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Are you prepared for the bushfire season?

Think back to the beginning of the year when Australia was literally on fire.

Nationally 34 people were killed, and more than 18.6 million hectares of bush, forest and parks burned in the nation’s worst bushfire season in history.

In the Toowoomba region, fires ravaged, homes were under threat and neighbourhoods filled with hazardous smoke.

Toowoomba Regional Council and a research team from the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) aim to learn from the fires with a telephone survey asking the Region’s escarpment residents about their preparation for bushfire season.

The results will be used to build community engagement that triggers and motivates community readiness.

USQ’s Dr Barbara Ryan is a disaster behaviour researcher heading the project.

“Getting ready for a natural hazard has taken on a new imperative – we were very lucky in Queensland that we didn’t lose lives last year,” Dr Ryan said.

“Mitigation strategies and successful preparedness programs are now more important than ever for people living in what we call the wildland/urban interface.

“We want to find out what people are doing to get ready, and the areas where communities need more knowledge and help to build their preparedness.”

The survey is part of a project that involves pooling the university talents from different fields, including Professor Kara Karunasena (civil engineering and construction, Esther Anderson (anthropology and environmental humanities), Dr Rachel King (statistics), Dr Weena Lokuge (civil engineering) and Dr Ryan (disaster behaviour).

Dr Ryan said the key focus of the project was getting people to recognise the significance of implementing mitigation practices or prepare for natural hazards.

“This can be difficult,” she said.

“Even in places where risk of hazards is regular and expected, people in bushfire-prone areas tend to be badly prepared, mostly because they don’t realise they are at risk, and the busy-ness of life stops them from prioritising developing a bushfire plan.

“Hopefully last year’s Pechey fire has shown everyone in this region that we are all at risk every bushfire season.”

The project will include a telephone survey of 350 residents who live along the Great Dividing Range areas starting Monday (July 27). Each interview will take about 15 minutes.

“This includes all the localities east of the New England Highway from Yarraman down to south of Pilton,” Dr Ryan said.

“We are also interested in what mitigation activities they do - like pushing fire breaks, doing planned burns, planting specific trees and shrubs.”

The aims of the project include providing insights into bushfire mitigation including engineering, systems and community and determining how well-prepared communities are in the Toowoomba and Lockyer regions.

Funding has been secured by Jenna Buckley Principal Disaster Management, Toowoomba Regional Council through the ‘Get Ready’ grant administered by the Queensland Reconstruction Authority.

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USQ’s Dr Barbara Ryan is a disaster behaviour researcher heading the project.