If you’ve even glimpsed at the news in the past few months in Australia, it’s almost guaranteed you will see a bushfire story in one form or another.
Considering our air quality around the country dropped to some of the most hazardous levels on the planet, over 30 million acres of area has been burnt and an estimated one billion animals have been killed – it’s no wonder the bushfires around Australia have been leading our headlines for months.
Along with this devastation has been approximately 5,900 buildings destroyed by fire, some of them heritage listed and irreplaceable. As the flames subdue and the smoke dissipates, it’s time to look at how we handle our bushfire safety plans in Australia and learn the difficult lessons from the destruction we’ve had to endure as a country over the past few months.
How building design impacts on bushfires
When taking into consideration the designs of buildings, it’s standard practice for anyone involved with the project to think about fire safety should a fire ever break out in the building.
In this scenario, much time and effort is spent building fire safety elements like evacuation signs, training staff on evacuation procedures, placement of exits, fire extinguishers and so on. But what if the fire is coming towards the building as in the form of a bushfire?
This throws up a whole new set of challenges for Australian businesses.
Defining bushfire prone areas
The first thing to consider before any new construction project takes place is if your buildings are being erected in a bushfire prone area. Australia has what’s called a BAL (Bushfire Attack Level) rating that outlines the level of risk a particular building or area faces from bushfire.
Building materials will need to comply with certain levels of BAL (from very low risk through to extreme risk) depending on the type of building and the bushfire risk of the surrounding area.
Local councils and sometimes state regulatory agencies are typically responsible for identifying and mapping bushfire prone areas, so it’s imperative that any building surveying done takes into account local and state requirements for building fire safety. However, it is also prevalent that you personally consider if you need to consider this, and not wait for “someone” to tell you so.
Fuel load and building protection zones
The aim of building protection zones is to reduce the flammable materials around an establishment or building that can cause potential fire risk in the advent of a bushfire. The minimum recommended BPZ (or Building Protection Zone) is 20 metres.
A BPZ of 20 metres will significantly increase the chances of a building surviving a bushfire and radiant heat impact to the building. Keeping in mind that fuel loads influence the intensity of a bushfire and its ability to do damage, regular reduction of fuel loads around your building, particularly coming into drier weather is recommended.
For more information about this the website http://www.as3959.com.au/ is a great resource.
Preventative maintenance can make the difference
Bushfires are unpredictable at the best of times. Combine this with long periods of drought and an increase in burnable fuels in woodland, bush or grass areas – as we’ve seen recently, it can be a recipe for disaster.
Making sure the property your building resides on is properly managed is imperative to bushfire management, particularly if you have areas of bush or scrub in and around your buildings. Depending on which part of the country you live in, the major bushfire season for Australia extends from early summer through to autumn.
Preventative maintenance around your building can take many forms including but not limited to:-
- Cleaning of roofs and gutters
- Pruning and landscaping of gardens and trees surrounding your building
- Ensuring there is appropriate access for fire trucks
- Secure and correct storage of gas bottles (making sure pressure valves are pointed away from the building)
Make a bushfire evacuation plan
By law, commercial buildings must have a fire evacuation plan, but not everyone thinks about a bushfire plan. A bushfire plan is different to your typical fire evacuation plan as typically a fire within a building will mean people need to get out to an assembly point.
If the fire is coming towards a building in a large bank, evacuation may only be possible via particular roads if other ways to escape have been cut off or closed.
If you’re wanting to formalise a bushfire evacuation plan and put in place training for staff in these types of emergencies, Formiga1 can help put together a formal plan so staff and customers can be prepared in a bushfire event.
Special considerations for aged care facilities
Because Formiga1 deals with many aged care facilities, medical facilities and schools, we feel it’s important to mention there are several additional elements that need to be taken into consideration when creating a bushfire plan for these types of facilities.
Occupant safety is of prime concern when compiling a bushfire plan so depending on the layout of your building, availability of vehicles and the surrounding road network and its ability to remain open when a bushfire is happening.
If you would like to talk to Formiga1 about your bushfire evacuation plan, please visit our contact page and contact the appropriate office for your state or country.