Three separate submissions to the Royal Commission gave an interesting insight into what happenned this summer.

From John Hawkins submission:

In your experience, what areas of the bushfire emergency response worked well?
RFS crews on the fire ground, The huge back burning effort that went into this fire. Greater Hume Shire council for their support with what was required.
In your experience, what areas of the bushfire emergency response didn’t work well?
The Southern border fire control center, no urgency to get resources, equipment & air support to the Green Valley fire, continually told us air
support was coming and it didn’t, then told us there wasn’t any air support and there was at Wagga & Tumut airports. Group officers had to do
the organizing of heavy machinery with limited phone coverage. Fire control center making decisions (pulling out resources & crews) without
consultation with ground crews which led to fire escaping containment lines which led to a death of a firefighter, loss of property & houses.
In your experience, what needs to change to improve arrangements for preparation, mitigation, response and recovery coordination for national
natural disaster arrangements in Australia?
Fire control center need to take potential bad fires more seriously get what is needed faster & leave major discussions to the officers at the
fire.

Read the submission in full:

From Michael Roze’s submission:

In your experience, what areas of the bushfire emergency response worked well?
Support from our local community. They had equipped over a dozen utes or trailers with water tanks, fire pumps and hoses, 2‐way radios, and
overhead sprinklers (a Black Swan brigade). These were invaluable in keeping watch and controlling small outbreaks where the local RFS were
overstretched. However, the authorities have great difficulty in relating to these informal community efforts, whereas the contribution ought to
be welcomed and integrated into the effort.
The Elands Village established a community support hub at the old Elands sawmill . They served well over 1000 meals to fire fighters, provided
shower and toilet facilities and a viable communication network/system when Telstra communication failed.
The Bulga Plateau RFS, with very few active members, was able to provide almost 24 hour support during the month long fire crisis.


In your experience, what areas of the bushfire emergency response didn’t work well?
Communications catastrophically failed. Friday November 8, 5.30 pm power failed. 11.30 telephone failed. The Elands community was without
power and communication for a week until a generator was provided to power the local exchange. refuelling had to be carried out unofficially
by local community members. This is unacceptable in a time of crisis. Informed decisions could not be made.
Accurate RFS communication from the regional incident controller was patchy. The brigade was sent on goose chasers when there were more
immediate needs.
The Fires Near Me app was inaccurate to the point of being dangerous. Many times it didn’t even display active fires.
The catastrophic fire which destroyed Bobin (our neighbouring village) and attacked the Bulga Plateauoriginated from a source which had been
burning for a month. It had not been given a state priority and had not been adequately dealt with.
A neighbouring RFS brigade , Mt George, had a roll over in their truck and occupants were seriously injured. Roll over protection must be
incorporated into all RFS vehicles.
In your experience, what needs to change to improve arrangements for preparation, mitigation, response and recovery coordination for national
natural disaster arrangements in Australia?
Access and instruction should be provided to a local responsible authority, possibly the RFS, to install and fuel a portable generator at phone
towers and exchanged in order to keep communication channels open.
RFS trucks be fitted with digital communication technology including screen display, and vehicle locations be mapped in real time.
Every RFS truck must have a hand‐held digital mapping device that has up to date mapping of the actual firefront.
RFS members on the foreground should be provided with modern digital hand held radios that log messages, display caller ID and log the
position of the calling device.
Roll over protection must be built into all RFS vehicles.
The Fires Near ME app must be replaced by a system in which the data is drawn directly and automatically from the incident management GIS,
to show actual fire fronts, hotspots and other relevant hazards such as blocked roads.
Is there anything else you would like to tell the Royal Commission?
The Bulga Plateau fire burned most intensely in eucalyptus regeneration. Many patches of rainforest understory did not burn and rainforest
remnants significantly slowed the fire and in many places stopped it. Drought, exasperated through climate change was the significant
contributor the the devastating nature of the fire. Logging has been proved to be a significant contributor to forest flammability. Logging both
dries out the forest by removing the canopy and introducing more sunlight. It leaves massive piles of debris on the floor and leads to rapid
growth of eucalyptus and weeds which suck up further moisture. Ending of logging on public lands, especially near at risk communities, should
be considered.

Read the submission in full:

From David Fletcher and Simon King’s submission:

In your experience, what areas of the bushfire emergency response worked well?
1) Strong community support and engagement.
2) Much improved information gathering and disseminating with improved web based technologies.
3) Section 44 funding enables resourcing fire‐fighting efforts that would otherwise be well beyond local brigades.
4) Brigades are much better prepared now, with some having built Divisional Command capabilities into their fire stations after previous fire
emergencies.
5) Exposure to more large and intense fires has increased volunteer capability through experience.
6) Considerable decision making autonomy was given to on‐ground divisional commanders.

In your experience, what areas of the bushfire emergency response didn’t work well?
1) Local knowledge, experience and personal connections were overwhelmed by the creation of a large Incident Management Team, resulting in simple interactions becoming slow, frustrating and cumbersome experiences.
2) A lack of hazard reduction burning across all land tenures resulted in high fuel loads, increasing fire intensity and making fire‐fighting efforts
more difficult.
3) A lack of fire trail construction and maintenance, and problems with permission to work in National Park land caused unnecessary delays.
4) The Current RFS staff recruitment model is totally unsuited to RFS needs, as it makes employing locals with the necessary local knowledge extremely
difficult.
5) Policy decisions made to suit Sydney metropolitan brigade needs do not always suit rural areas.
6) Slow payment of contractors places huge pressure on their cash‐flow during a long campaign fire.
7) The move to more mobile phone based technologies in RFS vehicles is problematic for areas with little or no mobile coverage. More mobile
towers are needed.
In your experience, what needs to change to improve arrangements for preparation, mitigation, response and recovery coordination for national
natural disaster arrangements in Australia?
Is there anything else you would like to tell the Royal Commission?

There have been scores of enquiries into bush fires over the years: we recommend that this huge resource of knowledge be used, rather than
shelved (as has unfortunately often been the case in the past).
It is not a coincidence that the worst fire season in our history occurred after the hottest and driest year on record. The available science
strongly supports the view that hotter and drier seasons will become more common and, consequently, more intense fires will become more
common and more difficult to control. During this last fire emergency, available resources were stretched beyond their limits. Unless resources
are expanded in the future, we have every reason to believe that future fire emergencies will be totally beyond current capabilities.

Read the full submission here:

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