The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission has released its Interim Report on the Black Saturday bushfires of February 7, 2009. As the most significant natural disaster (at least with respect to human loss of life) in Australian history, the event has promoted much soul searching. The Interim Report offers dozens of recommendations addressing fire prevention, warnings, emergency management and communication, and post-fire relief and recovery. The majority of eyes, however, will be keenly focused on the commission's critique of Victoria's popular 'stay or go' policy:
From the Executive Summary:
"In Victoria, community response to bushfire is guided by a policy that directs residents to Prepare, Stay and Defend or Leave Early, known more commonly as the ‘stay or go’ policy (Chapter 7). This policy has been developed over many years and reflects an understanding from research into past fires that with proper planning and prior preparation, most buildings can be successfully defended from a bushfire. The alternative is to plan to leave early.
An analysis of this policy approach against the background of the recent fires has led the Commission to conclude that there has been insufficient emphasis on the risks of staying and defending. Unquestionably the safest course is always to leave early. To stay may still be an appropriate option for some, particularly in less dangerous bushfires, but a number of conditions need to be satisfied."