New Fire Rating Danger System Makes Its Debut: What it means for emergency preparedness and national resilience
At the beginning of this month, Australia debuted a new fire rating danger system. Improved and simplified to make it easier to make decisions to stay safe on days of fire danger risk, the system applies consistent colors, signs, and terminology. What does it all mean?
Consolidating fire danger ratings to keep people safe
Well, for one, these moves aren’t just aesthetic.
Bringing uniformity to colors, signs, and terminology serves a clear purpose. And that purpose is: where you go across the country, you should understand the fire threat level.
Not just understand what the colors mean but also know how to stay safe.
That latter point is capital. Ratings should be intuitive.
Understanding the level of fire danger is meant to precipitate action; hence why each rating level is tied to a message encouraging action in the face of bushfire risk.
The fire danger rating levels and messages are:
- Moderate. Plan and prepare.
- High. Be ready to act.
- Extreme. Take action now to protect life and property.
- Catastrophic. For your survival, leave bushfire risk areas.
There’s even a designation below Moderate, i.e., No Rating. No Rating indicates that no proactive action is required by the community on that.
Part of an effort to improve the science to understand fire risk
Of course, fires can happen at any time. But, here, science, influencing the development of the new fire danger rating system, is also improving knowledge of fire risk.
As noted following the historic bushfires of 2019-2020, fires behave differently in different vegetation types, because of the continuity and structure of the fuels.
As a result, subsequent research has sought to enhance our ability to predict fire behavior and the potential threat to the community more accurately.
The Royal Commission into the Bushfire Response found that new fire behavior models are starting to estimate the intensity and rate of spread of fires more accurately in a range of vegetation types.
Recent Prototypes cover the following factors affecting fire danger to the community:
- Potential fire behavior, particularly rate of spread
- Difficulty of control
- Fire (or fuel) hazard and fuel availability
- Consequences of fire including impact(s), the potential threat to people and their welfare (safety), and the vulnerability, or exposure and susceptibility, to losses
And what does this all have to do with the new Fire Danger Rating System
Irrespective of the factors affecting fire danger, though, people themselves only have a few seconds to look at displays as they drive by signs. Terminology, colors, and descriptions, as such, must be easy to understand.
Individuals in the past had, in fact, struggled with identifying what action they should take in response to each rating, particularly in the middle of the system.
Now, everyone will know how to act at a glance.
Of course, the work isn’t done quite yet. Education campaigns will be needed to popularize the new rating classifications, focusing on the potential danger attached to each rating and what steps individuals and communities should take in response to each rating.
Fire suppression agencies, for their part, will also have to retool their digital emergency management platforms incorporating the new fire danger rating system. Unfortunately, too many platforms won’t be up to the task.