Becoming Fire-Fit: Preparing for the Unexpected and the Unimagined

Greetings! My name is Rachel Westcott. I’m a veterinarian, emergency manager and researcher. I’m delighted to be back at ANZDMC in 2019.

I completed my PhD in 2018, as part of the Bushfire & Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre’s Managing Animals in Disasters project. My PhD topic is essentially public-health- meets-natural-hazards, and is about normalising preparedness to build widespread resilience in bushfire at-risk communities. As a vet, I was keen to include animals in the research, and did this by using animal owners as a key participant group. The title of my thesis is Advancing public health in the context of natural hazards: normalising preparedness within a framework of adapted Protection Motivation Theory. You can access the thesis here:

We all know that climate change means there will continue to be an escalation in extreme weather events, and in the severity and frequency of natural hazards. Action to effectively respond to climate change and its imposition on our lives needs to be from “bottom-up” (i.e. you and me) and “top-down” (e.g. the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction; see ). Without effective climate change mitigation it is quite possible the changes we have already witnessed may simply keep escalating. We don’t know if this will be linear or exponential: but we do know that we ignore the progress of climate change at our peril.  In his book Antifragile[1], academic and philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes how there is worse to come than the worst we have seen, and that we need to be ready for the unexpected.

Critically, and beneficially, an understanding of the impact of natural hazards on people is moving firmly into the realm of public health, as climate change impacts every ecosystem and living thing on the planet. This of course involves Emergency Services as they are confronted with the hazard/human interface that is their core business. I use the word “human” here wholistically (deliberately spelt with a ‘w’) to encompass people and the things they treasure: their dear ones, dependent others, animals, places, properties and livelihoods.

My PhD research came up with several findings which aim to turn “preparedness” into a routine everyday action – as routine as buying the groceries or fuelling a car. I call this fire-fitness, but you don’t have to be an athlete to become fire-fit! The concept of fire-fitness is something we can all aspire to, and attain. It means we can be better able to deal with natural hazards physically, psychologically and emotionally. It means our decision-making and response choices will be safer, encouraging others to become similarly engaged.

I’m looking forward to being part of the ANZDMC in 2019, and thank the Committee for accepting my abstract.

My contact details are in a mild state of flux as my Western Sydney University email account closes, and my new company, Engine Room Solutions, is in formation. In the interim, [email protected] or mobile 0427 70 70 44 will reach me. 
[1] Taleb, N.N. (2012) Antifragile. London. Penguin.