Fire danger ratings are a shorthand way of describing the potential level of danger from bushfires. Ratings are used in many parts of the world and are especially important in the Australian context due to the prevalence of flammable vegetation and hot and dry conditions.
The Australian landscape has evolved with fire, which is a natural part of many ecosystems. However, under certain conditions these environments are dangerous to communities, infrastructure, property, ecosystems and populations of species.
Forecasting fire danger
This creates considerable challenges for public and private land managers, the emergency services and the community at large, which were tragically highlighted in the Black Summer bushfires of 2019–20. The recent Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements Report stated: During natural disasters the public has an urgent and vital need for emergency information and warnings to ensure they are able to make safe decisions. They need to know what is likely to happen (or has happened), what to do and what to expect.
The Australian Fire Danger Rating System (AFDRS) program is redesigning the forecasting of fire danger
The Australian Fire Danger Rating System (AFDRS) program is redesigning the forecasting of fire danger, bringing substantial improvements by using up-to-date science and technology, introducing greater national consistency and improving how fire danger is communicated to the public.
This work is well advanced, with the science build being tested, implementation plans finalized and public-facing components being designed. With roll-out of the AFDRS planned to begin in 2022, this article looks at how it will improve the provision of information to government agencies, industry and the public, and the benefits this will bring.
The current Fire Danger Rating System is largely based on science that is more than 60 years old, but new research has greatly improved our ability to accurately predict fire behavior and the potential threat to the community. The AFDRS uses the latest scientific understanding about weather, fuel and how fire behaves in different types of vegetation to improve the reliability of fire danger forecasts. It provides more accurate fire danger predictions at a finer resolution than previously available.
The AFDRS will help fire agencies provide advice to the community that is more accurate
It also provides richer data and decision-making tools to land and fire management agencies. This will enable government agencies to prepare staff and resources for firefighting more effectively and to know when to be at a high state of readiness to fight fires. Further, it will support better decisions for prescribed burning and fire suppression. The improvements will give government agencies, industry and the community increased confidence to act on the fire danger information they receive.
The AFDRS will help fire agencies provide advice to the community that is more accurate, timely and specific. The costs of bushfires in Australia are enormous – the provision of more accurate fire danger information is expected to lead to better decisions and therefore to maximize the efficient use of resources, delivering significant savings.
Proactive bushfire management
This includes decisions and actions to improve proactive bushfire management and to prevent the loss of life, property, community infrastructure and businesses, reducing the cost of fire disasters. Following community feedback about the existing fire danger rating system gathered from social research, the new fire danger rating system will be simpler, have fewer levels, use logical colors and use simple terms to improve the way the system is understood and used.
It is expected that these improvements will lead to a more prepared and resilient community
It will make information presented to the community consistent across every state and territory in Australia, with each fire danger rating coming with a clear recommendation about appropriate action to take to reduce personal risk and exposure to bushfire. Messaging can also be tailored to specific vulnerable groups. It is expected that these improvements will lead to a more prepared and resilient community.
Nationally consistent system
The AFDRS features a collaborative approach led by the jurisdictions coming together with a commitment to building a nationally consistent system that is flexible enough to meet local needs. A nationally consistent system will support cost-effective system updates, provide consistent messaging along state and territory borders, improve use for travelers and have lower system development costs.
Greater cross-border operability supports the sharing of firefighting resources and a more focused approach to reducing the size, intensity and impact of fires. The AFDRS software build is designed to be continuously updated to take advantage of improving science and data. The AFDRS is a collaborative project of national significance and will bring benefits to Australians for generations to come.