two times, then they’ll, quite sensibly, give up on that as a bad idea.

    Much more could be done to make safer houses, but ultimately it’s got to come down to personal responsibility for much of this.

  72. wilful

    Compulsory evacuations is such an absurd idea (even if legal) – it takes thirty seconds thought to dismiss it. people seem to forget that extreme fire weather affects very large areas or even the whole state, and nobody knows where a fire may start. We are to evacuate all of the Great Ocean road area during the peak holiday seson? All of the dandenongs? Bollocks. People may comply the first one or two times, then they’ll, quite sensibly, give up on that as a bad idea.

    Much more could be done to make safer houses, but ultimately it’s got to come down to personal responsibility for much of this.

  73. John D

    H-Marysville: The bunker links worked this time and the contents are interesting. One of the things you said was

    If the bunker is a commercially purchased bunker, the companies providing these bunkers, clearly state that “ABC does not claim this product will save lives. There is NO Guarantee of personal safety. Nothing works better than timely and safe evacuation.”

    One of the ironies of the liability system is that ABC would be liable if someone died in their bunker but is unlikely to be liable if someone dies as a result of taking ABC’s advice to evacuate. So it is always hard to work out how confident ABC is about whether their bunker will work under what circumstances.
    So far I have seen only two references to people dying in bunkers. One was a basement bunker that trapped people below the burning house because it had no exit away from the burning house. The other was an earth covered bunker that simply did not have enough earth over the bunker. You also mentioned bunkers that had melted due to being exposed to too much heat for too long which sounds like a design fault or a location where the bunker would be close to burning material long after the fire had passed.

    I guess I have this touching faith that bunkers can be engineered and placed in a way that gives very high levels of confidence. but I am not sure how much this would cost or how foolproof it would be.

    @34 I already expressed my doubts about bunkers that are left sealed for years. I guess my concept for bunkers is that they must be able to be accessed safely from the house at the peak of the fire and safely exited after the fire front passes even if the house is burning. This might mean something as basic as an earth covered pipe or alternatively a room that is used as part of the normal operation of the house, able to survive a fire front, separate from the main building and connected by an a safe passage way. However, once again, the more you think the more complex it becomes if we are going to be sure it is not a death trap.

    Can you tell us more about people who survived by retreating to ploughed land or other open spaces. How far did it allow them to stay away from the fire? Did they stay in their cars? Were any of these places hit by fireball? Were there any cases where people or animals died despite taking refuge at open spaces?

    Was there anything else people did that saved lives?

  74. John D

    H-Marysville: The bunker links worked this time and the contents are interesting. One of the things you said was

    If the bunker is a commercially purchased bunker, the companies providing these bunkers, clearly state that “ABC does not claim this product will save lives. There is NO Guarantee of personal safety. Nothing works better than timely and safe evacuation.”

    One of the ironies of the liability system is that ABC would be liable if someone died in their bunker but is unlikely to be liable if someone dies as a result of taking ABC’s advice to evacuate. So it is always hard to work out how confident ABC is about whether their bunker will work under what circumstances.
    So far I have seen only two references to people dying in bunkers. One was a basement bunker that trapped people below the burning house because it had no exit away from the burning house. The other was an earth covered bunker that simply did not have enough earth over the bunker. You also mentioned bunkers that had melted due to being exposed to too much heat for too long which sounds like a design fault or a location where the bunker would be close to burning material long after the fire had passed.

    I guess I have this touching faith that bunkers can be engineered and placed in a way that gives very high levels of confidence. but I am not sure how much this would cost or how foolproof it would be.

    @34 I already expressed my doubts about bunkers that are left sealed for years. I guess my concept for bunkers is that they must be able to be accessed safely from the house at the peak of the fire and safely exited after the fire front passes even if the house is burning. This might mean something as basic as an earth covered pipe or alternatively a room that is used as part of the normal operation of the house, able to survive a fire front, separate from the main building and connected by an a safe passage way. However, once again, the more you think the more complex it becomes if we are going to be sure it is not a death trap.

    Can you tell us more about people who survived by retreating to ploughed land or other open spaces. How far did it allow them to stay away from the fire? Did they stay in their cars? Were any of these places hit by fireball? Were there any cases where people or animals died despite taking refuge at open spaces?

    Was there anything else people did that saved lives?

  75. OldSkeptic

    wilful, plus if we get another firestorm then evacuating simply may not be possible. The sheer speed of the firefront (80+kph) and the uncertainty about direction means trying to evac on the day of the fire could be worse than staying.

    Being caught in a vehicle is certain death. One story I picked up was a CFA team that had to leave their truck and seek shelter in a house, and that was with all their protective equipment. Which showed how intense it really was.

    So you either evac days before, stay and try to survive or go to a local shelter.

    Note that the characteristics of a firestorm means they are much harder to predict direction than a normal bushfire. And the speed means they can be on a previously thought safe area within a very short time.

    One story I heard (on radio) was a guy who saw smoke in the distance, thought he had plenty of time to evec, walked to his house … and it was on him.

    On the more positive side houses can be made more firestorm resistant, to possibly survive long enough for the front to pass over, with quite simple technology. Doesn’t mean it will survive (probably wont), just that it ‘could’ survive long enough for a person to live. The key is to make sure fire doesn’t start inside the house and that all (particularly) wooden structures are lightly coloured, preferably white, painted (to reflect heat). Water pouring over the house naturally helps too.

    The radiant heat was high enough in places to ignite unpainted or darkly coloured wood at a considerable distance, without any burning embers. One guy I listened too lost his house because he had firewood stacked along the wall, another because he had just put in a veranda with decking (the houses still lasted long enough for them to survive though, because they were burning from the outside in). The thermal shock, plus the intense winds (characteristic of a firestorm) means that windows and doors have to be far more resistant than current.

    Curtains behind a window could ignite even if the glass holds, so shutters or fire resistant curtains are essential, or even thermal blankets that can be put behind the windows. The building must be wind resistant enough not to suffer bad structural damage (e.g. parts of the roof blowing away, doors blowing in, etc) from the wind.

    Of course the best option is that there are local shelters, lots of them all within a short distance. You do not want people driving and getting caught in the fire front as they will almost definitely die.

    One tree or pole across a road or even a crashed or broken down vehicle can turn an escape route into a deathtrap. Or you simply cannot drive fast enough to escape.

  76. OldSkeptic

    wilful, plus if we get another firestorm then evacuating simply may not be possible. The sheer speed of the firefront (80+kph) and the uncertainty about direction means trying to evac on the day of the fire could be worse than staying.

    Being caught in a vehicle is certain death. One story I picked up was a CFA team that had to leave their truck and seek shelter in a house, and that was with all their protective equipment. Which showed how intense it really was.

    So you either evac days before, stay and try to survive or go to a local shelter.

    Note that the characteristics of a firestorm means they are much harder to predict direction than a normal bushfire. And the speed means they can be on a previously thought safe area within a very short time.

    One story I heard (on radio) was a guy who saw smoke in the distance, thought he had plenty of time to evec, walked to his house … and it was on him.

    On the more positive side houses can be made more firestorm resistant, to possibly survive long enough for the front to pass over, with quite simple technology. Doesn’t mean it will survive (probably wont), just that it ‘could’ survive long enough for a person to live. The key is to make sure fire doesn’t start inside the house and that all (particularly) wooden structures are lightly coloured, preferably white, painted (to reflect heat). Water pouring over the house naturally helps too.

    The radiant heat was high enough in places to ignite unpainted or darkly coloured wood at a considerable distance, without any burning embers. One guy I listened too lost his house because he had firewood stacked along the wall, another because he had just put in a veranda with decking (the houses still lasted long enough for them to survive though, because they were burning from the outside in). The thermal shock, plus the intense winds (characteristic of a firestorm) means that windows and doors have to be far more resistant than current.

    Curtains behind a window could ignite even if the glass holds, so shutters or fire resistant curtains are essential, or even thermal blankets that can be put behind the windows. The building must be wind resistant enough not to suffer bad structural damage (e.g. parts of the roof blowing away, doors blowing in, etc) from the wind.

    Of course the best option is that there are local shelters, lots of them all within a short distance. You do not want people driving and getting caught in the fire front as they will almost definitely die.

    One tree or pole across a road or even a crashed or broken down vehicle can turn an escape route into a deathtrap. Or you simply cannot drive fast enough to escape.

  77. H-Marysville

    That extract that you’ve picked up is word for word (excluding the company name) of a liability/warranty page of a fire-bunker provider.

    People dying in bunkers:- THIS time I believe ONE person (male) perished whilst using a bunker – name location NOT released. Several people had close calls with home-made bunkers. I saw one event re-played on the news, essentially the minute he shut and sealed the door, the smoke inundated the bunker.

    The destroyed bunker I make reference to is the Fire Spotters Bunker on Mt Gordon, maintained by the DSE. I can’t find any reference to the event – I am finding all links removed. But I know for a fact – everything melted inside, therefore almost guaranteeing little chance of survival for the proposed occupant (who fled and defended his house) AFTER warning the township SES and CFA and DSE.

    The ploughed land, was an unofficial meeting point, that word had it – that if the locals gathered there someone in authority would come and get them – either convoy or bus. Nothing like that happened, the fire moved too quickly. The area concerned was about 1-2 acres in size, freshly ploughed and the nearest house, was 500m away, on one side, the highway and then 3 more houses, the nearest trees about the same distance, which were a single row of well-established trees. There is a video on Youtube that I’ve seen and unable to locate, but it showed the area, the cars, the personnel, the people, the animals.

    The people, who retreated to the freshly ploughed field, survived by sheltering in their cars, the same as those on the Marysville Oval. It was too hot for anything else, even after the fire passed, car air-conditioners could not keep up. It was extremely hot, in the fire affected areas even at 5.30am in the morning, when it should have been at it coolest.

    I’m not aware of people sheltering open places dying, but I do know that running down the road with both sides of the road on fire will cause death ? – as proven on more than one occasion, the heat probably being the main cause of collapse, followed by being engulfed by flames ?

    The main thing that I have come to realise, that if you are in doubt about ANYTHING – get the hell out, go to the nearest dam, cleared area, don’t rely on officials coming to save your hide, because it may not be possible for them to get through.

    Those that had a fire plan, provided there wasn’t a catastrophic event, that engulfed them, as long as they remained calm, they came out alive. What many people don’t realise is that in Marysville, the infallible failed, the water system. People had 2000 litre water tanks, but 2000 litres against a fire as intense as Black Saturday was a drop in the bucket. Those that used the town water supply to fill every available receptacle and fill the tank to the brim and watered the house area before the fire approached had a far higher chance of survival. Survival is about year long, life time planning, not just 2 hours before the front approaches.

    For example the Crossways, in Marysville a log cabin building was saved with a fire plan and sheer will-power. There was one house in Marysville, so well prepared for a fire that the insurance company was scratching their heads when they turned up to assess water damage, and not fire damage where on 11 buildings remained in the centre of town.

    Some people who fled Kinglake-Toolangi, into Healesville bought miniature horses down in the backs of open trailers, they assembled in the local supermarket at 2.30am, some bought animal food, some bought nothing but the clothes on their backs and the their animals.

    Please not this is NOT second hand or third hand, this is all first hand knowledge.

  78. H-Marysville

    That extract that you’ve picked up is word for word (excluding the company name) of a liability/warranty page of a fire-bunker provider.

    People dying in bunkers:- THIS time I believe ONE person (male) perished whilst using a bunker – name location NOT released. Several people had close calls with home-made bunkers. I saw one event re-played on the news, essentially the minute he shut and sealed the door, the smoke inundated the bunker.

    The destroyed bunker I make reference to is the Fire Spotters Bunker on Mt Gordon, maintained by the DSE. I can’t find any reference to the event – I am finding all links removed. But I know for a fact – everything melted inside, therefore almost guaranteeing little chance of survival for the proposed occupant (who fled and defended his house) AFTER warning the township SES and CFA and DSE.

    The ploughed land, was an unofficial meeting point, that word had it – that if the locals gathered there someone in authority would come and get them – either convoy or bus. Nothing like that happened, the fire moved too quickly. The area concerned was about 1-2 acres in size, freshly ploughed and the nearest house, was 500m away, on one side, the highway and then 3 more houses, the nearest trees about the same distance, which were a single row of well-established trees. There is a video on Youtube that I’ve seen and unable to locate, but it showed the area, the cars, the personnel, the people, the animals.

    The people, who retreated to the freshly ploughed field, survived by sheltering in their cars, the same as those on the Marysville Oval. It was too hot for anything else, even after the fire passed, car air-conditioners could not keep up. It was extremely hot, in the fire affected areas even at 5.30am in the morning, when it should have been at it coolest.

    I’m not aware of people sheltering open places dying, but I do know that running down the road with both sides of the road on fire will cause death ? – as proven on more than one occasion, the heat probably being the main cause of collapse, followed by being engulfed by flames ?

    The main thing that I have come to realise, that if you are in doubt about ANYTHING – get the hell out, go to the nearest dam, cleared area, don’t rely on officials coming to save your hide, because it may not be possible for them to get through.

    Those that had a fire plan, provided there wasn’t a catastrophic event, that engulfed them, as long as they remained calm, they came out alive. What many people don’t realise is that in Marysville, the infallible failed, the water system. People had 2000 litre water tanks, but 2000 litres against a fire as intense as Black Saturday was a drop in the bucket. Those that used the town water supply to fill every available receptacle and fill the tank to the brim and watered the house area before the fire approached had a far higher chance of survival. Survival is about year long, life time planning, not just 2 hours before the front approaches.

    For example the Crossways, in Marysville a log cabin building was saved with a fire plan and sheer will-power. There was one house in Marysville, so well prepared for a fire that the insurance company was scratching their heads when they turned up to assess water damage, and not fire damage where on 11 buildings remained in the centre of town.

    Some people who fled Kinglake-Toolangi, into Healesville bought miniature horses down in the backs of open trailers, they assembled in the local supermarket at 2.30am, some bought animal food, some bought nothing but the clothes on their backs and the their animals.

    Please not this is NOT second hand or third hand, this is all first hand knowledge.

  79. John D

    Thanks H-Maryville. Hope this sort of information was being heard at the commission hearings and gets into the things you could do/not do guide for people living in high fire risk areas.

  80. John D

    Thanks H-Maryville. Hope this sort of information was being heard at the commission hearings and gets into the things you could do/not do guide for people living in high fire risk areas.

  81. H-Marysville

    Not as much as should be – I know several people that were refused a hearing at the commission.

    But that is in the past now – and what’s done is done – now is about surviving the future, with less reliance on government and government agencies and being more self-aware of your surroundings.

    and oldskeptic, your comments of were right

    “Firestorms move very fast. I talked to one guy who was out Kilmore way on the day and he told about driving at 80kmh and watching the firefront passing him (off to the side of course, otherwise he would have been dead). People seeing smoke in the distance and thought they had an hour or more, were caught when the fire front was on them in minutes.”

    What a lot of people don’t know – is the ONLY thing that saved the northern suburbs of Melbourne from burning THAT day was a 15′ wind change over a period of 15 minutes.

    I don’t pretend to know the answers, I don’t pretend to understand people. I can only educate those that I know with what myself and my family endured that day and beyond and what people should consider before staying and defending or evacuating.

  82. H-Marysville

    Not as much as should be – I know several people that were refused a hearing at the commission.

    But that is in the past now – and what’s done is done – now is about surviving the future, with less reliance on government and government agencies and being more self-aware of your surroundings.

    and oldskeptic, your comments of were right

    “Firestorms move very fast. I talked to one guy who was out Kilmore way on the day and he told about driving at 80kmh and watching the firefront passing him (off to the side of course, otherwise he would have been dead). People seeing smoke in the distance and thought they had an hour or more, were caught when the fire front was on them in minutes.”

    What a lot of people don’t know – is the ONLY thing that saved the northern suburbs of Melbourne from burning THAT day was a 15′ wind change over a period of 15 minutes.

    I don’t pretend to know the answers, I don’t pretend to understand people. I can only educate those that I know with what myself and my family endured that day and beyond and what people should consider before staying and defending or evacuating.

  83. jules

    Cheers H-Marysville.

    That your blog? Its a mine of info cheers.

    And thanks for taking the time and effort to make so many clear reports abut your experience. It can’t be easy given the tragedy you’ve been thru so good one. I appreciate it. Great observations and well thought out responses to them – Thanks again

    “What a lot of people don’t know – is the ONLY thing that saved the northern suburbs of Melbourne from burning THAT day was a 15? wind change over a period of 15 minutes.”

    I know. I remember talking to a mate from St Andrews (originally) about this. Cos if the wind hadn’t changed? Could it have burned all the way to Warragul (and beyond) – what would have stoppped it? That wind change saved friends lives, yet killed their neighbours horrifically.

    And the area devestated by the wind change was in whats called the “Dead Man zone”. Its the area along the flank of a fire that will become the front of the same fire with the right sort of wind change. With last years fire that area was huge, and that wind change was at 90 degrees to it (its direction of travel) and strong as all fuck. (I think exactly the same thing happened on Ash Wednesday as well, but I was only a just starting high school at the time, and can’t remember for sure.) Thats the worst case scenario as far as wind changes go.

    That wind change was predicted (IIRC) and expected and arrived pretty close to when it was due.

    Thats the sort of info that was needed (tho it was available,) and the sort of prediction that needed to be made re fire behaviour that day. Tho I dunno how well the people on the ground could have worked that out and warned their local communities without much better intelligence about what was happening.

    Cos it seems that there was no functioning command and control for the disaster.

    Taking a systems theory approach, the fire management and communications systems simply could not keep up and fell further and further behind reality. What was needed was to switch off the central control and move to delegated authroity close to the fronts, to be able to react fast enough to events.

    This seems to be a major lesson, I dunno how well its been heeded, but it seems to be the one thing that really needs attention.

    Tho I also dunno how well the “local approach” will work with a fire that big moving that fast. I have heard that in places it may have moved as fast as 120 km hr, ie at the speed the wind was traveling. Honestly if that sort of fire at that size, intensity and speed moved through my part of the world … I really dunno what we could do. The population density round here and the fuel loads, and the way people let weedy scrub grow right up to their houses to hide their dope crops. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

  84. jules

    Cheers H-Marysville.

    That your blog? Its a mine of info cheers.

    And thanks for taking the time and effort to make so many clear reports abut your experience. It can’t be easy given the tragedy you’ve been thru so good one. I appreciate it. Great observations and well thought out responses to them – Thanks again

    “What a lot of people don’t know – is the ONLY thing that saved the northern suburbs of Melbourne from burning THAT day was a 15? wind change over a period of 15 minutes.”

    I know. I remember talking to a mate from St Andrews (originally) about this. Cos if the wind hadn’t changed? Could it have burned all the way to Warragul (and beyond) – what would have stoppped it? That wind change saved friends lives, yet killed their neighbours horrifically.

    And the area devestated by the wind change was in whats called the “Dead Man zone”. Its the area along the flank of a fire that will become the front of the same fire with the right sort of wind change. With last years fire that area was huge, and that wind change was at 90 degrees to it (its direction of travel) and strong as all fuck. (I think exactly the same thing happened on Ash Wednesday as well, but I was only a just starting high school at the time, and can’t remember for sure.) Thats the worst case scenario as far as wind changes go.

    That wind change was predicted (IIRC) and expected and arrived pretty close to when it was due.

    Thats the sort of info that was needed (tho it was available,) and the sort of prediction that needed to be made re fire behaviour that day. Tho I dunno how well the people on the ground could have worked that out and warned their local communities without much better intelligence about what was happening.

    Cos it seems that there was no functioning command and control for the disaster.

    Taking a systems theory approach, the fire management and communications systems simply could not keep up and fell further and further behind reality. What was needed was to switch off the central control and move to delegated authroity close to the fronts, to be able to react fast enough to events.

    This seems to be a major lesson, I dunno how well its been heeded, but it seems to be the one thing that really needs attention.

    Tho I also dunno how well the “local approach” will work with a fire that big moving that fast. I have heard that in places it may have moved as fast as 120 km hr, ie at the speed the wind was traveling. Honestly if that sort of fire at that size, intensity and speed moved through my part of the world … I really dunno what we could do. The population density round here and the fuel loads, and the way people let weedy scrub grow right up to their houses to hide their dope crops. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

  85. H-Marysville

    Yes Jules that my blog – my therapy, my sanity http://www.itaintalwaysso.blogspot.com

    If I can save one person from death – then I have achieved something in my lifetime.

    I watched the wind take the fire away from my doorstep – only for it race up the ridge, into Kinglake, merge and then through to Marysville.

    What you saw on the new reports of Marysville on the day was nothing compared to real-life.

    What we experienced via news reports and real life did not meet in any form or fashion on the day – starting at 11.15am – we knew we were on our own. We Put our watchers out, we made sure everyone in our street was accounted for, cared for and open houses organised in the suburbs.

    I know I rang everyone in my teledex warning them the fire was approaching, they thought I was mad, but I did what I could. I saved lives that day. Call me stupid call me simple, but if one phone call made you stop and think (even if you won’t admit it) then I did something that was a success.

    I rang my parents at 3.15pm and told them it was coming their way – I beleive that is all that saved them and others they knew and gave them time to prepare. They knew Marysville would burn one day – it was only a matter of when. When turned into now and they saved many people that day under their roof, as one of the few houses that remained standing after the fact.

    H

  86. H-Marysville

    Yes Jules that my blog – my therapy, my sanity http://www.itaintalwaysso.blogspot.com

    If I can save one person from death – then I have achieved something in my lifetime.

    I watched the wind take the fire away from my doorstep – only for it race up the ridge, into Kinglake, merge and then through to Marysville.

    What you saw on the new reports of Marysville on the day was nothing compared to real-life.

    What we experienced via news reports and real life did not meet in any form or fashion on the day – starting at 11.15am – we knew we were on our own. We Put our watchers out, we made sure everyone in our street was accounted for, cared for and open houses organised in the suburbs.

    I know I rang everyone in my teledex warning them the fire was approaching, they thought I was mad, but I did what I could. I saved lives that day. Call me stupid call me simple, but if one phone call made you stop and think (even if you won’t admit it) then I did something that was a success.

    I rang my parents at 3.15pm and told them it was coming their way – I beleive that is all that saved them and others they knew and gave them time to prepare. They knew Marysville would burn one day – it was only a matter of when. When turned into now and they saved many people that day under their roof, as one of the few houses that remained standing after the fact.

    H

  87. jules

    H – well done on all that. Seriously thats exactly what saves (and obviously saved) lives – I have some theories on all this. Tho you’ve probably heard enough bullshit to last you a lifetime. AFAICS what you did is exactly the sort of local effort and community resilience that is needed, and the only real solution available to communities at risk.

    My interest in this isn’t just a passing fancy. I’ll be my next local brigade captain, when the current bloke retires (tho the longer he stays the better,) and provided no one better turns up in the meantime. I have nearly 15 years experience, tho in my part of the world it isn’t quite as psycho as yours can be. My brigade area is saturated with “interface zones” – semi rural areas and places where villages or higher density housing meet bush or pasture/grassland. Its much like the area’s that got hammered last year in some ways. Even on a day no where near as bad as last year we could have the sort of catastrophe that happened down there – tho it’ll be for different reasons. (People letting weeds go crazy for one, hundreds of acres of young euke plantations for another.) There have been a few occasions where we only just prevented them. There are probably hundreds of brigade areas like this one.

    Its given those of us heavily involved in this brigade nightmares for years.

    Anyway I’ve bookmarked your blog, its an awesome resource. Thanks.

    I’ll also make sure everyone in my brigade and in this district knows about it. Its great.

    As is your effort that day. That can’t be said enough.

    We Put our watchers out, we made sure everyone in our street was accounted for, cared for and open houses organised in the suburbs.

    I know I rang everyone in my teledex warning them the fire was approaching, they thought I was mad, but I did what I could.

    I’ll bet you saved lives. That really is the sort of example everyone should follow.

    You’re an asset to your community H.

  88. jules

    H – well done on all that. Seriously thats exactly what saves (and obviously saved) lives – I have some theories on all this. Tho you’ve probably heard enough bullshit to last you a lifetime. AFAICS what you did is exactly the sort of local effort and community resilience that is needed, and the only real solution available to communities at risk.

    My interest in this isn’t just a passing fancy. I’ll be my next local brigade captain, when the current bloke retires (tho the longer he stays the better,) and provided no one better turns up in the meantime. I have nearly 15 years experience, tho in my part of the world it isn’t quite as psycho as yours can be. My brigade area is saturated with “interface zones” – semi rural areas and places where villages or higher density housing meet bush or pasture/grassland. Its much like the area’s that got hammered last year in some ways. Even on a day no where near as bad as last year we could have the sort of catastrophe that happened down there – tho it’ll be for different reasons. (People letting weeds go crazy for one, hundreds of acres of young euke plantations for another.) There have been a few occasions where we only just prevented them. There are probably hundreds of brigade areas like this one.

    Its given those of us heavily involved in this brigade nightmares for years.

    Anyway I’ve bookmarked your blog, its an awesome resource. Thanks.

    I’ll also make sure everyone in my brigade and in this district knows about it. Its great.

    As is your effort that day. That can’t be said enough.

    We Put our watchers out, we made sure everyone in our street was accounted for, cared for and open houses organised in the suburbs.

    I know I rang everyone in my teledex warning them the fire was approaching, they thought I was mad, but I did what I could.

    I’ll bet you saved lives. That really is the sort of example everyone should follow.

    You’re an asset to your community H.

  89. Ambigulous

    jules wrote: ” Could it have burned all the way to Warragul (and beyond)?”

    Yes, probably.
    But Warragul had already been threatened on that day, with fires spotting out of the Bunyip State Park fire (as predicted; that fire had been going for several days already). Fire reached Labertouche, Drouin West, Jindivick, Buln Buln etc. Some homes lost.

    I would have thought bush-clad towns like Noojee, Walhalla, Erica, etc. were more at risk?

    But there was plenty of open country (farmland) and little dense bush, so these fires tended to be less severe by comparison with Marysville (and south and east of Churchill), though bad enough.

  90. Ambigulous

    jules wrote: ” Could it have burned all the way to Warragul (and beyond)?”

    Yes, probably.
    But Warragul had already been threatened on that day, with fires spotting out of the Bunyip State Park fire (as predicted; that fire had been going for several days already). Fire reached Labertouche, Drouin West, Jindivick, Buln Buln etc. Some homes lost.

    I would have thought bush-clad towns like Noojee, Walhalla, Erica, etc. were more at risk?

    But there was plenty of open country (farmland) and little dense bush, so these fires tended to be less severe by comparison with Marysville (and south and east of Churchill), though bad enough.

  91. H-Marysville

    I hope you succeed in the succession, like you said maybe not tomorrow – but soon. One word of advice, if in a situation where the water supply has failed, and IF you can find a plumber (and it’s safe) tell him to turn off the commerical fire systems.

    Good luck in your endeavours and I pray you are never faced with the same situation.

    Lives are still being lost now due to the fires, be it broken hearts, not able to cope or the stress associated with re-building.

    I’m lucky, my family came out the first 12 months after the fires unscathed.

    Take care everyone reading this and remember when you can see the flames, it’s probably too late to evacuate unless you are well and truely prepared.

    H

  92. H-Marysville

    I hope you succeed in the succession, like you said maybe not tomorrow – but soon. One word of advice, if in a situation where the water supply has failed, and IF you can find a plumber (and it’s safe) tell him to turn off the commerical fire systems.

    Good luck in your endeavours and I pray you are never faced with the same situation.

    Lives are still being lost now due to the fires, be it broken hearts, not able to cope or the stress associated with re-building.

    I’m lucky, my family came out the first 12 months after the fires unscathed.

    Take care everyone reading this and remember when you can see the flames, it’s probably too late to evacuate unless you are well and truely prepared.

    H

  93. John D

    H-Marysville: It is that community action you are talking about that can really make a difference and save lives. It can lead to better plans, co-operation on the day and communications. Community welcoming of new arrivals can also help them develop plans and get the message through that the community takes the fire risk very seriously.

    I remember one case where a group of neighbors made a decision to defend one house that well set up and not to defend the other houses. A house can be better defended if there are more than one or two adults so this difficult decision may have been a real life saver.

    One of the dangers though of sharing survival stories is that people may assume that what was done will always work. For example, this time around lives were saved when people moved to open places and stayed in their cars. But there may have been some luck involved. The same open space may have been a death trap if the fire intensity had been greater or the fire had come from another direction. The story may also result in people trying to use the same approach using clearings that are smaller, surrounded by combustibles etc.

    It is important people understand why something worked, not just that it did. In the case of retreating to a clearing it is important that scientists who can model what happens in a clearing get involved. They can help people understand the risks of retreating to particular clearings as well as suggesting ways of increasing the chance of survival inside a car.

  94. John D

    H-Marysville: It is that community action you are talking about that can really make a difference and save lives. It can lead to better plans, co-operation on the day and communications. Community welcoming of new arrivals can also help them develop plans and get the message through that the community takes the fire risk very seriously.

    I remember one case where a group of neighbors made a decision to defend one house that well set up and not to defend the other houses. A house can be better defended if there are more than one or two adults so this difficult decision may have been a real life saver.

    One of the dangers though of sharing survival stories is that people may assume that what was done will always work. For example, this time around lives were saved when people moved to open places and stayed in their cars. But there may have been some luck involved. The same open space may have been a death trap if the fire intensity had been greater or the fire had come from another direction. The story may also result in people trying to use the same approach using clearings that are smaller, surrounded by combustibles etc.

    It is important people understand why something worked, not just that it did. In the case of retreating to a clearing it is important that scientists who can model what happens in a clearing get involved. They can help people understand the risks of retreating to particular clearings as well as suggesting ways of increasing the chance of survival inside a car.

  95. Elise

    JohnD: “Use a system of yellow, orange or red alerts”

    At a slight tangent, but still on the topic of risk and response, the Chilean towns near active volcanoes have a traffic light on the town hall.

    Green is all good, Orange is pack your essentials and prepare, Red is bugger-bravely-outathere (eruption imminent). Simple, practical and easy to notice.

    For the indefensible fires, we maybe should have a Code Red which means Leave Now? “Stay or Go” makes more sense if you have a fighting chance.

  96. Elise

    JohnD: “Use a system of yellow, orange or red alerts”

    At a slight tangent, but still on the topic of risk and response, the Chilean towns near active volcanoes have a traffic light on the town hall.

    Green is all good, Orange is pack your essentials and prepare, Red is bugger-bravely-outathere (eruption imminent). Simple, practical and easy to notice.

    For the indefensible fires, we maybe should have a Code Red which means Leave Now? “Stay or Go” makes more sense if you have a fighting chance.

  97. John D

    Elise: I think you need a yellow “fire alert” stage between green and orange. This is the stage where you need to keep in touch with what is going on and perhaps start action that should have been done at the start of the fire season. The H-Marysville comments and links starting @ 26 provide a lot of detail to support my argument that the situation is a lot more complex that dividing fires into defensible and non-defensible.

    Quick question. My recollection is that the oil industry put a lot of work into safe refuges after the Alpha 1 (?) explosion. Do you have any comments on safe refuges and bush fires?

  98. John D

    Elise: I think you need a yellow “fire alert” stage between green and orange. This is the stage where you need to keep in touch with what is going on and perhaps start action that should have been done at the start of the fire season. The H-Marysville comments and links starting @ 26 provide a lot of detail to support my argument that the situation is a lot more complex that dividing fires into defensible and non-defensible.

    Quick question. My recollection is that the oil industry put a lot of work into safe refuges after the Alpha 1 (?) explosion. Do you have any comments on safe refuges and bush fires?

  99. Elise

    John D, I suspect that you are correct that an intermediate stage may be useful for the case of fighting fires. The story about the Chilean traffic light concept was just that it sprang to mind, and that it related to a simple method of communicating extreme risk to a community.

    I try not to comment or advise on things where I don’t have much useful experience to contribute, so have tended not to get involved in the bushfire story. I need to think a bit, whether any oil industry norms are relevant here. You can already see that BP’s risk management was totally inadequate.

    I have it on good authority that underground mines in Australia use fire refuges, which can be purchased from specialist companies, but they would be too expensive for domestic use. They may protect 20-30 people for a few days, so might be useful for a community centre?

  100. Elise

    John D, I suspect that you are correct that an intermediate stage may be useful for the case of fighting fires. The story about the Chilean traffic light concept was just that it sprang to mind, and that it related to a simple method of communicating extreme risk to a community.

    I try not to comment or advise on things where I don’t have much useful experience to contribute, so have tended not to get involved in the bushfire story. I need to think a bit, whether any oil industry norms are relevant here. You can already see that BP’s risk management was totally inadequate.

    I have it on good authority that underground mines in Australia use fire refuges, which can be purchased from specialist companies, but they would be too expensive for domestic use. They may protect 20-30 people for a few days, so might be useful for a community centre?

  101. Elise

    Stepping back from the details of bush fires, perhaps there is a lurking question about how different people, different cultures and different companies handle extreme risk?

    I know BP was very proud of their extensive inhouse “risk management” programs. They had processes and procedures to sink a battle-ship, but in the ultimate test it did not serve them well. BHP is another company with extensive inhouse risk management programs, but have had a disproportionate number of mining accidents and deaths, and a couple of massive economic risk failures (e.g. Ravensthorpe). Santos is another that embraced risk management wholeheartedly, and they have had a number of serious accidents (in Australia and Indonesia) which cost the company dearly.

    As best I recall, Arthur Anderson was hired in a management consultant capacity for Enron, as well as Auditor (serious conflict of interest, but set that aside for the minute), and failed to recognise a company destroying risk of being found complicit in accounting misdemeanours and destruction of evidence. An auditing firm trades fundamentally on their reputation for integrity – without that, they don’t have a business. How could their top brass have missed this huge risk to their business?

    How can it be, that companies with a significant declared stake in risk management have such serious failures of their system? Coming back to the bushfire story, how could a fire authority miss the cues for extreme fire risk? It is their business to manage this risk, after all.

    Thinking about the oil industry, it seemed to me that the Norwegian sector of the North Sea had far fewer serious accidents than the UK sector, working in similar conditions on similar oilfields. I would suggest that they tended to approach risk differently as a culture, and that might account for the difference.

    Better half and I were musing about extreme risk (whether from fire or mining or oil or anything else), and have a proposal that catastrophic failures may be the fault of the risk management system itself. Most people have bought into the risk matrix concept, where you have a team of people assessing all manner of risks in terms of likelihood (how frequent or probable is the event?) and consequences (how disasterous is it, if it occurs?). For example, train-wreck scenarios are an example of very low likelihood/probability but very high consequences/casualties. Cuts and bruises on construction sites have a high likelihood but usually relatively low consequence.

    Anything in the red zone, with extreme consequences should be a show-stopper. Project teams don’t like show-stoppers. Therefore the underlying driver for anything with the potential to be in the red zone would be to make it magically disappear. Once the risk management review has been conducted, all boxes ticked and the report written and filed, then the project team can get on with the job… Right?

    Too bad about the invisible elephant in the room which is no longer under discussion, if it ever was properly discussed? Perhaps the system itself could create its own failures for extreme risk scenarios? While giving everyone a false sense of security – both within the company and for government authorities?

    How else could situations which include extreme risk be handled? At the risk of making the Norwegians look like saints (which they aren’t, of course, being human) they seem to approach major risks in a different way. While I was working for Norwegian companies, I never saw those awful risk matricies, but risks were discussed in detail and with considerable passion in the case of extreme risks.

    The major risks were never parked, and were part of the planning process, right up to project execution. Backup systems were put in place, and every effort was made to minimise the risk occurring or mitigate outcomes if the conditions indicated the risk was immenent. The elephant was never allowed to become invisible, and the culture allowed lengthy debate on its potential to become a rogue elephant.

    I don’t know if there is a lesson for extreme bushfire risk, in all this. However, there might be something worth discussing in terms of anglo-saxon “risk management systems” and possible adverse behavioural drivers?

  102. Elise

    Stepping back from the details of bush fires, perhaps there is a lurking question about how different people, different cultures and different companies handle extreme risk?

    I know BP was very proud of their extensive inhouse “risk management” programs. They had processes and procedures to sink a battle-ship, but in the ultimate test it did not serve them well. BHP is another company with extensive inhouse risk management programs, but have had a disproportionate number of mining accidents and deaths, and a couple of massive economic risk failures (e.g. Ravensthorpe). Santos is another that embraced risk management wholeheartedly, and they have had a number of serious accidents (in Australia and Indonesia) which cost the company dearly.

    As best I recall, Arthur Anderson was hired in a management consultant capacity for Enron, as well as Auditor (serious conflict of interest, but set that aside for the minute), and failed to recognise a company destroying risk of being found complicit in accounting misdemeanours and destruction of evidence. An auditing firm trades fundamentally on their reputation for integrity – without that, they don’t have a business. How could their top brass have missed this huge risk to their business?

    How can it be, that companies with a significant declared stake in risk management have such serious failures of their system? Coming back to the bushfire story, how could a fire authority miss the cues for extreme fire risk? It is their business to manage this risk, after all.

    Thinking about the oil industry, it seemed to me that the Norwegian sector of the North Sea had far fewer serious accidents than the UK sector, working in similar conditions on similar oilfields. I would suggest that they tended to approach risk differently as a culture, and that might account for the difference.

    Better half and I were musing about extreme risk (whether from fire or mining or oil or anything else), and have a proposal that catastrophic failures may be the fault of the risk management system itself. Most people have bought into the risk matrix concept, where you have a team of people assessing all manner of risks in terms of likelihood (how frequent or probable is the event?) and consequences (how disasterous is it, if it occurs?). For example, train-wreck scenarios are an example of very low likelihood/probability but very high consequences/casualties. Cuts and bruises on construction sites have a high likelihood but usually relatively low consequence.

    Anything in the red zone, with extreme consequences should be a show-stopper. Project teams don’t like show-stoppers. Therefore the underlying driver for anything with the potential to be in the red zone would be to make it magically disappear. Once the risk management review has been conducted, all boxes ticked and the report written and filed, then the project team can get on with the job… Right?

    Too bad about the invisible elephant in the room which is no longer under discussion, if it ever was properly discussed? Perhaps the system itself could create its own failures for extreme risk scenarios? While giving everyone a false sense of security – both within the company and for government authorities?

    How else could situations which include extreme risk be handled? At the risk of making the Norwegians look like saints (which they aren’t, of course, being human) they seem to approach major risks in a different way. While I was working for Norwegian companies, I never saw those awful risk matricies, but risks were discussed in detail and with considerable passion in the case of extreme risks.

    The major risks were never parked, and were part of the planning process, right up to project execution. Backup systems were put in place, and every effort was made to minimise the risk occurring or mitigate outcomes if the conditions indicated the risk was immenent. The elephant was never allowed to become invisible, and the culture allowed lengthy debate on its potential to become a rogue elephant.

    I don’t know if there is a lesson for extreme bushfire risk, in all this. However, there might be something worth discussing in terms of anglo-saxon “risk management systems” and possible adverse behavioural drivers?

  103. John D

    Elise: What you say fits in with a lot I have observed or knew about over the years. Not sure though that it is a country thing. Company safety cultures are often driven by company history, the impact of outstanding individuals or flow-ons from other aspects of company culture. For a long time BHP had a leading safety culture because their CEO’s had worked in large steelworks that would each kill a number of people a year. One of the world leaders in safety culture was Dupont of the US – Someone commented that it was the only company he had anything to do with where the dinner time conversation in the hotel where Dupont people stayed was about safety. Dupont started as an explosive company – which helps focus attention on safety. Managing directors who make a habit of ringing you up to see what you are doing about specific accidents can also influence culture. As an aside Crikey pointed out that the recent Timor oil leak that took 106 days to fix was the result of Halliburton getting the cement mix wrong.

    There are warnings for some major problems in the form of a number of lesser incidents. However, BHP started a special program for major crisis because they found that minor incidents were not giving the warning – Think about major structural failures or many of the incidents in your industry. There is also the problem of time. I used to point out to a group who worked for me that, when i started the Newcastle Steelworks killed about three a year – but, if this group had the same death frequency rate as one of them being killed every forty years.

    Black Saturday fitted into the major crisis pattern. Up to a certain point fire fighters can contain fires and “Stay and defend” doesn’t kill people. Then you reach a tipping point where the fire fighters cannot defend and all of a sudden a significant number of people die defending their homes. As I said to H-Marysville, what worries me is that things could get worse than Black Saturday or a different wind direction might turn the oval who saved so many on Black Saturday into a death trap – Hence the need for both the survivor stories and the scientific checks.

    The article that was the prompt for this post had this to say on the subject:

    But it was the seasoned military commander Major General Jim Molan who told the Commission 10 per cent of emergency management had to go into planning for “the big one”, the event so unexpected it had the potential to break down the ordinary defences. The general, who’s commanded soldiers on battlefields around the world, called the concept “strategic surprise”.

    “It considers a scenario which is quite outside the norm. In Iraq, the five generals who were running the war in Iraq would meet three times a week specifically to consider this and other long-term planning issues, but we would sit around and the commanding general would say, ‘Well, you know, from what we’re doing at the moment and how the war is going, how the day-to-day events are going, what is it that we have not thought of that is going to bring us unstuck?’ And you were permitted at that stage to be quite fanciful,” he said.

    “It is quite often that with strategic surprise you can’t allocate events against it, such as a very bad fire or, in a military context, an attack against you in an area that you couldn’t react to, but at least you can think through, talk through, so that if you have to face it there may be actions that you can take… You put 90 per cent of your effort into the routine scenarios, but every now and again you should sit back and say, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen to us?’”

    What more can I say?

  104. John D

    Elise: What you say fits in with a lot I have observed or knew about over the years. Not sure though that it is a country thing. Company safety cultures are often driven by company history, the impact of outstanding individuals or flow-ons from other aspects of company culture. For a long time BHP had a leading safety culture because their CEO’s had worked in large steelworks that would each kill a number of people a year. One of the world leaders in safety culture was Dupont of the US – Someone commented that it was the only company he had anything to do with where the dinner time conversation in the hotel where Dupont people stayed was about safety. Dupont started as an explosive company – which helps focus attention on safety. Managing directors who make a habit of ringing you up to see what you are doing about specific accidents can also influence culture. As an aside Crikey pointed out that the recent Timor oil leak that took 106 days to fix was the result of Halliburton getting the cement mix wrong.

    There are warnings for some major problems in the form of a number of lesser incidents. However, BHP started a special program for major crisis because they found that minor incidents were not giving the warning – Think about major structural failures or many of the incidents in your industry. There is also the problem of time. I used to point out to a group who worked for me that, when i started the Newcastle Steelworks killed about three a year – but, if this group had the same death frequency rate as one of them being killed every forty years.

    Black Saturday fitted into the major crisis pattern. Up to a certain point fire fighters can contain fires and “Stay and defend” doesn’t kill people. Then you reach a tipping point where the fire fighters cannot defend and all of a sudden a significant number of people die defending their homes. As I said to H-Marysville, what worries me is that things could get worse than Black Saturday or a different wind direction might turn the oval who saved so many on Black Saturday into a death trap – Hence the need for both the survivor stories and the scientific checks.

    The article that was the prompt for this post had this to say on the subject:

    But it was the seasoned military commander Major General Jim Molan who told the Commission 10 per cent of emergency management had to go into planning for “the big one”, the event so unexpected it had the potential to break down the ordinary defences. The general, who’s commanded soldiers on battlefields around the world, called the concept “strategic surprise”.

    “It considers a scenario which is quite outside the norm. In Iraq, the five generals who were running the war in Iraq would meet three times a week specifically to consider this and other long-term planning issues, but we would sit around and the commanding general would say, ‘Well, you know, from what we’re doing at the moment and how the war is going, how the day-to-day events are going, what is it that we have not thought of that is going to bring us unstuck?’ And you were permitted at that stage to be quite fanciful,” he said.

    “It is quite often that with strategic surprise you can’t allocate events against it, such as a very bad fire or, in a military context, an attack against you in an area that you couldn’t react to, but at least you can think through, talk through, so that if you have to face it there may be actions that you can take… You put 90 per cent of your effort into the routine scenarios, but every now and again you should sit back and say, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen to us?’”

    What more can I say?

  105. Elise

    John D @52, there is another interesting aspect, from something I read or heard once about the US space shuttle disaster. Technical versus management priorities.

    Apparently the problem with the tiles had been brought up at a key review meeting. One of the managers there was obsessing over the risk it posed to the mission. Someone told him “Take off your engineers hat, and put on your management hat.”

    So he did. Problem solved. The review meeting was allowed to continue.

    Too bad about the mission.

    Wonder if anyone revisited that pivotal comment, after the fact?

  106. Elise

    John D @52, there is another interesting aspect, from something I read or heard once about the US space shuttle disaster. Technical versus management priorities.

    Apparently the problem with the tiles had been brought up at a key review meeting. One of the managers there was obsessing over the risk it posed to the mission. Someone told him “Take off your engineers hat, and put on your management hat.”

    So he did. Problem solved. The review meeting was allowed to continue.

    Too bad about the mission.

    Wonder if anyone revisited that pivotal comment, after the fact?

  107. OldSkeptic

    One thing that I picked up the day from radio reports from survivers was that it was a firestorm.

    The giveaway for me was they all talked about the incredible noise “like a hundred jumbo jets flying overhead’ was one comment. Now all bushfires make a lot of noise, but a firestorm burns so fiercely that the demand for oxygen creates a localised windstorm of 100+kph winds (probably at least a couple of hundred). I was once in a cyclone with 150kph+ winds and to talk we had to shout into each others ears.

    When that happens it becomes self sustaining as long as there is any fuel or air, a firestorm will literally consume everything.

    The first experience we had in the West had was the bombing of Hamburg in WW2. That was an accident. After that many deliberate attempts were made to create them, some sucessful others not. They failed in Berlin but succeeded in Toyko and Dresden. Typically a mixed bomb load of large 4,000lb cookies was used to blow of the roofs, then incindieries to set alight everything. Once it got going then it went until there was no fuel left.

    Now firestorms in Australia in the bush are basiclly caused by a very hot period with little or no wind. This causes oils from the leaves of trees to create a (basically) petro-chemical mix to build up, just below and just above tree top height. In other terms you have a what is called a ‘fuel air bomb’ waiting to go off.

    When, for whatever reason, it ignites the fire front is not actually burning leaves and wood, it is burning the fuel laden air. After it passes of course you can have following up much slower leaf/wood burns. Some people probably survived the firestorm front, only to be caught by the ‘normal’ following bushfire front.

    This is the main reason for the incredible speed. One guy I talked to saw the fire front jump a 500m firebreak, without slowing down.

    Instead of the firefront being driven by embers, the radiated heat is enough to ignite fuel in front of it, sometimes at long distances. The accompanying windstorm feeds concentrated oxygen, with enough of that anything burns.

    The first experience we had in populated areas in Australia in recent times was in the famous Canberra fires. Sadly the lessons from that were not picked up.

    Now what does this mean for prevention and safety?

    Firstly we need better sensing to detect air fuel build ups. This is possible, the technology, mounted on planes or even UAV’s exists.

    Secondly, over and above any yellow/red/etc warnings there has to be a special ‘firestorm’ warning. The speed that they can move at means approaches that are perfectly correct for other situations are not appropriate. If you are 200km away and have not already evacuated, then you must go to a shelter.

    Plus, shelters must have oxygen supplies (compressed air). So many people died in Hamburg in shelters because the firestorm burns up so much oxygen that there is nothing left to breath. Now it may pass quickly, but even (say) 3 minutes without oxygen will kill a lot of people (some younger/etc will survive). So you don’t need a lot, just enough for (say) 10 minutes. A standard scuba tank would keep (e.g) 4 people going easily for far longer than that.

    Protection from radiated heat is a must. The heat from the front is so strong that at 50m (or even 100m) if you are not protected then it is like putting your skin in front of a blowtorch.

    Fortunately physics comes to our aid here (as you have probably suspected my background is physics), white or reflecting material (even just alcanfoil) for clothes, house protection, etc can buy the precious few minutes to survive.

    Now I always carry alcanfoil and survival reflective blankets/foil when I’m out in the bush, they can save your life if you get caught in the cold …. but also in a normal bushfire … but I want to be a long, long way away from a firestorm.

  108. OldSkeptic

    One thing that I picked up the day from radio reports from survivers was that it was a firestorm.

    The giveaway for me was they all talked about the incredible noise “like a hundred jumbo jets flying overhead’ was one comment. Now all bushfires make a lot of noise, but a firestorm burns so fiercely that the demand for oxygen creates a localised windstorm of 100+kph winds (probably at least a couple of hundred). I was once in a cyclone with 150kph+ winds and to talk we had to shout into each others ears.

    When that happens it becomes self sustaining as long as there is any fuel or air, a firestorm will literally consume everything.

    The first experience we had in the West had was the bombing of Hamburg in WW2. That was an accident. After that many deliberate attempts were made to create them, some sucessful others not. They failed in Berlin but succeeded in Toyko and Dresden. Typically a mixed bomb load of large 4,000lb cookies was used to blow of the roofs, then incindieries to set alight everything. Once it got going then it went until there was no fuel left.

    Now firestorms in Australia in the bush are basiclly caused by a very hot period with little or no wind. This causes oils from the leaves of trees to create a (basically) petro-chemical mix to build up, just below and just above tree top height. In other terms you have a what is called a ‘fuel air bomb’ waiting to go off.

    When, for whatever reason, it ignites the fire front is not actually burning leaves and wood, it is burning the fuel laden air. After it passes of course you can have following up much slower leaf/wood burns. Some people probably survived the firestorm front, only to be caught by the ‘normal’ following bushfire front.

    This is the main reason for the incredible speed. One guy I talked to saw the fire front jump a 500m firebreak, without slowing down.

    Instead of the firefront being driven by embers, the radiated heat is enough to ignite fuel in front of it, sometimes at long distances. The accompanying windstorm feeds concentrated oxygen, with enough of that anything burns.

    The first experience we had in populated areas in Australia in recent times was in the famous Canberra fires. Sadly the lessons from that were not picked up.

    Now what does this mean for prevention and safety?

    Firstly we need better sensing to detect air fuel build ups. This is possible, the technology, mounted on planes or even UAV’s exists.

    Secondly, over and above any yellow/red/etc warnings there has to be a special ‘firestorm’ warning. The speed that they can move at means approaches that are perfectly correct for other situations are not appropriate. If you are 200km away and have not already evacuated, then you must go to a shelter.

    Plus, shelters must have oxygen supplies (compressed air). So many people died in Hamburg in shelters because the firestorm burns up so much oxygen that there is nothing left to breath. Now it may pass quickly, but even (say) 3 minutes without oxygen will kill a lot of people (some younger/etc will survive). So you don’t need a lot, just enough for (say) 10 minutes. A standard scuba tank would keep (e.g) 4 people going easily for far longer than that.

    Protection from radiated heat is a must. The heat from the front is so strong that at 50m (or even 100m) if you are not protected then it is like putting your skin in front of a blowtorch.

    Fortunately physics comes to our aid here (as you have probably suspected my background is physics), white or reflecting material (even just alcanfoil) for clothes, house protection, etc can buy the precious few minutes to survive.

    Now I always carry alcanfoil and survival reflective blankets/foil when I’m out in the bush, they can save your life if you get caught in the cold …. but also in a normal bushfire … but I want to be a long, long way away from a firestorm.

  109. Elise

    OldSkeptic @54, Thanks!

    That was a really interesting and informative post.

    I will be getting a reflective blanket for the emergency kit in the car boot. Hopefully, like umbrellas and rain, having one means that you never need to use it…

  110. Elise

    OldSkeptic @54, Thanks!

    That was a really interesting and informative post.

    I will be getting a reflective blanket for the emergency kit in the car boot. Hopefully, like umbrellas and rain, having one means that you never need to use it…

  111. John D

    Elise: When I started at BHP in 1960 projects got started after their champions had fought through the layers of “Dr NO!s” who had all these good reasons why something was not going to work. There was little feeling that it was important to meet new project goals – the crucial thing was to make sure the investments made were good ones. There was also no feeling that your future employment depended on a particular project proceeding. For some reason the Dr NO!s survived despite the only thing they seemed to do was block “good” projects. BHP did pass up some good projects, such as Bougainville, but I can’t remember any duds from that time.

    By the time I left in 1992 it had changed. The Dr NO’s had gone in various cost cutting campaigns and my feeling was that BHP had reached a point where there was a good chance you would lose job if what you were doing at the time was no longer needed despite good performance. To make matters worse, I remember Jerry Ellis (the head of BHP minerals) boasting that he had set all his direct reports the goal of growing there business by 20% p.a. In the case of BHP Iron Ore the market was static so they seized on the idea of growing the business by spending a few billion on setting up a direct reduction plant. The plant never worked properly and was eventually shut down after killing a few people. Beenup was another major disaster that had to be shut down because they couldn’t dispose of their tailings. (The failure had been predicted from testwork early in the project but had this had been ignored.)
    After that BHP introduced a system that required a lot of checking by people from other sections who had no personal commitment to the project proceeding and every reason to ensure that a dud project didn’t proceed on their say so. The manager in the NASA story was probably part of the team whose job it was to have the mission proceed on time.
    My take on this is that many lives might have been saved on Black Saturday if outsiders who were not committed to “stay and go” had been periodically called in to confirm that that this policy was still a valid approach on the basis of recent research and experience elsewhere and that the implementation in Vic was appropriate.
    Thanks OS @54. Not sure how big the area was that was exposed to the firestorm and how people within that area survived. Your comments @ 38 are equally important with regards to surviving firestorms. It just adds to my feeling that people living in high risk areas should not assume that all they need is a plan A to be OK. Apart from what Brian @ 33 says it is important to do a range of things (including receive training) that will improve their chances of surviving under a range of circumstances including being caught at home, in a car etc. Grass roots community efforts are important in this regard because they help create and preserve a fire survival culture.

  112. John D

    Elise: When I started at BHP in 1960 projects got started after their champions had fought through the layers of “Dr NO!s” who had all these good reasons why something was not going to work. There was little feeling that it was important to meet new project goals – the crucial thing was to make sure the investments made were good ones. There was also no feeling that your future employment depended on a particular project proceeding. For some reason the Dr NO!s survived despite the only thing they seemed to do was block “good” projects. BHP did pass up some good projects, such as Bougainville, but I can’t remember any duds from that time.

    By the time I left in 1992 it had changed. The Dr NO’s had gone in various cost cutting campaigns and my feeling was that BHP had reached a point where there was a good chance you would lose job if what you were doing at the time was no longer needed despite good performance. To make matters worse, I remember Jerry Ellis (the head of BHP minerals) boasting that he had set all his direct reports the goal of growing there business by 20% p.a. In the case of BHP Iron Ore the market was static so they seized on the idea of growing the business by spending a few billion on setting up a direct reduction plant. The plant never worked properly and was eventually shut down after killing a few people. Beenup was another major disaster that had to be shut down because they couldn’t dispose of their tailings. (The failure had been predicted from testwork early in the project but had this had been ignored.)
    After that BHP introduced a system that required a lot of checking by people from other sections who had no personal commitment to the project proceeding and every reason to ensure that a dud project didn’t proceed on their say so. The manager in the NASA story was probably part of the team whose job it was to have the mission proceed on time.
    My take on this is that many lives might have been saved on Black Saturday if outsiders who were not committed to “stay and go” had been periodically called in to confirm that that this policy was still a valid approach on the basis of recent research and experience elsewhere and that the implementation in Vic was appropriate.
    Thanks OS @54. Not sure how big the area was that was exposed to the firestorm and how people within that area survived. Your comments @ 38 are equally important with regards to surviving firestorms. It just adds to my feeling that people living in high risk areas should not assume that all they need is a plan A to be OK. Apart from what Brian @ 33 says it is important to do a range of things (including receive training) that will improve their chances of surviving under a range of circumstances including being caught at home, in a car etc. Grass roots community efforts are important in this regard because they help create and preserve a fire survival culture.

  113. Elise

    John D @52, further to your comment about the Timor oil leak and Halliburton getting the cement mix wrong. It is a good point.

    Halliburton was the completions company in the current BP disaster, and had apparently just completed a cement job when the disaster happened. We don’t know how well or badly that job went, and it may be some time before the evidence is out.

    Clearly, if they had only completed cementing and not perforated the production piping yet, then one would have to suspect a poor cement job as a root cause of oil reaching the surface. Thereafter, the BOP should have worked as backup. It didn’t. Why not? Who chose that design of BOP, and who checked its operability? What model was BP using for executing that project – was it a turnkey job, or were the BP engineers heavily involved?

    What is interesting is that there should probably be at least SOME attention being paid to Halliburton’s role. Halliburton is however a good ol’ boys outfit from Texas, with deep roots in the US system (remember Dick Cheney?).

    It seems that the criminal investigation has only BP in its sights. Better to apply the blowtorch to the foreign client company, rather than apportion any blaim to the service company on that job? Hopefully there is a good reason, and I am being too cynical here?

  114. Elise

    John D @52, further to your comment about the Timor oil leak and Halliburton getting the cement mix wrong. It is a good point.

    Halliburton was the completions company in the current BP disaster, and had apparently just completed a cement job when the disaster happened. We don’t know how well or badly that job went, and it may be some time before the evidence is out.

    Clearly, if they had only completed cementing and not perforated the production piping yet, then one would have to suspect a poor cement job as a root cause of oil reaching the surface. Thereafter, the BOP should have worked as backup. It didn’t. Why not? Who chose that design of BOP, and who checked its operability? What model was BP using for executing that project – was it a turnkey job, or were the BP engineers heavily involved?

    What is interesting is that there should probably be at least SOME attention being paid to Halliburton’s role. Halliburton is however a good ol’ boys outfit from Texas, with deep roots in the US system (remember Dick Cheney?).

    It seems that the criminal investigation has only BP in its sights. Better to apply the blowtorch to the foreign client company, rather than apportion any blaim to the service company on that job? Hopefully there is a good reason, and I am being too cynical here?

  115. OldSkeptic

    Elise, nope.

    Haliburton IS the US establishment. A few moments of Google research of its directors and senior executives, plus the ‘consultants’, will show that.

    The probability of them being taken to acount over anything is the same as I (or you) have of winning Lotto twice in a row .. without even buying a ticket.

  116. OldSkeptic

    Elise, nope.

    Haliburton IS the US establishment. A few moments of Google research of its directors and senior executives, plus the ‘consultants’, will show that.

    The probability of them being taken to acount over anything is the same as I (or you) have of winning Lotto twice in a row .. without even buying a ticket.

  117. John D

    And the chances of any inquiry into the oil disaster being a disinterested search for truth is even more remote that winning lotto without a ticket. Perhaps Obama could focus a few minds by running an investigation that asks why the hell he should agree to any future off shore drilling. But I guess that this would simply result in a different set of truth twisting.

    The good news though is that this failure to search for ways to avoid the problem in the future will be a very good reason for governments and oil companies to be reluctant to take the risks. Which may put real pressure on governments to drive down fuel consumption.

  118. John D

    And the chances of any inquiry into the oil disaster being a disinterested search for truth is even more remote that winning lotto without a ticket. Perhaps Obama could focus a few minds by running an investigation that asks why the hell he should agree to any future off shore drilling. But I guess that this would simply result in a different set of truth twisting.

    The good news though is that this failure to search for ways to avoid the problem in the future will be a very good reason for governments and oil companies to be reluctant to take the risks. Which may put real pressure on governments to drive down fuel consumption.

  119. John D

    This more recent article from ABC The Drum focuses on the issue of leadership, particularly leadership on the day.

    My personal view is that the key role of the CEO’s of the various emergency services was to ensure that strategies were developed to deal with Black Saturdays and their equivalent and to ensure that the practical things were done so that there would be no confusion on the day and the people on the ground were not dependent on instructions from above to get things done and make decisions.

    What these CEO’s do on the day will to some extent depend on the strengths and weakness’s of the CEO and the people they have to do the key operating roles. For example, as far as I know, Christine Nixon was not appointed for her skills at hands on management of major crisis so the last thing that was needed on the day was for Christine to try to be the operations manager or to be getting under peoples feet in the incident room. Most of her work should have been done before Black Saturday.

    If you ask “how many people died because Christine had a pub dinner?” the answer is no-one. On the other hand if you ask “how many people might die in the future because the commission was diverted to trivia in the chase for senior scalps?” the answer is less certain. To my mind the things that may kill in the future are:
    1. A failure to fix problems that clearly need fixing in time.
    2. Policies being adopted without the practicalities being properly examined. (For example, are the commentators above right about the impracticality of evacuating the Dandenongs.)
    3. Assuming everyone will follow the “one policy fits all” answer and doing nothing to increase the chances of survival of people who, for one reason or other, dont follow this policy on the day.
    4. People assuming that something that worked on Black Saturday will work the next time around.

    In terms of systems, the real challenge is to set up systems that ensure that some time is allocated every year to ensuring we are prepared for major crisis that happen very rarely. It is not just bush fires. How well was Newcastle prepared for the earthquake nobody expected or…..?

    In terms of leadership the lawyers the Victorian Government were right when they said that what the assisting counsels were about was “a lament for an “imagined bygone age”, a “mythical form of leadership”.

    Jack Rush had a paricular vision of leadership that he was using as the measure of what the CEO’s did on the day. Jack may have been competent to ask what CEO's should have been doing on the day but I have seen no evidence to suggest that he was competent to provide the answer.

  120. John D

    This more recent article from ABC The Drum focuses on the issue of leadership, particularly leadership on the day.

    My personal view is that the key role of the CEO’s of the various emergency services was to ensure that strategies were developed to deal with Black Saturdays and their equivalent and to ensure that the practical things were done so that there would be no confusion on the day and the people on the ground were not dependent on instructions from above to get things done and make decisions.

    What these CEO’s do on the day will to some extent depend on the strengths and weakness’s of the CEO and the people they have to do the key operating roles. For example, as far as I know, Christine Nixon was not appointed for her skills at hands on management of major crisis so the last thing that was needed on the day was for Christine to try to be the operations manager or to be getting under peoples feet in the incident room. Most of her work should have been done before Black Saturday.

    If you ask “how many people died because Christine had a pub dinner?” the answer is no-one. On the other hand if you ask “how many people might die in the future because the commission was diverted to trivia in the chase for senior scalps?” the answer is less certain. To my mind the things that may kill in the future are:
    1. A failure to fix problems that clearly need fixing in time.
    2. Policies being adopted without the practicalities being properly examined. (For example, are the commentators above right about the impracticality of evacuating the Dandenongs.)
    3. Assuming everyone will follow the “one policy fits all” answer and doing nothing to increase the chances of survival of people who, for one reason or other, dont follow this policy on the day.
    4. People assuming that something that worked on Black Saturday will work the next time around.

    In terms of systems, the real challenge is to set up systems that ensure that some time is allocated every year to ensuring we are prepared for major crisis that happen very rarely. It is not just bush fires. How well was Newcastle prepared for the earthquake nobody expected or…..?

    In terms of leadership the lawyers the Victorian Government were right when they said that what the assisting counsels were about was “a lament for an “imagined bygone age”, a “mythical form of leadership”.

    Jack Rush had a paricular vision of leadership that he was using as the measure of what the CEO’s did on the day. Jack may have been competent to ask what CEO's should have been doing on the day but I have seen no evidence to suggest that he was competent to provide the answer.

  121. Elise

    John D @60, agree that the system and preparation appears to have been woefully inadequate to handle extreme risk from a firestorm.

    The majority of emphasis should be on developing a more robust system is the key for the future, rather than hunting for scalps.

    I’m not up with the fine detail of what happened on the day, but it seems that Christine Nixon went out for dinner at the height of the crisis, and switched off her mobile for some hours. If that is true, then at the very least it shows extremely poor judgement. It would have made more sense to cancel the dinner and order in sandwiches.

    Even if little could be achieved by staying back, at least it shows appropriate concern and commitment. When the proverbial hits the fan, buggering off for dinner and being incommunicado doesn’t really signal commitment to the troops.

    Better half and I scanned back over various crises from our jobs during a lifetime in industry, and can’t imagine why any responsible person would walk out in the middle of a crisis. Something like working through the night (to say nothing of skipping a dinner appointment) and looking at all options is the least you can do, if the people on the other end of the line are facing a potential life and death situation.

    We aren’t talking about “going down with the ship”, but a fairly basic response to a serious crisis. Maybe it didn’t cost extra lives, but it certainly looks like poor judgement at the least.

  122. Elise

    John D @60, agree that the system and preparation appears to have been woefully inadequate to handle extreme risk from a firestorm.

    The majority of emphasis should be on developing a more robust system is the key for the future, rather than hunting for scalps.

    I’m not up with the fine detail of what happened on the day, but it seems that Christine Nixon went out for dinner at the height of the crisis, and switched off her mobile for some hours. If that is true, then at the very least it shows extremely poor judgement. It would have made more sense to cancel the dinner and order in sandwiches.

    Even if little could be achieved by staying back, at least it shows appropriate concern and commitment. When the proverbial hits the fan, buggering off for dinner and being incommunicado doesn’t really signal commitment to the troops.

    Better half and I scanned back over various crises from our jobs during a lifetime in industry, and can’t imagine why any responsible person would walk out in the middle of a crisis. Something like working through the night (to say nothing of skipping a dinner appointment) and looking at all options is the least you can do, if the people on the other end of the line are facing a potential life and death situation.

    We aren’t talking about “going down with the ship”, but a fairly basic response to a serious crisis. Maybe it didn’t cost extra lives, but it certainly looks like poor judgement at the least.

  123. John D

    Elise: The pub dinner was not a good look but I suspect that, in this case, Nixon had little to offer in the incident room and could well have been a hindrance. It was probably more important for her to be wide awake if the crisis had continued and to then be the person with the authority to insist that someone took a break if they were getting beyond it. My real beef was the emotive way the counsels assisting went on about it and the time wasted. The big attraction was that the pub meal was something a lawyer could understand where as what the important contribution of various layers could make was different.

    I also think that the role of senior people depends on expertise. For example, I would take a different role during a process crisis compared to an electrical crisis even though I had both process and electrical people reporting to me. On Groote Eylandt I was given responsibility for emergency services even though I didn’t have an emergency services background. The people with the expertise were my direct reports. So I saw my role as one of asking the dumb questions and ensuring that the department did have the equipment, expertise and training to do the job properly. When the mess caught fire sure I was there but I was careful to let the experts get on with it instead of hovering. I would only have interfered if I thought that too many risks were being taken for the sake of the mess. Christine Nixon did not have an emergency services background so, you can understand my sympathy.

    I also think that it is more productive to ask a wide range of people what they thought needed to be changed as a result of the Black Saturday experience rather than behave as though the only issue is pinning someone for criminal negligence. Sure, the questions should probe and the questioner can ask lots of what is the implication of… etc. But treating people as fools who don’t see the wisdom of your crisis management plan is not a good approach to investigations. Did you go to the link at see some of the rhetoric the assisting counsels were using?

  124. John D

    Elise: The pub dinner was not a good look but I suspect that, in this case, Nixon had little to offer in the incident room and could well have been a hindrance. It was probably more important for her to be wide awake if the crisis had continued and to then be the person with the authority to insist that someone took a break if they were getting beyond it. My real beef was the emotive way the counsels assisting went on about it and the time wasted. The big attraction was that the pub meal was something a lawyer could understand where as what the important contribution of various layers could make was different.

    I also think that the role of senior people depends on expertise. For example, I would take a different role during a process crisis compared to an electrical crisis even though I had both process and electrical people reporting to me. On Groote Eylandt I was given responsibility for emergency services even though I didn’t have an emergency services background. The people with the expertise were my direct reports. So I saw my role as one of asking the dumb questions and ensuring that the department did have the equipment, expertise and training to do the job properly. When the mess caught fire sure I was there but I was careful to let the experts get on with it instead of hovering. I would only have interfered if I thought that too many risks were being taken for the sake of the mess. Christine Nixon did not have an emergency services background so, you can understand my sympathy.

    I also think that it is more productive to ask a wide range of people what they thought needed to be changed as a result of the Black Saturday experience rather than behave as though the only issue is pinning someone for criminal negligence. Sure, the questions should probe and the questioner can ask lots of what is the implication of… etc. But treating people as fools who don’t see the wisdom of your crisis management plan is not a good approach to investigations. Did you go to the link at see some of the rhetoric the assisting counsels were using?

  125. Brian

    Elise, I’m with John D on this one. When I worked in the Dept of Education 20 years ago I was responsible for 34 work units with personnel from 12-13 work categories covered by 8-9 unions. Some had expertise that was highly specialised and/or technical. There were some crises I didn’t know about until they were over. If you have competent branch managers that’s OK and they know when you can be of use and what you need to know.

    If your managers and work supervisors can’t do things that you can’t do they are hardly worth employing.

    My memory of the Christine Nixon dinner is that she did have her mobile turned on, that it wasn’t a dinner appointment as such, more like everyone was stuffed so they grabbed a quick meal somewhere rather than cooking. As I recall it didn’t last very long. Anyway that’s what I’ll believe until someone gives me cause to believe otherwise.

  126. Brian

    Elise, I’m with John D on this one. When I worked in the Dept of Education 20 years ago I was responsible for 34 work units with personnel from 12-13 work categories covered by 8-9 unions. Some had expertise that was highly specialised and/or technical. There were some crises I didn’t know about until they were over. If you have competent branch managers that’s OK and they know when you can be of use and what you need to know.

    If your managers and work supervisors can’t do things that you can’t do they are hardly worth employing.

    My memory of the Christine Nixon dinner is that she did have her mobile turned on, that it wasn’t a dinner appointment as such, more like everyone was stuffed so they grabbed a quick meal somewhere rather than cooking. As I recall it didn’t last very long. Anyway that’s what I’ll believe until someone gives me cause to believe otherwise.

  127. John D

    Thanks Brian: If you have it right it makes the pub dinner fuss even more of a waste of time. It is one of the outcomes when you have investigators who can understand pub dinners but don’t understand fires or management. The speeches quoted were lawyers using emotional arguments to get a jury who couldn’t understand the technical or management arguments.

    What really put me off lawyer run investigations into major disasters was the investigation into the major gas plant failure in Vic some years ago. The conclusion reported by the papers? “The control room operators needed more training!!” Here was a failure that occurred because the @!!!!8# designers had designed a plant where a pressure vessel could reach its embrittlement point under unusual conditions (Wall strength drops dramatically below the embrittlelment temperature and it was this loss of strength that resulted in the vessel failure and the ultimate explosion of the released gas.) Worse still, nothing had been done that would either stop the temperature getting so low or allow a controlled release of pressure before the embrittlement point had been reached.)

    As a commissioning engineer I have run control rooms from time to time when things are going wrong all over the place. It is hardly the easiest thing in the midst of this to twig that there might be a problem with embrittlement that hasn’t occurred for 25 yrs. (On the day the plant had had a run of problems with hydrate in the lines and had issued something like 50 work permits. My understanding is that the operators did the logical thing and tried to fix the low temperature problem without realizing they were on the brink of a major catastrophe that would be caused by the low temperature.)

    It would be good to see an investigation into the extent to which the Black Saturday was stuffed up by having the investigation run by lawyers rather than people with appropriate competencies.

  128. John D

    Thanks Brian: If you have it right it makes the pub dinner fuss even more of a waste of time. It is one of the outcomes when you have investigators who can understand pub dinners but don’t understand fires or management. The speeches quoted were lawyers using emotional arguments to get a jury who couldn’t understand the technical or management arguments.

    What really put me off lawyer run investigations into major disasters was the investigation into the major gas plant failure in Vic some years ago. The conclusion reported by the papers? “The control room operators needed more training!!” Here was a failure that occurred because the @!!!!8# designers had designed a plant where a pressure vessel could reach its embrittlement point under unusual conditions (Wall strength drops dramatically below the embrittlelment temperature and it was this loss of strength that resulted in the vessel failure and the ultimate explosion of the released gas.) Worse still, nothing had been done that would either stop the temperature getting so low or allow a controlled release of pressure before the embrittlement point had been reached.)

    As a commissioning engineer I have run control rooms from time to time when things are going wrong all over the place. It is hardly the easiest thing in the midst of this to twig that there might be a problem with embrittlement that hasn’t occurred for 25 yrs. (On the day the plant had had a run of problems with hydrate in the lines and had issued something like 50 work permits. My understanding is that the operators did the logical thing and tried to fix the low temperature problem without realizing they were on the brink of a major catastrophe that would be caused by the low temperature.)

    It would be good to see an investigation into the extent to which the Black Saturday was stuffed up by having the investigation run by lawyers rather than people with appropriate competencies.

  129. Brian

    John D my working assumption is the lawyers and journos have never organised anything more complicated than a booze-up in a brewery. This was a problem when Carmen Lawrence was under the hammer and also for whoever was premier when SA State Bank went pear-shaped.

  130. Brian

    John D my working assumption is the lawyers and journos have never organised anything more complicated than a booze-up in a brewery. This was a problem when Carmen Lawrence was under the hammer and also for whoever was premier when SA State Bank went pear-shaped.

  131. OldSkeptic

    Don’t quite agree with letting Nixon off the hook. Her primary purpose was there so that she could, if necessary, make hard orders, possibly dangerous, that the police would obey.

    For example, ordering a police contingent to get to an area and warn people, or to stop people going towards a certain dangerous direction.

    From a systems point of view she was there to shorten the decision loop in a dynamic situation.

    Now there was nothing wrong if she had delegated FULL powers to someone else who was there, but leaving without that total delegation was an obrogation of her duties.

    Sadly all too common of most management these days, nice to have the perks but do anything to avoid making a hard decision. Very much “Yes Minister”: “that was a very couragous decision Minister”, “it was?” (in a squeaky scared voice).

    All managers seem to be politicians theses days, I remember a day when some actually made decisions (and amazingly didn’t get fired).

    Nowadays anyone who does is in trouble, either your decision is wrong and you get the boot, or you are right and fear and jealousy from your peers and superiors means you get the boot.

    Result: without 14 consultants being involved, innumerable ‘strategy’ meetings, focus groups, whole forests of reports, no one nowadays can make a decision about the colour of the tearoom. And what comes out is always some sort of a** covering compromise that almost certainly wont work, but no one can be blamed for.

  132. OldSkeptic

    Don’t quite agree with letting Nixon off the hook. Her primary purpose was there so that she could, if necessary, make hard orders, possibly dangerous, that the police would obey.

    For example, ordering a police contingent to get to an area and warn people, or to stop people going towards a certain dangerous direction.

    From a systems point of view she was there to shorten the decision loop in a dynamic situation.

    Now there was nothing wrong if she had delegated FULL powers to someone else who was there, but leaving without that total delegation was an obrogation of her duties.

    Sadly all too common of most management these days, nice to have the perks but do anything to avoid making a hard decision. Very much “Yes Minister”: “that was a very couragous decision Minister”, “it was?” (in a squeaky scared voice).

    All managers seem to be politicians theses days, I remember a day when some actually made decisions (and amazingly didn’t get fired).

    Nowadays anyone who does is in trouble, either your decision is wrong and you get the boot, or you are right and fear and jealousy from your peers and superiors means you get the boot.

    Result: without 14 consultants being involved, innumerable ‘strategy’ meetings, focus groups, whole forests of reports, no one nowadays can make a decision about the colour of the tearoom. And what comes out is always some sort of a** covering compromise that almost certainly wont work, but no one can be blamed for.

  133. John D

    This emergency could have lasted for days. So I would be critical of Christine if she had not set up a roster of competent people with real delegated power to ensure there was always someone there WHO WAS NOT SLEEP DEPRIVED to make good decisions. In some cases it may have been appropriate for Christine to fill one of these slots if she had experience running the police function for major bushfires. (My understanding is this was not part of her experience.) Sure she needed to be contactable but people need to understand when so she did not become burned out early in the crisis.

    In many cases it is appropriate that the major crisis management heirachy is different from the normal heirachy. The crisis management hierachy should be based on crisis management competencies. It will also need to be designed to work when critical people go missing or simply cannot be contacted. Keep in mind that emergency management would rarely be a key requirement for most jobs.

  134. John D

    This emergency could have lasted for days. So I would be critical of Christine if she had not set up a roster of competent people with real delegated power to ensure there was always someone there WHO WAS NOT SLEEP DEPRIVED to make good decisions. In some cases it may have been appropriate for Christine to fill one of these slots if she had experience running the police function for major bushfires. (My understanding is this was not part of her experience.) Sure she needed to be contactable but people need to understand when so she did not become burned out early in the crisis.

    In many cases it is appropriate that the major crisis management heirachy is different from the normal heirachy. The crisis management hierachy should be based on crisis management competencies. It will also need to be designed to work when critical people go missing or simply cannot be contacted. Keep in mind that emergency management would rarely be a key requirement for most jobs.

  135. John D

    Old skeptic: This ABC Drum article says that Counsel Assisting held

    In places, Counsel Assisting Rachel Doyle SC held the following up as damning proof of senior management incompetence:

    A chapter from the submissions called “Busy: doing what?”, a reference to the fact that between them a leadership group comprising two chief fire officers, a state coordinator from the CFA, a DSE chief officer assistant, a state duty officer from the CFA, another from the DSE and a CFA member tasked with “strategic planning” made a total of eight decisions on Black Saturday.

    To me the fact that this group only had to make 8 decisions on the day suggest that the converse is true. Competent senior management would have done enough work before Black Saturday to ensure that local management and individual firecrews were able to make decisions and do what they did in a very difficult situation without constant reference to a central control group who may lose communication at any time. All the central group could do is relocate fire bombers. The rest of their resources would have found it almost impossible to relocate safely over any distance on the day.

    So far I have seen nothing to suggest that the police failed to fulfill their role on Black Saturday and no police personnel were killed or injured. Which all suggests that Christine and her team did a good job setting things up before the crisis and should have been thanked instead of being hit with ill informed crap they copped at the commission.

    It may be that the role allocated to the police needs to be reconsidered or that nothing more could be done to reduce the risk of police fatalities or increase the effectiveness of the police on the day. However, this is better discussed when it is not part of a massive “gotcha” campaign.

    There needs to be an investigation of how the commission conducted itself with particular reference to the behaviour of the counsel assisting. My point is that this behaviour may have actually increased the risk of future deaths and made it easier to ignore those parts of the commission report that really should be acted upon.

  136. John D

    Old skeptic: This ABC Drum article says that Counsel Assisting held

    In places, Counsel Assisting Rachel Doyle SC held the following up as damning proof of senior management incompetence:

    A chapter from the submissions called “Busy: doing what?”, a reference to the fact that between them a leadership group comprising two chief fire officers, a state coordinator from the CFA, a DSE chief officer assistant, a state duty officer from the CFA, another from the DSE and a CFA member tasked with “strategic planning” made a total of eight decisions on Black Saturday.

    To me the fact that this group only had to make 8 decisions on the day suggest that the converse is true. Competent senior management would have done enough work before Black Saturday to ensure that local management and individual firecrews were able to make decisions and do what they did in a very difficult situation without constant reference to a central control group who may lose communication at any time. All the central group could do is relocate fire bombers. The rest of their resources would have found it almost impossible to relocate safely over any distance on the day.

    So far I have seen nothing to suggest that the police failed to fulfill their role on Black Saturday and no police personnel were killed or injured. Which all suggests that Christine and her team did a good job setting things up before the crisis and should have been thanked instead of being hit with ill informed crap they copped at the commission.

    It may be that the role allocated to the police needs to be reconsidered or that nothing more could be done to reduce the risk of police fatalities or increase the effectiveness of the police on the day. However, this is better discussed when it is not part of a massive “gotcha” campaign.

    There needs to be an investigation of how the commission conducted itself with particular reference to the behaviour of the counsel assisting. My point is that this behaviour may have actually increased the risk of future deaths and made it easier to ignore those parts of the commission report that really should be acted upon.

  137. OldSkeptic

    John but the record shows that the ‘system’ set up was fatally flawed. It got steadily further and further behind reality, communication channels broke down or clogged up. At its worst point it was hours behind reality.

    Things moved far faster than the command, control and communication system could handle. Ref a guy called John Boyd: their OODA loop was too slow (look it up), or Stafford Beer: you got a ‘disconnected head’ situation.

    But, and here is the nasty but, instead of quickly delegating rapidly to regional, or even local commanders it still tried to maintain central control. Communication still tried to flow up and then down. Thus warnings not being sent to areas at immediate risk. Or another areas being totally ignored, local commanders not being able to get information or authority to act, etc, etc.

    Basically instead of being a help the central command became a hinderence.

    What happened (and the ABC article hit it on the head) was that the ‘system’ was maintained despite clear evidence of its failure at the time. This is where good leadership comes in. Someone should have made the call to delegate and decentralise. That’s what leadership is all about. In this case recongnising that the central command structure/system had broken down and a different approach was needed ..fast.

    Instead they continued on like an obsolete computer program. In fact given their lack of decision making why were they there at all? You could have replaced the lot with a program, or a bunch of schoolkids and got precisely the same result. They could ALL have gone to the pub for all the difference they made.

    I’ve seen this sort of stuff happen so many times (though not in quite such a life or death situation). People in positions that they were not qualified for, having got there by politics. But the very skills to politic your way to the top are the opposite needed to actually do the job. Carefull avoidence of any responsibility for decisions, making sure mud never sticks, using ‘cut outs’ like consultants to make decisions, never offending anyone above you, removing more competent competition, emphisise process over outcomes, etc. Though they carefully avoid any responsibility for decisions when they are made, they are the first to grab credit where things work out, and the first to dump on others if anything goes wrong.

    This mindset is perfect for creating some system or policy, then blindly sticking to it, because if it goes well they can grab credit for ‘leadership’, if not then they can blame the system (and those associated with creating it), even if it was created with their, usually carefully hidden, approval.

    But make a real decision, especially in a crisis? Impossible, their minds are not capable of that concept. More likely at the time they are thinking about how they can pass the blame onto someone else.

  138. OldSkeptic

    John but the record shows that the ‘system’ set up was fatally flawed. It got steadily further and further behind reality, communication channels broke down or clogged up. At its worst point it was hours behind reality.

    Things moved far faster than the command, control and communication system could handle. Ref a guy called John Boyd: their OODA loop was too slow (look it up), or Stafford Beer: you got a ‘disconnected head’ situation.

    But, and here is the nasty but, instead of quickly delegating rapidly to regional, or even local commanders it still tried to maintain central control. Communication still tried to flow up and then down. Thus warnings not being sent to areas at immediate risk. Or another areas being totally ignored, local commanders not being able to get information or authority to act, etc, etc.

    Basically instead of being a help the central command became a hinderence.

    What happened (and the ABC article hit it on the head) was that the ‘system’ was maintained despite clear evidence of its failure at the time. This is where good leadership comes in. Someone should have made the call to delegate and decentralise. That’s what leadership is all about. In this case recongnising that the central command structure/system had broken down and a different approach was needed ..fast.

    Instead they continued on like an obsolete computer program. In fact given their lack of decision making why were they there at all? You could have replaced the lot with a program, or a bunch of schoolkids and got precisely the same result. They could ALL have gone to the pub for all the difference they made.

    I’ve seen this sort of stuff happen so many times (though not in quite such a life or death situation). People in positions that they were not qualified for, having got there by politics. But the very skills to politic your way to the top are the opposite needed to actually do the job. Carefull avoidence of any responsibility for decisions, making sure mud never sticks, using ‘cut outs’ like consultants to make decisions, never offending anyone above you, removing more competent competition, emphisise process over outcomes, etc. Though they carefully avoid any responsibility for decisions when they are made, they are the first to grab credit where things work out, and the first to dump on others if anything goes wrong.

    This mindset is perfect for creating some system or policy, then blindly sticking to it, because if it goes well they can grab credit for ‘leadership’, if not then they can blame the system (and those associated with creating it), even if it was created with their, usually carefully hidden, approval.

    But make a real decision, especially in a crisis? Impossible, their minds are not capable of that concept. More likely at the time they are thinking about how they can pass the blame onto someone else.

  139. OldSkeptic

    As an addendum: Stafford Beer once said “you can be competent or acceptable … but not both”. And our modern world is now dominated by acceptable management.

  140. OldSkeptic

    As an addendum: Stafford Beer once said “you can be competent or acceptable … but not both”. And our modern world is now dominated by acceptable management.

  141. John D

    OldSkeptic: Dealing with a massive crisis like Black Saturday requires a robust organization that can handle breakdowns in communication and situations developing faster than a central command can handle. To some extent preparing a robust system involves technical issues such as developing robust communications and systems that can help both central and local command centers make rapid sense out of what data that is coming in. However, creating robust systems means having individuals and local coordinators empowered, elected and trained to make the necessary decisions when they become isolated from central command or nearby groups. It also means having a system that doesn’t fall apart when the police commissioner is out of the control center. In general local peopl eare probably going to be in a better position to make decisions and direct action under the chaotic conditions you outline above.

    The other thing to recognize is that neither the police force, CFA or other emergencies services are (or should be) set up to handle Black Saturdays. Rightly or wrongly, Christine Nixon should have been selected on the basis of the problems being faced by the Vic police, not her ability to provide hands on leadership. Any plan for future Black Saturdays needs to identify the strengths and weakness’s of senior people before deciding what roles they should play on the day. In many cases the right person to lead on the day will not be the right person to lead for most of the time.
    Clearly things did go wrong on the day. Some of these things would have had a significant effect and others may have had a significant effect had things been a bit different. On the other hand, some of the things that went wrong were most unlikely to ever have a significant effect. Teasing all this out is a lot easier when people are encouraged to think calmly – not encouraged to cover up anything that could get them punished.

  142. John D

    OldSkeptic: Dealing with a massive crisis like Black Saturday requires a robust organization that can handle breakdowns in communication and situations developing faster than a central command can handle. To some extent preparing a robust system involves technical issues such as developing robust communications and systems that can help both central and local command centers make rapid sense out of what data that is coming in. However, creating robust systems means having individuals and local coordinators empowered, elected and trained to make the necessary decisions when they become isolated from central command or nearby groups. It also means having a system that doesn’t fall apart when the police commissioner is out of the control center. In general local peopl eare probably going to be in a better position to make decisions and direct action under the chaotic conditions you outline above.

    The other thing to recognize is that neither the police force, CFA or other emergencies services are (or should be) set up to handle Black Saturdays. Rightly or wrongly, Christine Nixon should have been selected on the basis of the problems being faced by the Vic police, not her ability to provide hands on leadership. Any plan for future Black Saturdays needs to identify the strengths and weakness’s of senior people before deciding what roles they should play on the day. In many cases the right person to lead on the day will not be the right person to lead for most of the time.
    Clearly things did go wrong on the day. Some of these things would have had a significant effect and others may have had a significant effect had things been a bit different. On the other hand, some of the things that went wrong were most unlikely to ever have a significant effect. Teasing all this out is a lot easier when people are encouraged to think calmly – not encouraged to cover up anything that could get them punished.