Top tips to prepare you for a bushfire

Top tips to prepare you for a bushfire

With bushfire season underway in most of Australia, it’s important to plan ahead and realise planning to stay safe for people with disability might look different.

Key points

  • Having a Bushfire Survival Plan can help to keep you and other members of your household safe
  • Your plan should include when to leave, where to go, what to take and specific planning addressing your disability support needs
  • Once you have your plan it’s important to practice it so that you are comfortable with it

For people with mobility limitations planning for a bushfire event might require more thought about transport and access to refuges, while for people with intellectual or sensory disabilities a bushfire plan might need to be practised more often.

Have a Bushfire Survival Plan

A Bushfire Survival Plan is a set of steps you will take to stay safe and to keep your family safe if a bushfire happens nearby.

Anyone living outside of a city should have a Bushfire Survival Plan so you know what to do if this highly stressful and dangerous situation occurs.

For some people a Bushfire Survival Plan includes how they will protect their home from the fire, however it is not recommended that anyone stay to defend their home and the safest option is to leave before the fire arrives.

A plan can ensure you know where a good place is to go to when you leave because of a bushfire and also that you have everything you need, including disability aids, communication devices, medication and items for comfort.

Bushfires cause a lot of stress and emotion, and you may not be able to return home safely for a few days, so planning ahead will give you the most safety and comfort during that time.

What should my plan include?

The Country Fire Authority (CFA) has provided advice around what to think about when putting together your Bushfire Survival Plan.

As creating your plan can be a big task, the CFA suggests not doing it all at once but breaking planning up into smaller tasks and conversations with other people that you can have over time.

Below is a list of topics to think about.

Your abilities and supports needed: For example, if you or a member of your household has sensory difficulties, it may not be the best idea to plan to go to a refuge centre where many others in your community will gather during a bushfire, as this could become overwhelming. It might be better to plan to stay with family or friends in the city, if possible.

Specific timeframes: This is so that you can achieve everything you need to before you are placed in any danger. For example, if it takes you longer to pack your belongings because of your mobility then you need to factor that into your plan.

Where you will go: If you need accessible facilities, consider this in your plan. Does a city nearby have a refuge you can get to which is in an accessible building with toilets you can use? Does the safe place you’ve chosen have quiet spaces or rooms where you can be alone if you need it? Is it close to shops and medical facilities in case you need emergency supplies?

You could have several safe places included in your plan to give you different options depending on what situation you find yourself in. If you are leaving home for the day because of extreme weather you might have a different place chosen than if you are leaving because a bushfire has started nearby.

If you have young children it might be helpful to think about a place where your children could be entertained for the day. For example, if you are leaving home because extreme fire danger weather has been forecast, where can you go to do activities to keep your children occupied until the dangerous weather has passed? Some regular summer holiday activities which are accessible for children with disability could be a good start.

When you will go: The safest idea is to leave early. This means if there is a high risk of bushfire on a day when it is hot, dry and windy, you may need to leave early in the morning or even the night before, to travel to your safe place.

An emergency kit: This should include both essentials and items which will help to manage your level of stress in an emergency, such as:

  • Medication, prescriptions, and other essential items
  • Fresh change of clothing and toiletries
  • Glasses, hearing, communication and mobility aids
  • Chargers – phone, mobility scooters and any other critical devices
  • Batteries as back ups for any battery-powered devices you have
  • Passports, birth certificates, insurance papers and other significant documents
  • Water and snack food
  • Pet food and other supplies such as a leash, collar and pet carrier, service animal identification
  • Mobile phone and list of critical contacts, including doctors and family members
  • Small treasured items and keepsakes
  • Items which help you to manage your feelings, such as noise cancelling headphones
  • Your emergency care plan, if you have one, or other information you would provide to a hospital

Mode of transport: Will you be able to drive yourself? Will you need a member of your household to drive you and what happens if they are not at home?

If you normally use public transport, consider an alternative if public transport is not running or you need to escape with pets and belongings which will not be able to be brought on public transport.

If you need a taxi or accessible taxi, think about whether it’s possible to use these in an emergency and without booking ahead.

The CFA also has some other transport related tips for your bushfire planning:

  • Make sure that you have easy access to funds for taxi services
  • Ensure that you have the phone number for the taxi service in your area written in your plan if that is one of your options
  • Make sure any friends and family know they have been included in the Bushfire Survival Plan and that they are able to help
  • If you are leaving by car make sure the car is packed early, you have enough fuel, and keep the car keys handy. If the car isn’t used often, check that it starts easily
  • Always have a backup plan and have a backup travel route, in case your regular route is blocked off by a fire

I have my plan, what next?

Have a resource you check regularly for the fire danger rating in your area. Make sure it is in the most accessible format for you, so that you can best understand the level of danger and when to enact your plan. You might like to listen to the local or ABC radio, check a mobile phone app, check a website or watch a live news station on TV.

Practice the actions in your Bushfire Survival Plan until you and other members of your family, household and support network are comfortable with it.

If you have pets or a service animal, make sure your pets are also comfortable travelling in the way they will need to travel when you enact your plan.

It’s best to keep practicing your plan as well - not just practice it at the beginning of bushfire season but also throughout the season, as a bushfire could happen months after the start of spring.

Make sure you refresh your plan and practice again in future bushfire seasons as well.

Resources

The CFA is working with the Red Cross to improve bushfire planning for people with a disability and is developing the Emergency Planning Advice Service to support this.

The service, once established, will provide household visits to people with disability in which a bushfire planning and preparation expert will support the person to develop a plan.

You can also find bushfire safety resources on a number of websites.

Bushfire Survival Plans:

For unpaid carers:

For paid carers:

The Council for Intellectual Disability also has an easy read bushfire info guide.

Do you have a plan for what to do if a bushfire starts? What does your plan include? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:
Creating a plan in the case of emergency
Summer holiday activities for kids with disability