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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Little has been done to prepare the community for the next fire season

The 2019-2020 bushfires saw the Tuross Head community isolated with little if any communication of what to do in the case of the village becoming closed off to evacuation. As it was the fire front made its way directly towards the village and only fortunately turned direction at the last moment. With cold embers dropping from the sky many were in watch and wait in readiness for live embers to arrive. Anticipating fires in the village the Council cleared a stand of trees by Hector McWilliam Drive, possibly to create an asset protection buffer, possibly to prevent burning trees falling onto the roadway. News was coming from Moruya of the total chaos that was the Moruya Evacuation Centre with stories of gastro, failed toilets and inadequate agency resourcing, especially for the elderly. Electricity was down as was telecommunications. For those who decided to evacuate their homes, especially the elderly and infirmed, the decision was made to drive to the officially endorsed, clearly signposted "Bushfire Neighbourhood Safe Place, A place of last resort." The sign, erected at the entrance to Kyla Oval suggested that this was the Safe Place and, as such it seemed plain that the Kyla Hall was the place of Last Resort, especially given the ember fall. But for those who packed their things and made their way to the hall they found it firmly closed. With no phones they made the decision to go instead to the Tuross Head Country Club where they joined over one hundred other community members looking for safety. The Tuross Head Country Club had opened its doors. They were not obliged to but they did knowing that they had floor space, toilets, running water and staff on hand to assist if required. Fortunately they also had a defibrillator that was used to assist an emergency. In time volunteers from Moruya and beyond, came forward supplying bottled water, basic provisions and toiletries that had been donated by groups and charities outside of the shire. The club remained isolated during much of this time and certainly fell through the cracks of any formal response agency stepping in to assist in managing and establishing protocols.

So what of the next fire season? Has anything been done to improve communication with the Tuross Head residents advising them, as Shoalhaven Council has done, of exactly where the evacuation places are, and stepping in to ensure those places are at a standard acceptable to the combat agencies who will manage them? NO. Is Kyla Hall at the required standard to serve as an evacuation centre for Tuross Head residents if access to Moruya or Narooma Centres is not possible? NO In December 2022, in a first for Australia, 26 digital information screens were been installed across the Shoalhaven to provide authoritative, accurate and timely information to communities at all times of the year, including in emergency situations. In normal times, the screens will be displaying real-time information, including the daily fire danger rating, weather from the Bureau of Meteorology in addition to promoting local community and Council events relating to each individual community where they are installed.

The screens were delivered as part of a $2 million Council initiative jointly funded by the Australian and NSW Governments in response to the community’s experience of the 2019-20 Currowan Bushfires, where critical communication was severely impacted by power outages and disruptions to the mobile phone network.

The new communications system are in place to support the resilience of communities in how to think, decide and act in the best interests of their safety and wellbeing.

Shoalhaven Council said "We saw how standard communications failed during the worst of the bushfire emergency and people felt isolated and unable to make informed decisions. These digital screens will provide residents with reliable and current information that can be updated in an instant and tailored for each specific community to be an accurate source of truth.

We know from what we saw on the ground and the many testimonies given to the NSW Government’s Independent Inquiry into the Summer 2020 Bushfires, that the lack of access to timely, accurate, local information was a significant cause of community concern during the bushfires.

Providing infrastructure that is robust enough to overcome the vulnerabilities of standard power through stand-alone solar power systems and satellite communications will make all the difference. An emergency doesn’t generally happen in an instance or an immediate vicinity. It builds and may travel long distances over a period of time. Ensuring timely and accurate information helps people with decision-making. Informed decision-making helps people to build resilience to respond better to future emergencies.

Each Shoalhaven information hub includes a technology upgrade providing satellite connection powered by solar panels delivered to the state of the art 13.5-kilowatt Tesla Powerwall2 battery and 55” portrait information screens accessible both internally and externally to the Council-owned facilities where they are installed.

The Community Information Hubs are located across the city at 26 locations including all showgrounds, four Holiday Haven tourist parks and the Wandandian Progress Association Hall. Meanwhile in Eurobodalla there has been little in the way of any preparation by Council for next event. Most embarrassingly the Eurobodalla Local Emergency Management Plan has not been updated since June 2019. This is a substantive failure given that the plan is required to be updated:

In regards to Tuross Head the following extract from the Plan offers little if any guidance:

Yet to our South Bega Valley Shire Council has updated their Plan and they list their Evacuation Centres.

With little doubt the next emergency will find Eurobodalla's official (unnamed) centres deficient and sub-optimal. There has been little done to prepare or improve their function and to respond the failures of the facilities revealed in the last event. While Eurobodalla Council did an in house review of their own response they simply refused requests by the community to have a review of where the deficiencies were by all levels of government and by all agencies. Without that review to guide for required improvements needed for the next event it is little wonder that the Tuross Head, and the other satellite towns and villages of Eurobodalla, find themselves as in the dark and as ill-prepared as they were pre the 2019 fires. Outside of these failures the community volunteers press on to do what they can.

On a more positive note: With less than a month to the next fire season the Tuross Head Rural Fire Brigade are inviting the Tuross Head community to one of three meetings to look at how they can prepare for the coming fire season. As well as delivering the invitation to the community by way of The Beagle and social media the brigade members have also letterboxed those on the Highway, Hector McWilliam, Trafalgar, Clive Park and Chatham Park.

The meetings will take place as follows:

• Residents living west of the Princes Highway: ​​Monday 7th August.

• Residents of the cluster developments adjoining the heritage grasslands (Forest Lake Close, Hawdons Cove, Bass Ridge and Casuarina Grove): ​Thursday 10th August

• Residents of Tuross Head village and cluster developments closer to the village: ​​​​​​​​​Monday 14th August

All meetings will be at Kyla Park Hall starting at 6pm.

The community are encouraged to come along with questions and suggestions to help the Tuross Head Rural Fire Brigade plan and prepare their community for the coming fire season.


NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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