The Victorian Schools Bushfire Protection Project

The February 2009 bushfires in Victoria were a tragic illustration of the vulnerability and risk Australian urban and rural communities face in the event of an uncontrolled wildfire on a large scale.  Several schools were destroyed or severely damaged as a result of these fires, and this recognised a need to provide on-site protection to students and staff, and was identified as a key priority in post disaster liaison.

Following Black Saturday, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) engaged a multi-disciplinary team to improve the protection of students and staff through school site building and landscape modification works at over a portfolio of 300 schools identified as being at particular risk of bushfires.

The project included a range of leading practice approaches: Mapping of heat flux using Geographic Information Systems providing a pre site assessment of the bushfire risk and a robust decision support system for field assessors.

Detailed site inspections that included BPAD accredited staff, ecologists and fire engineers Establishment of a Shelter in Place – engineered to meet AS3959 requirements, supplemented by Asset Protection Zones, improved landscaping and emergency management procedures. Cradle-to-grave management – providing a unique opportunity to capture data on the upgrade of a large sample of vulnerable buildings.

This project involved the detailed on-site assessment and subsequent engineering upgrades for over 300 vulnerable schools.  As a result, a unique opportunity was identified; to capture the required upgrades to a variety and great number of class 9 buildings, and across a range of Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) zones.

Thank you to Mr Cormac Farrell, Environmental Scientist, Aurecon Australia who presented this paper at the 2013 Australian & New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference held 28-30 May at the Mercure Hotel Brisbane.  Cormac’s presentation examined the outcomes of the project, including the typical upgrades across each BAL zone, the areas most likely to cause defect and maintenance issues, and the resulting cost (based on a per student scale) in each BAL zone.

The 2014 Australian & New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference will be held at the Hotel Pullman Brisbane, 5th – 7th May.