We need to act now to reduce future bushfire risk in the Australian Summer

Forest fire aftermath

As in most settings, when managing bushfire risk, prevention is better than cure. 

However, knowing which preventative measures are likely to be most effective is difficult. 

In order to assist relevant agencies with determining the expected reduction in risk associated with different bushfire mitigation strategies, researchers at the University of Adelaide and the Research Institute for Knowledge Systems have recently developed an integrated decision support system – the Unified Natural Hazard Risk Mitigation Exploratory Decision support system (UNHaRMED) – through research funded by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC.

The system is designed to be used by planners and policy makers to assist in the reduction of risk from multiple natural hazards, including bushfires. It enables the benefit-cost ratios of different risk reduction   strategies to be quantified including planned burns, improving building codes and land use planning. This provides the necessary evidence to support investment decisions into the bushfire risk reduction activities that are best able to protect lives, livelihoods and the environment from the impacts of bushfires.

Lead researcher Professor Holger Maier says there are many benefits to a system of this kind.

“While our decision support system enables the most effective bushfire risk reduction strategies to be identified from one year to the next,” says Professor Maier, “it also enables longer-term risk reduction strategies to be developed, based on the principle that future risk is a function of decisions made today.”

UNHaRMED achieves this by simulating how the factors affecting future risk, such as climate change, population growth and an ageing population, evolve under a range of plausible future conditions, and how this affects future risk profiles. 

At the same time, the effectiveness of different combinations of long-term risk reduction strategies, such as land use planning, land management, changes to building codes and community education can be explored under these different plausible futures. 

In this way, UNHaRMED can be thought of as a “wind tunnel” for stress-testing the performance of different policies for reducing bushfire risk under the range of conditions they could be exposed to in the future. 

UNHaRMED applications are available for Melbourne, Tasmania. Adelaide and Perth, and training was provided to agencies earlier this year.

“We are now working with various Government agencies in the four states on a range of studies so that they can be proactive in managing the increasing threat of bushfires, rather than having to react to increasingly severe events” says Professor Maier.

Over the next year, the functionality of UNHaRMED will be improved further, taking into account a broader range of social factors on risk, including how individuals act before and after disasters. Researchers will also continue working with agencies – supporting their use of UNHaRMED through further training sessions and support. 

Tagged in Environment, sustainability and climate change, disaster management, environmental engineering, featured