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Australian Bushfire Prevention

With climate change superimposed over sociocultural trends, the risks associated with bushfires are increasing. It is suggested that, of the approximately 45,000-60,000 bushfires which occur in Australia each year, about 80% are believed to have a human-related cause. While it is thought that about 30% of fires are deliberately lit, only about 1% of people who commit arson are convicted of the crime in Victoria. 

The occurrence of bushfire is predicted to get worse with climate change. This increase in fire danger is likely to be associated with a reduced interval between fires, increased fire intensity, a decrease in fire extinguishments and faster fire spread. The implication of this is that many more fires which have been deliberately lit will become more dangerous.

Working with fire authorities, the police, Crime Stoppers Victoria (CSV), the Australian Institute of Criminology, business and local communities, this research aims to better understand the location of fires, the behavior of the fire-lighters and the best approaches to prevent these fires occurring, especially through building the capacity of the community to take responsibility in this area. 

The goal of this ARC project is to build on the knowledge gained from prior work with CSV and collaborating agencies, with three broad integrated aims that will reduce the occurrence of arson. Broadly, this project will aim to build Australia’s capacity to respond to environmental change. The project will also facilitate the integration of research outcomes from biological, physical, social and economic systems. It will enable researchers to collaborate internationally  and locally with the fire operational sectors, as well as the emergency services, government and the community to improve the ability to prevent bushfires.

 

Aims and activities

  • Work closely with CSV to maximise community arson reporting and address current barriers to reporting. These include a reluctance of the public to report due to lack of knowledge of fire-lighting behaviour and risks, uncertainty of the reason for the suspect’s activity, knowing the suspect, fear of retaliation and court involvement, and a belief that nothing will happen if reported. This aim will be achieved by providing the evidence for state-wide media/community education programs based on longitudinal evidence from seven vulnerable communities.
  • Improve tactical responses through profiling of risk, upgraded data handling and coordination of data and referral between agencies involved with bushfire arson. The approach lends itself to a more advanced model of predictive community profiling aiming to identify community markers of arson risk for more efficient deployment of multi-agency resources, of interest to state agencies as well as Crime Stoppers.
  • Examine the feasibility of Gippsland Arson Prevention Program (GAPP) as a scalable model for Australian local communities through working closely with the current GAPP program and Crime Stoppers. A business case and model will be developed which will then be tested in workshops with those agencies (fire, police, government, business, community) who will be potential members of GAPP on a more widely distributed basis.

 

Publications

Stanley, J. & Read, P. (2016) Current and Future Directions for the Place of Community in the Prevention of Bushfire Arson. In R. Doley, G. Dickens & T. Gannon (eds) The psychology of Arson A Practical Guide to Understanding and Managing Deliberate Firesetters, Psychology Press and Routledge Academic.

Stanley, J. & Kestin, T. (eds.) (2010), Collaborating for change: Symposium advancing bushfire arson prevention in Australia, Monash Conference Centre, Melbourne, 25–26 March.

 

Related media

 

RESEARCH TEAM

A/Prof Janet Stanley
Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute

A/Prof Alan March
University of Melbourne

Prof James Ogloff
Swinburne University

Dr Paul Read
Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute