Australian Bushfire Prevention

This project has three broad integrated objectives that aim to reduce the occurrence of bushfire arson.

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 behaviour 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 our 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.

The research also seeks to include a perspective that encompasses a wider range of natural hazards as seen in a three-year project, Integrated Urban Planning for Natural Hazard Mitigation, funded by the CRC for Bushfire and Natural Hazards, led by A/Prof Alan March. It aims to better understand the limits and potentials of integrating urban planning for natural hazard mitigation with emergency planning in Australia. The project commenced late 2017.

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.
  • Work with Emergency Services and associated departments to improve integration of process and outcomes in responding to natural hazards.

Publications

Read, P. & Stanley, J. (2017) Community Attitudes Towards Reporting Bushfire Arson to Crime Stoppers Victoria 2012-2015, Crime Stoppers Victoria, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne.

March, A. & Kornakova, M. (Eds.) (2017) Urban Planning for Disaster Recovery, pp. 31-46, Elsevier, UK.

Stanley, J. (2017) Equity in Recovery, in A. March, & M. Kornakova (Eds.) Urban Planning for Disaster Recovery, pp. 31-46, Elsevier, UK

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. (2016) Adaptation in small coastal towns in Australia, in J. Knieling (ed) Climate Adaptation Governance – Theory, Concepts and Praxis in Cities and Regions, Wiley UK.

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.R. (2014) Climate Change: A New Challenge for Social Policy, in McClelland, A. & Smyth, P (eds) Social Policy in Australia: Understanding for Action, 3rd ed. Oxford University Press, Australia.

Pendrey, C., Carey, M., Stanley, J. (2014) Extreme weather and the impact on people who are homeless: Views from Victorian service providers, Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University.

Pendrey, C., Carey, M. & Stanley, J. (2013) Impacts of extreme weather on the health and well-being of people who are homeless, Australian Journal of Primary Health, 20, 1, 2-3.

Stanley J., Birrell B., Brain P., Carey M., Duffy M., Ferraro S., Fisher S., Griggs D., Hall A., Kestin T., Macmillan C., Manning I., Martin H., Rapson V., Spencer M., Stanley C., Steffen W., Symmons M., Wright W. (2013) What Would a Climate-Adapted Settlement Look Like in 2030? A Case Study of Inverloch and Sandy Point, report for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold Coast.

Read, P. & Stanley, J. (2012) Fourth Report To Crime Stoppers Victoria: Improving an Information Campaign for Prevention of Bushfire Arson, September 2012

Read, P. & Stanley, J. (2011), Third Interim Report To Crime Stoppers: Improving an Information Campaign for Prevention of Bushfire Arson, September.

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

Stanley, J. (2010) Arson: A catastrophic crime, Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance Journal 33, 1.

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

Prof Ruth Beilin
University of Melbourne

Prof Holger Maier
University of Adelaide

Dr Graeme Riddell
University of Adelaide

Adjunct A/Professor Hedwig van Delden
University of Adelaide

Prof Stephen Dovers
Australian National University