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Extreme weather & tourism resilience: bushfires in Australia

March 23, 2013
Harold Goodwin
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While the media and society appears to be focusing on the economy and the length of stay for governments climate change marches on.

After stuffing two small fire events , a small flood and extreme weather events on my property over the last six years I have become very aware of the impacts climate on our business and on the community. Prior to the last summer I prepared and circulated a bush fire survival plan for our tourism association, but we were still very unprepared for the potential events that lay in store.

The summer became the ‘Hottest January’ on record, ‘Hottest Summer’ on record, ‘Hottest Day’ on record for Australia as a whole as reported by the Climate Commission.

Consider how this translated into bush fire impacts during a two week period in NSW this summer of 2012-2013:

  • The Rural Fire Services attended more than 300 bush and grass fires, with more than 650,000 hectares burnt, the loss of over 50 homes, thousands of livestock, fencing and farm equipment.
  • There were 99 activations of the Emergency Alert telephone warning systems, including 43 uses of the new location-based warning systems for mobiles.
  • The Rural Fire Services public website received 8.5 million views, while there were more than 27 million views on the NSW RFS Facebook page, 15 million titter and 12,000 downloads of the Fires Near Me app.
  • The Bush Fire Information Line received over 26,000 calls.
  • There were 41 declarations of Section 44 status, with more than 10,500 fire-fighters from the NSW RFS, Fire & Rescue NSW National Parks and Forests NSW deployed.
  • Between 7th and 21st January, there were eight days where the Total Fire Bans were declared, including four state wide declarations.

I lobbied my local council to take action, they have a destination management plan but it excludes any risk management consideration, even though we are in the third worst bush fire prone zone in Australia. After many emails they said they would review the situation at their next board meeting. The result was a questionnaire to ask if businesses had been affected by the recent bush fires. They also plan to hold a workshop. However, I am aware that the lack of connection between threat and action runs right down to the grass roots level.  I have used my board position on the Tourism Industry Council NSW to present a paper on the threat of bush fire and methods on how to engage tourism provides. This was presented at the local government conference.. Key to encourage act is to present positive messages and lead with benefits rather than assault people with the need to spend money protecting them from a threat they cannot see. I strongly believe this is a method to also engage everyone in the developed world to change social practice and behaviour and consume less and reuse/recycle. I have published a paper to encourage policy and the Tourism Industry Council is now contacting the Rural Fire Services with my request to develop a joint programme to better prepare tourism providers. We have much to do, persuasive communication is key.

Christopher Warren
International Centre for Responsible Tourism - Australia
Tel: (02) 4465 1408
Mobile: 0439801349
Skype: kv.chriswarren
Web: www.icrtourism.com.au
Responsible Tourism Blog www.chriswarrenonline.com.au
Twitter: ChrisWarrenRT

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