How to support a person with disability during the fire season

By Lisa Clarke, 25 September 2019 , Comments

The bushfire season has started early in Australia this year. The NSW Rural Fire Service says that people with disability are at a higher risk of danger, and leaving early is always the safest option.

Research from the United Nations shows that only 20% of people with disability could evacuate immediately, without difficulty, in the event of a sudden disaster like a bushfire.

So while emergency services have strategies in place to assist people with disability in emergency situations, it’s still very important for individuals to have plans in place in case of a bushfire.

Supporting your loved ones to make a bushfire survival plan includes making important decisions about when to leave and what to take. Here are some tips everyone can use to be better prepared for bushfires.

Discuss what you will do if there is a bushfire

Leaving early is always the safest option for people with disability. Consider leaving when there is smoke in your area or as soon as you find out there’s a fire near you.

  • Decide where you will go when you leave. Find a meeting place that’s safe and away from a fire area, like a friend or relative’s place, or a shopping centre.
  • Decide how you will get to the safe place. You might need support to get there or to call a taxi. If you are driving, plan what road you will take to get to the safe place. Also prepare a backup plan in case that road is blocked.
  • Make a list of what you will take with you. This could be medications, prescriptions, identification, health records, mobile phone or laptop, important documents, special photos, clothing and toiletries.
  • Decide who you will call to inform them that you’re leaving and that you have arrived safely. Have their phone number handy.
  • Have a backup plan and identify a safer location nearby where you can go to as last resort, such as a neighbour’s home.
  • Neighbourhood Safer Places are also a place of last resort. These include places such as a sports ground or local buildings that have been specially identified for use during a fire. Not all areas will have a Neighbourhood Safer Place. Go to for locations.

Help your loved ones prepare their home

There are some simple things you can do around your home to prepare it for a bushfire. You or your loved ones might need some support to prepare before it is too late.

  • Make sure all entry and exit points to the house are kept clear and are easily accessible.
  • Check to see if all smoke alarms are working.
  • Remove debris and burnable objects from outside, including from roof gutters.

Know the bush fire alert levels

If there is a fire in your area you will find the alert level on the NSW Rural Fire Service website, on ABC Local radio and in the ‘Fires Near Me’ app, which you can find on the App Store or on Google Play. You need to keep track of the alert level so you know what you should do.

The higher the fire danger rating, the more dangerous a fire is likely to be.

 Keep key information close by

In a bushfire, it’s important that you stay up-to-date on conditions in your area. The NSW Rural Fire Service strongly advises having these numbers, links and apps easily reachable:

Find out more information here.

How to have conversations around disaster planning

Last year the University of Sydney worked with the NSW Office of Emergency Management and people from the health and disability sectors to create a series of videos which start a conversation about disaster planning for people with disability.

The videos talk about eight issues including communication, health management, assistive technology, personal supports, assistance animals, transportation, living situations and social connectiveness.

You can watch the videos here.

Bushfire smoke exposure health precautions

During the bushfire season, smoke reduces the quality of the air you breathe.

NSW Health says following these precautions can help you minimise bad effects from bushfire smoke:

  • Stay indoors with windows and doors closed. Use air-conditioning if you have it.
  • Avoid physical activity, especially if you have asthma or a lung condition.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a mask designed to filter fine particles. Use a mask rated either P1 or P2. These are available from hardware stores. P2 masks are more effective in blocking fine particles. Make sure the mask is worn correctly over your nose and mouth to protect you.

For further information, call 1300 066 055 to talk to your local Public Health Unit.

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