Whether you live in a rural or suburban Strata property, a stand-alone unit or apartment complex, there is always the inherent risk of a bushfire. The recent bushfires in Paradise, California in the US are a jarring reminder of this, with over 1.66 million acres of property lost, and an estimated $2.97 billion in damages so far (i).
A dry winter across most of Australia, combined with widespread drought, has again created perfect conditions for a severe bushfire season going into 2019.
Prior catastrophic events, such as the 2009 Black Saturday fires, claimed over 2,000 properties and destroyed the homes and belongings of countless families. With more rural areas being redeveloped into suburban communities, thorough preparation is key to staying safe this summer.
To assist your clients in preparing their property for the bushfire season, we have set out some helpful tips to ensure they are in the best position possible should they face the threat of a bushfire.
Preparing for the bushfire season
1. Ensure Sums Insured are adequate.
If a strata property was damaged beyond repair in a bushfire, would the property owners be able to afford to fully reinstate it? Every summer carries with it an inherent bushfire risk, therefore having sums insured that adequately protect property assets in a bushfire is crucial.
To help your clients avoid a significant financial loss:
- Ensure the Owners Corporation have insured the building for the full replacement and reinstatement value, and
- Advise lot owners to double-check their Contents Sum Insured is up-to-date.
If you are unsure about the adequacy of your clients’ Strata Insurance, speak to your Resolute Account Manager to ensure appropriate insurance cover is in place.
2. Bushfire Prone Areas (BPAs): Understand how insurance is impacted by new building standards.
In the wake of the 2009 Black Saturday fires, the Australian Government implemented updated rules and regulations for new constructions in BPAs (as part of AS3959). The regulations set out strict new standards and construction material guidelines to help buildings have a better chance of surviving certain bushfire attack levels.
What does this mean for your clients?
a) Check the level of Insurance!
Given the changes, it is highly likely for older buildings in BPAs to be underinsured, due to the increased cost of reconstruction using materials that comply with new regulations.
If you are concerned about insurance for strata properties in BPAs, consult your Resolute Account Manager for further information.
b) Retrofit older properties to minimise the chance of a loss
To minimise the risk of damage, the Victorian Building Authority recommends that owners of older dwellings engage the services of a registered building practitioner to discuss retrofitting their property. While retrofitting isn’t mandatory, it can help prevent a total loss in the event of a bushfire.
If your clients require more information on retrofitting a building in a BPA, they can consult with their relevant state fire or building authority.
3. Tidy up the property
Dry vegetation and waste can act as fuel in a fire. A small spark or ember that ignites a pile of waste can fast transform into a raging blaze, or even create an additional fire front during a bushfire.
Tips to prevent spot fires:
- Remove leaves and twigs from roof gutters
- Cut grass to a length less than 10cm
- Clean up dead branches, leaves, and grass clippings from lawns and garden beds
- Ensure all dry materials have been properly disposed of
- Store any flammable fuels away from the buildings
While the CFA recommend having a 20m ‘circle of safety’ around buildings to prevent fires, this can depend on the property. Strata properties should ensure that grounds and gardens are free of combustible waste.
For more advice on cleaning up properties, consult your local fire authority as per the table at the end of this article.
4. Have a bushfire plan
A strata property does not need to be located in a rural area to be at risk from a bushfire – ember attacks can occur kilometres ahead of where a fire originates.
Whether the property is in the vicinity of bushland, a forest, grassland or coastal scrub, all at-risk strata properties should have a clear bushfire plan.
A thorough bushfire plan can help all residents establish clarity on:
- When to leave
- Where to evacuate to
- What to take with them in the event of an evacuation
The ability to think clearly during an emergency can quickly become impaired. Many lives have been lost due to individuals being unprepared and evacuating at the last minute. It is prudent to ensure your clients have a plan in place.
Stay or leave: A core component of a bushfire plan
One of the biggest decisions owners and residents need to make well in advance is whether to stay and fight a fire, or evacuate.
If residents don’t believe they can successfully defend their property against a fire, they need to relocate somewhere safe as early as possible.
Alternatively, if they decide to stay and defend their property, they must ensure they’re well organised and adequately prepared with the appropriate equipment and resources.
If your strata clients would like further information on preparing a bushfire emergency plan, direct them towards their relevant local fire authority as per the table at the end of this article.
5. Stay informed and act accordingly
Throughout the bushfire season, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) consults with state fire authorities Australia-wide, to publish danger ratings designed to inform residents of potential fire hazards each day in their local area. This is something your clients can check throughout summer.
This system consists of two metrics:
Fire Danger Rating (FDR)
This rates the prediction of fire behaviour, including how hard it would be to extinguish a fire once it starts.
The rating provides information on the type of bushfire that could be experienced on that day, including the type of threat it presents to life and property (on a scale from Low-Moderate to Code Red).
Fire Danger Index (FDI)
This metric measures the likelihood of a fire starting. It incorporates factors such as the dryness of vegetation, temperature, wind speed, and the probability of certain weather conditions such as lightning.
Whether a strata property is in, or on the outskirts of an ‘at-risk area’, it’s important for residents to ensure they:
- Understand the different types of fire ratings,
- Regularly check with their local fire authority for updates,
- Are prepared to evacuate in the event of an emergency.
Further information regarding FDRs can be obtained by visiting the website of each state’s relevant fire authority, as per the table at the end of this article.
Radio, Social Media and Emergency SMS
A local ABC AM or designated emergency radio station can provide key information for your strata clients regarding bushfires and areas under threat. Twitter feeds and other social media updates are equally as helpful in relaying information during a bushfire.
Recognise the following mobile number – 0444 444 444. Emergency Alert Australia can send out state-wide or area-specific texts alerting residents to impending fire threats, the appropriate action to take, as well as a telephone number and website where residents can obtain more information.
Your clients can obtain further information on preparing their property for the bushfire season by visiting their local fire authority’s website, per the table below.
Australia-wide Metro and Country Fire Authorities
|VIC Metro||Metropolitan Fire Brigade|
|VIC Rural||Country Fire Authority|
|NSW Metro||Fire & Rescue New South Wales|
|NSW Rural||NSW Rural Fire Service|
|QLD Metro||Queensland Fire and Emergency Services|
|QLD Rural||Queensland Rural Fire Service|
|SA Metro||South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service|
|SA Rural||South Australian Country Fire Service|
|ACT Metro||ACT Fire & Rescue|
|ACT Rural||ACT Rural Fire Service|
|TAS Entire State||Tasmania Fire Service|
|WA Entire State||Department of Fire & Emergency Services
|NT Entire State||Northern Territory Fire and Rescue Service|
If you are concerned about the level of insurance cover for your client’s strata property, please contact your Resolute Property Protect Strata Insurance specialist for advice and assistance:
P: 1300 668 033