Better forward planning techniques could have dramatically cut the death toll during Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, according to new RMIT research.
More than half those evacuated during the crisis were late evacuees – people who stayed on their properties only to leave at short notice.
One third of all bushfire deaths in Australia over the past century have been among late evacuees.
A team in RMIT’s School of Business IT and Logistics, led by Professor Prem Chhetri, looked at the Murrindindi Mill fire, which affected Marysville, Narbethong and Buxton.
“We modelled evacuation plans based on the number and capacity of shelters and the number of vehicles available,” Chhetri said.
“We looked at all the variations that could be caused by the spread of fire and the way it could cut off roads and access to shelters.
“When we ran the program, we discovered that it would have been possible to have evacuated all late evacuees during Black Saturday, even if shifts in the fire fronts had disrupted some roads at the time.”
Evacuating people once a major fire is under way is a major challenge for emergency services.
They need to assemble people who stay to defend their property, those with disability, those with younger children, the elderly and people with no personal vehicle and move them to shelter, often by bus.
Chhetri said: “The emergency services do a tremendous job in dangerous, challenging conditions. We hope this research will help them in their main task of saving lives.
“Our findings demonstrate that short-notice evacuation is manageable via advanced planning and the efficient allocation of limited resources.
“Of course, the best-laid plans can be impacted by people’s behaviour and variations in bushfire propagation. But we are confident our approach can help in a range of disaster scenarios, including hurricanes and flooding.”
Chhetri was helped in the research by colleagues Associate Professor Babak Abbasi, Dr Ahmad Abareshi and Shahrooz Shahparvari.
Their findings, “Enhancing emergency evacuation response of late evacuees: Revisiting the case of Australian Black Saturday bushfire”, have been published by the journal Transportation Research Part E (Elsevier).
Story: David Glanz