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UC Researcher Helping Australian Learn From Bush Fire

UC Researcher Helping Australian Learn From Bush Fire Experiences

April 2, 2013

A University of Canterbury (UC) researcher has been helping the New South Wales Rural fire Service following three big bush fires this summer.

UC media and communication PhD scholarship student Brenda Mackie has been working for Australia’s Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre on a project to help reduce risk in bushfire-prone districts.

Her thesis is not yet finished but is already underpinning practical work in Australia on how people understand and respond to warnings about fire.

Mackie has been interviewing NSW residents in Coonabarabran, Yass and Shoalhaven who were impacted in January this year by devastating bushfires to see what they knew about official bush fire warnings. All three communities experienced catastrophic fires that destroyed properties, houses and livestock.

``I also wanted to find out how or if they used these warnings to enact safe bushfire survival plans which included their properties and evacuation plans and what they knew about official warnings before and during a fire.

``Whether these warnings helped residents to make good decisions about bush fire safety was also one of their briefs,’’ Mackie said.

The Australian Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre which asked Mackie to liaise with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service to understand and improve community engagement, specifically in the areas of warnings, preparation and decision making.

``I also wrote an online survey which is being conducted by a much larger demographic. The initial findings of my research should be available by July this year.

Mackie will be the lead author of the bush fire report along with Lyndsey Wright of the bushfire research centre and Professor Jim McClennan from Melbourne’s La Trobe University.

The fire danger in New South Wales early this year were the worst seen in years, spreading around 35 kilometres through 14,000 hectares and causing significant damage to farming country.

``This research will help all agencies better understand people’s actions and ensure lessons are learned.

``The research will inform not just the people of New South Wales but communities and fire agencies across Australia and New Zealand.’’

Mackie has been awarded the Claude McCarthy Fellowship to travel to Colorado, USA, to present at the Natural Hazards Workshop in July.

Her PhD has been supervised by Dr Donald Matheson, UC’s senior media and communication lecturer.

Photos: Brenda Mackie


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