Bushfire risk increased this summer

Australia has an increased bushfire risk for the 2017/2018 summer, according to a senior climatologist, so brokers need to ensure clients are prepared and have a survival plan.

Agata Imielska, senior climatologist with the Bureau of Meteorology, told a recent Insurance Council Disaster Season Briefing that the increased bushfire risk is the result of a dry winter (ninth driest on record), with below average soil moisture in the eastern and central parts of Australia. There has already been an early start to the bushfire season with fires in Noosa and Jervis Bay in September.

Imielska also pointed out that these conditions meant there was an increased risk of heatwaves.

However, the tropical cyclone outlook is neutral, and Australia can expect on average 10-13 cyclones this season, with at least one across the coast.

There’s a reduced risk of widespread flooding, Imielska said, because “things have been so dry” and “antecedent conditions do not favour” it. “Localised, flash-flooding will still be seen,” she cautioned. As for severe thunderstorms, there’s a “normal risk”.

That same session featured Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers of the NSW Rural Fire Service and Victoria’s Country Fire Authority’s Deputy Chief Officer Gary Cook who both warned that while communities are provided with a lot of information and education on bushfire preparedness, they are not actually putting it into action.

“It’s getting the community to take responsibility for the environment that they live in,” Deputy Chief Officer Cook said. “The fire agency is only one piece of the puzzle in managing fire … We continue to emphasise the need to have survival plans, to listen to fire danger ratings, so that [the community’s] behaviour starts to reflect the information that is put before them, and they know what to do with that information.”

Deputy Commissioner Rogers added: “It’s converting that understanding into action … Insurance have a big opportunity to help here.”

For example, ensuring that individuals and businesses, are clear about cleaning their property (eg clearing gutters), having hoses long enough to reach around the property, etc and having a survival plan.

“When writing to policyholders, [the insurance industry] can help get that message across.”

Brokers can point clients to their state’s fire authority for guidance: NSW, Vic, Qld, SA, WA, ACT and Tas.