Crews from the Kyogle RFS helped out at the Rappville bushfire.
Crews from the Kyogle RFS helped out at the Rappville bushfire.

How could we have better prepared for the bushfires?

MISCOMMUNICATION and a failure to listen to local knowledge were just two of the main concerns raised by community members impacted by the summer bushfires during a statewide inquiry.

More than 50 people attended a virtual NSW Independent Bushfire Inquiry on Monday to discuss ways the Northern Rivers and the Clarence Valley could have been better prepared ahead of the horrific bushfires that destroyed the region.

The Inquiry, announced by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian in January, will review the causes of, preparation for and response to the 2019-20 bushfires and will provide input to NSW ahead of the next bushfire season.

The Inquiry is being led by former Deputy Commissioner of NSW Police Dave Owens and Professor Mary O’Kane, Independent Planning Commission Chair and former NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer.

The pair on Monday listened to the views of residents impacted directly and indirectly by the bushfires.

RFS volunteers, charity organisers, bushfire-affected residents and impacted business owners shared their thoughts on how the region could have been better prepared for the catastrophic 2019-20 bushfire season.

With stories of survival and post-bushfire recovery, two clear themes continued to be raised throughout the inquiry.

Almost everyone who spoke during the virtual inquiry told stories of how they appreciated the hard work of RFS and those working to protect properties but many had concerns about the lack of local knowledge being used to minimise losses.

Many people recounted how when they called the communications command centre, they were met with confusion about certain fires because volunteers who were brought in to assist from outside of the region did not know the area well enough to communicate important information.

Others spoke on the poor communication efforts that led to them being impacted because of a lack of telecommunication infrastructure, poor internet connection or delays with the RFS Fires Near Me app.

Mr Owens said the online meeting had raised many valid points for the inquiry to consider when making its final submission to the government.

“It is a traumatic process,” Mr Owens said.

“There are familiar themes coming through all of this, and Mary and I both get something out of each meeting that we can take away.”

Since February, the Inquiry has been meeting with communities in bushfire-affected regions across the state and has successfully held six online community consultation sessions.

The Inquiry also welcomes submissions from bushfire-affected residents, emergency and support personnel, organisations and the general public.

Submissions will close on May 22 and a final report will be presented to the premier on July 31.

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