Fire warnings and Victoria's stay-or-go policy should be overhauled to ensure the tragedy of Black Saturday is never repeated, the royal commission into the fires has recommended.
In its interim report on Australia's worst natural disaster, the Bushfires Royal Commission recommended a remodelling of the stay-or-go policy, clearer and more direct warnings, fire sirens and voluntary relocations rather than evacuations.
Residents will be better educated and given more advice about whether their home is defensible and told it is always safest to leave early to survive a bushfire.
Country Fire Authority communications needed to be reworked so that people could distinguish general information about an ongoing fire with a warning that their lives and homes were in imminent danger, the report said.
The commission, headed by Supreme Court Justice Bernard Teague, is investigating the causes and circumstances of the fires that left 173 people dead, 2000 properties destroyed and 78 communities effected on February 7.
Sweeping changes to the stay-or-go policy were recommended after evidence emerged that 113 people who died on Black Saturday were sheltering inside homes, contradicting the long-held belief that "people save houses, houses save people".
CFA staff should be able to tell particular households, locations or communities whether they believed it was safer for them to go than stay, the commission found after hearing evidence that during Black Saturday individuals could not receive such advice.
The policy was based on the belief that most buildings can be successfully defended from a bushfire.
Relocations to either other towns or to fire refuges could be recommended and households choosing to defend their homes will be told that children should not be present.
To ensure fire warnings were not confusing, late or non-existent and the commission has recommended in the future warnings advise residents of the severity of a fire, when it is likely to hit particular communities and what their options are.
"Warnings were often delayed which meant that many people were not warned at all or the amount of time they had to respond to the warnings was much less than it should have been," the report said.
"The warnings that were issued often did not gie people a clear understanding of the location and severity of the fire and how they should respond."
The priority of all bushfire warnings should be to save as many lives as possible and would be able to be broadcast on commercial channels as well as the ABC.
Bushfire messages will be categorised as bushfire information or a bushfire warning to make it clear when a community is in imminent danger and when they need to be aware of general information regarding a blaze.
Fire refuges and sirens should be available in towns at risk of bushfires and residents better educated on the dangers they face.
The commission has also redefined the role of the Country Fire Authority chief officer putting him in charge of issuing bushfire warnings and information to the community to avoid the confusion of February 7, during which warnings from firefighters on the ground became entangled in red tape and failed to reach affected communities or were too late to make a difference.
CFA chief Russell Rees faced intense scrutiny during the royal commission's 35 days of hearings during which a lack of warnings, extraordinary fire conditions, policy failings and communication bunglings were revealed to have contributed to the tragedy of Black Saturday.
Mr Rees was accused by lawyers assisting the commission of being out of touch from his basic responsibilities on the day, including overseeing warning to communities at risk.
Earlier this month, Mr Rees was reappointed for another two years to CFA chief officer for another two years, a position he has held for the past eight years.
Victoria Police with the CFA and DSE has been asked to review guidelines for roadblocks during bushfires to ensure access to residents returning to their homes, emergency services and people delivering aid.
The Brumby Government pre-empted some of the commission's recommendations when it last month announced fire policy changes including a focus on residents being told that leaving early was the safest way to survive a fire and given a clear explanation of what 'leave early' means.
Many of those killed were believed to have been ill-prepared and unaware of how to defend their homes or if it was even possible given the ferocity of the fires.
The commission's hearings will resume next week with its final report expected to be handed down by July 31, 2010.
(It has been recommended that an ombudsman be appointed to oversee the implementation of the commission's recommendations.)
The Victorian Government will respond to the Commission's report by the end of August.
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