From hypothetical scenario to tragic reality: A salutary lesson in risk communication and the Victorian 2009 bushfires



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Erratum Volume 34, Issue 5, 534, Article first published online: 6 October 2010

Correspondence to:
Priscilla Robinson, School of Public Health, La Trobe University, Bundoora Victoria 3086. Fax: (03) 9479 1783; e-mail:


Objective: To investigate the ways that the risk of a bushfire emergency and communication strategies are perceived by different community segments.

Methods: A brief questionnaire preceded focus group discussion of a bushfire scenario with four communications from different sources. Groups were recruited to represent different community segments within a bushfire-prone peri-urban Shire in Victoria.

Results: Four groups (28 participants) were recruited. Bushfire experience was highest in the over 40-year-olds, who would use a variety of information sources, preferred to receive information from trusted local sources, such as emergency services and the council, and were more likely to be a member of a local organisation than the under 40s. Younger people used television, local papers, and friends, family and neighbours as information sources. Young parents felt disempowered through lack of local knowledge, and trusted government departments less than older residents. All wanted clear, current, specific local information about ground conditions and actions to be taken during a fire outbreak.

Conclusions/implications: Knowledge of and preparedness for bushfire is unequally spread throughout a bushfire community. There is a need in public health risk and emergency situations to focus on community development, information and consultation.