Community Risk Understanding Project

Resources and guidance for fire ecology engagement practitioners

Contested Ground: Managing different types of knowledge

Built to last: Working with people and landscapes through time

Trust your neighbour: Managing relationships to ensure positive outcomes

Community Risk Understanding Project Resources

In 2021, Safer Together's Community First Program conducted a review comparing different approaches to fire ecology engagement across Australia and the United States. From that review, we developed principles and resources that can support practitioners when working with communities and talking about fire and ecology in their local areas. We held a number of field days with practitioners where these principles were really demonstrated in action. We've also brought these principles together in a series of short videos, each one focused on a different set of principles as described and demonstrated by practitioners who work with multiple stakeholders across different environments in fire ecology.

- The first video explores how practitioners can navigate different kinds of knowledge and a diversity of experiences and perspectives from which we can learn. These include ecologists, fire and vegetation managers, bushfire risk analysts, community facilitators, landholders, Indigenous Custodians, and community members who live on and work for the land. Being at the center of such a wide array of knowledge and perspectives can feel daunting. But if approached with an open mind, such variety can offer a wealth of opportunities. The second video describes the importance of building trusted relationships. Fire ecology practitioners are acutely aware of the need to build and maintain trust with stakeholders in order to achieve shared outcomes. This can be a challenging task when there's such a diversity of knowledge, opinion, and experience, but our practitioners describe how they gain trust and build strong relationships.

- In the third and final video, we explore how to maintain and strengthen these relationships to sustain fire ecology programs into the future. Maintaining respectful relationships over time is central to connecting with communities and adapting to living with fire.

- An important thread across all of the videos is that people learn from being in the landscape, time spent standing in others' shoes, listen to other perspectives, having conversations, and experiencing the environment around you. It's an experiential learning process that is dynamic and grounded in practice. For this reason, each one of the videos takes the viewer to a different place, echoing a central theme to our principles. That is the landscape does the work for you.

[Nature Sounds]

- We're Malmsbury Common and it's history goes back right to pastoralism. Even going back before that, the Galgal Gundidj are the original clan group that used to be here, it's been used by the community for a really long period of time, but it's also got multiple land tenure around it. There's a grassland remnant on on the top, which is pretty clapped out, but it's in the state of recovery and burning's one of those tools we're applying to try and bring it back to health. And then there's the township itself, which sits off to the east and to the southeast and it's come through a pretty dramatic transformation in the last sort of 10 to 15 years since Landcare got involved. Prior to that and up until last year, there was choked out with woody weeds or willows, blackberries, and goarse all through here.

- My name's Martin Roberts, I'm the Bushland Reserves officer for Macedon and Ranges Shire Council.

- There's a lot of different knowledges and the values really radiate from that regarding the history, the more recent history, the long deep history and I suppose the incredibly recent history with regards to the transformation of the space. But everybody has those ecological values and the fire and the knowledge that goes with that. There's fire knowledge and yeah and there's just recreation knowledge like where is the best fishing spots and how do you get to 'em, and that kind of thing. Some of it is easy to engage with. Other times it's not so easy to engage with.

- [Sharon] It's really important to listen to your audience and your stakeholders, members of the public some of them have incredible knowledge in their working background or just in their private life. We have to accept that their values might not agree with ours and it's okay to not agree, but we need to acknowledge that and we need to take those values on board and incorporate them in our plans.

- Many of the community members and stakeholders and interest groups that we engage with have a lot of knowledge and we find it very helpful when we can tap into that knowledge and help it in our planning and delivery processes. I sometimes see my role as a, an engagement practitioner as a bit like being a detective in supporting our staff to engage with people. We need to first identify who those people are. And so I spend a lot of time in investigating the areas where we carry out fire management activities including fire ecological works, looking at who are the who are the people within the community who are the organisations and who in the different agencies and councils would be interested or need to know what we're doing.

- [Dale] Sometimes you have these amazing discussions where you try to bring them onto an understanding of what you are about and how you're trying to manage the reserve whilst taking on board what they're trying to say to you and understand what they're trying to say to you and value and show empathy towards their point of view which may be almost sometimes in direct conflict with with where you're trying to go with your your management of the reserve. So whether one of the most interesting ones is usually around the use of fire and fuel management and fire management in a reserve like this.

- I think it's important when we're doing that that we don't make any assumptions about everybody involved. If we open, if we approach this with an open book and we approach everybody equally on the principle that everybody has something to offer then I think that we're on the the best first step to an engagement process.

- I believe that everyone's knowledge is valid. It all creates a tapestry of understanding whether it be cultural knowledge or or just sort of things that people don't think to tell you. So only through conversations do you build that up and that happens over time. But when there's a focus like planned burning that's when it's the door or the conduit to a bigger conversation cause that's the point of interest that somebody has that creates the opportunity to talk about other things.

- We need to understand that, you know engaging isn't presenting, it's not teaching, you know, it's a collective effort. It's a collective process. And I think one of the cornerstone one of the foundation components of that is to be open to everybody's experiences and ideas and their skills and also their personalities. Because we've got an, we might have an untapped amount of knowledge and capability within community but quite often that might not readily come out. So we need to engage with those people and, and access that.

- You've gotta really look at your objective and what you're trying to achieve. And if your objective is perhaps to protect critical infrastructure or a place where people are residing and it's really important, there may be some trade offs but in the end needs to be objectively driven as well. You can't always please everyone you can't always come up with solution, but it doesn't mean that you should ignore those people with other passionate views that are different to yours.

- Whilst we all have this knowledge we all have limited knowledge. So the opportunity to take and learn how a space or a place might respond to different types of ignition, how do plants recover? How do animals recover, how do weeds respond? What are the opportunities that come with that? And that's, yeah definitely something I think is of value.

- [John] So we're down here on site in Fish Creek, South Gippsland. The particular site that we're working with is regrowth from the original clearing. You know probably, pre-1900s clearing. So, we've got about up to 5 hectares to reintroduce fire into the environment for ecological purposes, but also for fire prevention purposes. There are a number of properties which would certainly benefit from some fire prevention work as much as the environment we hope will benefit from some of the fire ecology work. Because we have been working on this since 2011. We are hoping to get more work done this year. And ultimately, introduce fire into this environment with the benefit and commitment to continue ecological monitoring into the future. So it's not just a point in time piece of work that we're doing, we're looking at a long-term investment and partnership to get some genuine learnings out of this year's investment.

- [Sharon] It's really important that agencies maintain the ability to continue that engagement process. That we're able to continuously talk to agencies, to the community, to committees, so that we can actually continue the work we're doing.

- [Dale] I've seen projects that are funded short-term, they come into a community, they do a bunch of work, they seem to build a lot of relationship and do a lot of talking and engagement, and then they're gone.

- [Woman] I don't leave the property if it's a hot day...

- [Dale] So, the impetus that it's built, the trust and relationship that's built is lost. And it makes it harder for the next person that comes in. They've gotta start from scratch again and build those relationships again and that's harder because you're dealing with a potentially damaged relationship in the start. So demonstrating the value, of community engagement can be hard because it is intangible. And when, you know, if you get a new manager in, who's looking at your work program and they go, "Well, Dale, why are you spending all this time going out and just talking to people? Where's the value in that for the organization?" It can be hard to demonstrate.

- [Martin] It's a little bit easier in the local government context because we're a service area that expects to put community focus. So, if we're getting feedback from the community that says, we're happy with the engagement, then that's generally enough. But, you wanna be funded. And, in fact, you don't wanna to be just funded, you wanna get more funding. So, part of it is the really obvious taking photos, taking footage, showing that you're actually delivering. And part of it's about the monitoring and the measuring, but it's a hard story to sell in the fire space because you can show an immediate effect. And say, yes there's been an immediate reduction, but how does that correlate to people with the environment consideration, 'cause they wanna see something specifically measured. And like more to the point, they wanna see, make sure that values aren't lost. So, usually the investment with the environment kinda community is really about talking to the science and the knowledge about how we're going to protect things of value and the location of those. So it might require a lot more sort of mapping and follow-up monitoring and it might be very species specific.

- [Woman] What does that timeframe look like? Does it feel really slow for no reason or for some reason?

- [Man] You know, my answer will be partly a question for John.

- [Man] But, when we....

- [John] For engagement practitioners in this space, think about your internal engagement processes for various agencies as much as you would think about the community and industry engagement. For us, you know, it's very important that we work within the direction of our strategic plans, within CFA, and within the landscape, and land management objectives of the government of the day. We can then ensure that, you know, we are working in sync and in harmony with what we are trying to achieve for the community, for the state and for the agency. That helps us then maintain that internal relationship and business relationship. In this instance, many, many years we've been trying to achieve this. So, we've gotta stay engaged, we've gotta make sure that, you know, we've got the opportunity to invest when the time's right and where it's right. And the same thing can be said for the engagement with other networks, continual engagement with other agencies, local governments ensure that everyone understands what the challenges are and what the objectives are and that we'll get there if we do work together.

This site here is Red Gum Reserve in Batesford, it's a council reserve that has some wonderful conservation assets on it, some beautiful big old river Red Gums, some remnant native grasslands, one of the rarest vegetation types left in Victoria now, and a whole bunch of revegetation work that has been done by the local community to take this from what was a bare paddock on a creek line to re-vegetated bio-diverse area that's full of birds and small mammals and the like, it's a fabulous place, it really is lovely. And the heavy fuel load. So people might view this as us putting fuel in here but it's actually working in our favour because it's suppressing the fine fuel.

- Yes.

- All that long.

- It's true.

- Rank introduced grass that's so,

- So flammable.

- So flammable in summer and if you only gotta look here, some of the very best engagement I do around fire and fire ecology and fire management is that one on one stuff with people, very resource hungry, takes a lot of your time potentially, but I personally think the outcomes are really really good and they will go and talk to their neighbours or their friends or their family and it puts a hopefully a very positive spin on their interaction, both with us as an agency and the issue that they had that they were trying to get a result on. Because it was so late in the season the intensity was still quite like, and that's really evident here, I mean, you just look at this beautiful tree here, we've burnt right underneath this and there's, you know, it's a relatively cool burn.

- Yeah, that's pretty good.

- There's very little scorch on the canopy.

- That's right. Personally I find that doing a site visit with people makes me feel more involved as well with their plans and their objectives and that helps me with my own objectives and plans and it shares their passion for the site and it's very rewarding especially when you see people excited about what's coming back and what's happening. I love walking through here and I walk through here just about every day just to connect with nature really and to calm myself down each day. This is life, you know this is a kind of life in microcosms, one or two trees here, so that's what it means to me.

- Without question, the ability to build relationships based on trust, it's the cornerstone of a successful programme, and I think to do that, one of the first challenges is to understand expectations, now understand what the limitations are of our organisation and our place and our role in this, you know, melting pot, this tapestry of fire in the environment, fire ecology.

- Part of it is about figuring out what are the non-negotiables from that and then what are the negotiables and where do you land? So it's almost like taking your ideas and putting them through a community filter of like what is gonna be easily accepted and digestible and where can you build on that?

- There are legal constraints on what people can do, we try to be very pragmatic about that, we try to bring people along to an understanding of why those constraints are in place, when they hopefully come to an understanding and we are not just beating them over the head with a big stick about it, then hopefully they will trust what we are telling them.

- So, you know, that's a long period of time and it involves trust based on honesty and an open communication about what we're trying to do, what our own skills and abilities are, what the benefits the skills and abilities and knowledge that the community have, and again, treating everybody equally as part of the team, in order to do that, no matter who they work for, what role they play.

- You know some of the activities that we carry out where you're actually putting fire into the landscape near people's property, is quite a challenging thing to do, there's a lot, a huge amount of work that goes into making sure that those activities are as safe as possible, we just make sure that people are aware it's going on, that they know ahead of time so that if they've got concerns or queries or they wish to, you know, perhaps request that we delay a particular activity maybe a plan burn that might be impacting something that's important to them, so that we have open lines of communication.

- What doesn't work well for trust is when things don't go to plan and you don't have that follow up discussion with the rest of the team or with the rest of the community that you're working with as to why things didn't go to plan. You can't always control those things because of the weather, the fuel moisture, the amount of fuel that's there, and you need to make sure that the people know that these things can alter the outcome, and if they're going to trust you then you need to be quite honest upfront about what's going to happen.

- It's part of that relationship, if you can bring them along, you learn something from them, they learn something from you, you come to some sort of level of agreement or disagreement, but there's a level of understanding around that and trust around that, then I think you've gained that ability to keep moving forward. And most of that will come through conversation and talking and understanding and learning and listening and that builds that relationship and that trust over time.

Strengthening Local Government Partnerships grants (July 2022)

We are pleased to announce $1.82 million in funding for the Safer Together Strengthening Local Government Partnerships grants.

The grants are funding new and continuing projects that support local councils to develop bushfire risk reduction programs with local communities and are intended to:

  • Promote a collaborative, multi-partner approach to bushfire risk reduction
  • Provide resources, support and connections for local government
  • Help local government to deliver place-based, community-centred engagement
  • Share information across local governments and partners across the state.

The successful councils are:

Nillumbik Shire Council

Communities First

Council will work with community groups to lead local bushfire resilience and preparedness activities

Towong Shire Council

Building Resilience within the Northeast Collaboration

Towong, Indigo and Alpine Shire Councils working together to strengthen their emergency workforce for bushfires

Wellington Shire Council

Local Incident Management Planning in Wellington Shire Council

Council will work with high-risk communities to develop Local Incident Management Planning as part of an all-hazards approach

Buloke Shire Council

Buloke and Gannawarra Communities Prepared

Delivering bushfire preparedness messages in a personalised way to vulnerable communities

Mitchell Shire Council

Mitchell Shire Council Strengthening Vulnerable Eastern Ridgeline Communities

Coordination of Emergency Management Working Groups in high-risk communities

Northern Grampians Shire Council

Halls Gap Community Preparedness and Resilience Project

Development and launch of an app to distribute shire-specific emergency preparedness and response information

Greater Bendigo City Council

Building Resilience in a 'City in a Forest'

Council working with refugee communities to increase awareness of bushfire risk

Southern Grampians Shire Council

The Moments That Matter

Council working with high-risk communities to support bushfire planning through tailored community engagement activities

Wangaratta Rural City Council

Community Engagement Management Planning across the Rural City of Wangaratta

Council will engage with CFA, SES, Red Cross and the local community to help each community develop localised emergency management plans and strengthen capacity

Golden Plains Shire Council

Golden Plains and Pyrenees Shire Bushfire Resilience Project

Golden Plains and Pyrenees councils will work with community and agencies to raise awareness of local bushfire risks and hazards and enhance understanding of roles and responsibilities

Involving locals

Each landscape and each community is different. The best decisions are shaped by the people they affect. The place-based planning approach we use ensures communities are at the centre of decisions made about the reduction of bushfire risk in their locality, including where and when planned burning and other fuel management activities should occur.

Our collective knowledge of bushfire, combined with communities understanding of what is important, their local knowledge and experience, informs our actions.

Cathy Marsh, Peterborough - Supporting locals

Frank Herbert, Tamboon - Community preparedness

Hans Sieker, Tolmie - Community knowledge and experience

Lyn Harwood, Mallacoota - Building resilience through recovery

Community engagement projects

To improve communities’ preparation and response to bushfires, the Community Engagement stream of the Safer Together program focuses on working with local communities to understand what risk means to them, what they value, and the actions that we can collectively take to create safer, more resilient communities and ecosystems.

Community-based bushfire management

CBBM began as a Safer Together project in 2016. The CBBM approach centres work that reduces bushfire risk on community knowledge, skills and strengths – ensuring that decision making related to bushfire risk is undertaken in equal partnership with communities. The project has evolved over the past five years based on reviewed guidelines, community feedback and lessons learnt. Eight CBBM Officers, employed through CFA, DELWP and Local Government, facilitate CBBM work in 21 communities across the state.

Community risk understanding

This project works across teams and agencies to interpret complex fire science concepts into information that assists communities to understand and manage their bushfire risk. The project has a strong focus on interpreting the science and tools used in fire predictive services for use by communities to address the ‘knowledge to action’ gap. Knowledge and understanding allow community members to explore actions that can be taken or activities to be involved with such as education and awareness, forums, preparing properties or establishing Fire Learning Networks. Lessons learnt from the first iteration show that the project is most effective when deliverables are explored using a collaborative, multi-agency, and people-centred design & development purpose.

Build capacity and capability

This project intends to build the engagement skills and capabilities of staff and volunteers across agencies to strengthen skills in engaging with communities. Bespoke training has been developed focussing on both community engagement and community development skills and knowledge. The training is available to all those involved in land and fire management, including operational staff. Training was initially offered through three common training packages: Community Engagement, Community Development and Creative Facilitation, and can now be offered by special request. The initial project resulted in 53 workshops plus two Train the Trainer Workshops, delivered to 787 personnel from 20 different agencies. Now, the project is going beyond delivering training by implementing a series of recommendations identified through the evaluation of the initial project.

Local government partnerships

This project continues the strategic support of Local Government partnerships piloted under Safer Together 1.0. The project seeks to explore and provide opportunities for communities and Local Governments to work together, with appropriate support from DELWP and CFA. The project recognises that Local Governments are a critical element in responding to bushfires and need to be included when communities plan for and manage emergencies. The project aims to improve community engagement and learning when it comes to bushfire prevention, preparedness, response and recovery and contributes to building overall community capacity and capability for the future.

Schools in fire country

This project seeks to provide a guiding framework to expand teacher, student and school community knowledge and understanding of bushfires to compliment the Disaster Resilience Education (DRE) program. The current practices are being reviewed and opportunities identified in bushfire education programs by collaborating with multiple stakeholders across research, education and bushfire management sectors.

Year-round planning

As part of our approach, land and fire agencies with communities and Local Governments will plan together , identify ways to work together and share knowledge and expertise when focussing on place based planning. This will ensure that the work that each agency does complements the work of other agencies and the community.

There is a continual cycle of risk reduction work and you'll be able to get involved in bushfire risk reduction in your local area all year round. Your input will mean the planning that land and fire managers do, how they work together and how they work with you makes us all safer.

What fire agencies do

  • Monitor and predict fire weather to help us suppress and patrol fires
  • Use aircraft and fire towers to watch for fires
  • Issue fire danger warnings and advice
  • Maintain critical infrastructure
  • Reduce fuel through planned burns, mulching, slashing
  • Roadside vegetation management
  • Work with agencies to plan for bushfire management
  • Commission bushfire science research
  • Build and maintain fire trails in parks and forests
  • Recruit and train firefighters
  • Connect communities, local government, and agencies
  • Facilitate conversations and place-based planning

What agencies and community do together

  • Share information during fire events through channels like community meetings and social media
  • Build an understanding of bushfire risk in our area
  • Develop and implement fire recovery plans
  • Develop plans for protecting what is valued most by local communities
  • Share information at community bushfire educations events
  • Create community fire information guides
  • Run bushfire simulations to better understand fire behaviour

What you do

  • Develop and practice your bushfire plan and share with others
  • Fully extinguish campfires
  • Keep up to date with weather and fire danger warnings
  • Work as a community, in collaboration with agencies and local government to plan for fire.
  • Work with your community to recover from bushfire events
  • Review how your bushfire plan worked in Summer
  • Share your bushfire knowledge and experience with new residents
  • Get to know your local emergency services personnel
  • Join a community Fire Guard group
  • Prepare your property by mulching, slashing, clearing gutters, checking pumps

Community conversations

Community conversations are happening about bushfire risk and the actions communities and agencies can take to reduce it.

Mount Macedon

Community members, business owners and DELWP staff share their experiences of being involved, and involving, local people in the planning process around planned burning, to help reduce bushfire risk and minimise disruption to local communities

Fire Game

Community members, as well as representatives from Surf Coast Shire and DELWP, share their experiences of The Fire Game, its development and use, and explain how bushfire simulations support emergency scenarios that are delivered in conjunction with the game.

Port Phillip

Staff from DELWP, the CFA, and Melbourne Water discuss the importance of understanding bushfire risk, and working together to ensure that critical infrastructure is better protected from bushfire.

DELWP worked with power providers, water agencies, the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources and the CFA to use information from industry natural hazard contingency plans and better incorporate key power and water infrastructure into the Strategic Bushfire Management Plan.

The St Andrews Conversations snapshot

St. Andrews conversations are led by Nillumbik Council in partnership with DELWP and the St Andrews community. This pilot project demonstrates how powerful dialogue can be in shifting  the way we undertake community-based disaster preparedness and emergency management; positioning government agencies as learners alongside the community, building a sense of team, and fostering shared responsibility.

Bushfire Fuel Management Guide

The Bushfire Fuel Management Guide has been developed by the Southern and Eastern Metro Fuel Management Working group to assist communities in collaboration with land and fire management agencies and local governments, to protect their towns from bushfires.

It provides practical information and a decision making framework to plan the management of bushfire fuels on public and private land in and around towns and settlements. The Word template can assist with preparing town specific bushfire fuel management plans and information packs for residents.

Bushfire Fuel Management Guide (PDF, 1.3 MB)

Bushfire Fuel Management Guide  (DOCX, 15.5 MB)

Bushfire Fuel Management Plan template (DOCX, 2.2 MB)

What does this mean for me?

The Safer Together approach doesn't change the responsibilities of our different agencies, but there will be a greater emphasis on agencies working together. There will be a focus on coordinated fuel management across public and private land and there will be more involvement of CFA brigades in fuel management across public/private land

The approach will mean a greater emphasis on local communities being involved in bushfire management and a focus on agencies talking collectively with communities about bushfires. Over time, bushfire modelling will become more available to support local community discussion about how to manage bushfires.

To find out more about bushfire risk in your area click on your local bushfire risk region below or find your landscape:

The Safer Together approach will mean greater opportunities to talk about bushfire management across the whole of country and the impact on cultural heritage, the environment and connection to country.

It will also mean the involvement of Traditional Owners in bushfire management and drawing on traditional knowledge about fire to improve practices.

The Safer Together approach means we will be doing more to reduce the risk of bushfire and be more effective in how we do it. Planned burning in and around towns will continue to be a key strategy for reducing bushfire risk and protecting lives and property. The government is investing in predictive modelling of smoke and research to better understand its health impacts.

Page last updated: 14/09/23