More Than a Fire Plan
Mountains Community Resource Network (MCRN) is the peak body for the community sector in the Blue Mountains, with nearly all key community sector organisations holding membership. MCRN chaired the Wellbeing Sub-Committee and its working groups following the October 2013 bushfires that devastated much of the Blue Mountains. As the peak body, their role included project management, sector and professional development, and building and strengthening networks and collaborations (such as between agencies).
With around 35,000 households in the Blue Mountains directly exposed to bushfire risk, connecting and working with residents is an ongoing challenge.
To support them in their work in building resilience in their community, MCRN received a 2013 Repair-Restore-Renew grant, funded by ING Direct Foundation, to coordinate and collaboratively deliver a series of community forums across the Blue Mountains. The project was developed as part of the Household Preparedness Working Group, comprised of Neighbourhood Centre Managers, MCRN, the RFS, Red Cross and a local Council representative.
The events were designed to build community resilience by tackling both the practical and mental / emotional aspects of household preparedness in the lead up to the 2016/17 fire season. The funding was used to design and print promotional material, resources, venue hire, catering and program evaluation.
The 'More Than a Fire Plan' forums gave local residents the opportunity to find out about practical preparedness from local emergency services, and included presentations from the Rural Fire Service, Fire and Rescue, State Emergency Service and the Police, as well as the Red Cross. Participants then worked in small groups to identify individual and community connections, and had the chance to ask questions of Emergency Services representatives.
Twelve forums reached more than 165 people, including three general preparedness forums, and nine targeted clinics run for specific groups of people (e.g. parents / carers of young children, volunteers and front line workers visiting vulnerable / at risk residents, and GPs and practice staff). By targeting specific audiences, the preparedness message could be tailored to the specific needs of each group.
To assess the impact of the Forum, formal evaluation was undertaken immediately after, as well as during the months following the workshops. Feedback was very positive, with attendees saying they gained new knowledge to prepare for emergencies. Most strongly agreed or agreed that that they had a greater understanding, were committed to taking action, had identified important items and were willing to discuss emergency plans with household / family as a result of attending the forums.
However, the most valuable parts of the Forums were meeting and hearing from experts, together with getting to know and talking with other residents. All attendees who received a follow up phone call reported that they had undertaken some action to prepare for the upcoming fire season.
This project also benefited the services that coordinated and delivered forums. They reported stronger linkages with emergency services, and an increased awareness of emergency management processes. Equally, this project has also benefited emergency services. Those agencies that participated reported a much stronger understanding of the needs and issues facing vulnerable and at-risk residents, as well as being aware of support services available for any vulnerable or at-risk residents that they may encounter in their work.