The unprecedented 2019/20 bushfire season had an impact on several Stockland assets, triggering a crisis management response. Whilst six retirement villages and one shopping centre were temporarily evacuated, no injuries were sustained by Stockland staff or residents and no property damage was sustained.
The risk of bushfires is an inherent risk to Stockland, with over 50 properties located in or adjacent to a bushfire zone. As part of our risk management strategy, annual Bushfire Preparedness Reviews have been undertaken since 2017. These reviews are designed to gauge the level of bushfire preparedness across our ‘at risk’ assets. These assessments encompass various preparedness elements, including the effectiveness of site-specific bushfire management plans, physical bushfire preparedness onsite, emergency management, fire systems and training.
Findings from the 2019 Bushfire Preparedness Reviews (conducted prior to the bushfire season) were very positive, demonstrating progressive improvements in preparedness since the inception of the program in 2017. This level of preparedness was also reflected in our ability to respond to the emergency situations that later unfolded during the 2019/20 bushfire season.
Following the 2019/20 bushfires, several debriefs were undertaken with the relevant asset teams to identify improvements to our preparedness and response models. This has resulted in the further evolution of our Bushfire Preparedness Review program with key changes including:
• Bringing forward the timing of our preparedness reviews to August 2020 (previously October 2020) to prepare for an earlier start to the bushfire seasons.
• Applying a more conservative lens to the assessment of ‘at risk’ sites. Previously, assessment was based on bushfire maps and bushfire catchment classifications by either the local Council or relevant State Fire Authority. We have now added additional considerations e.g. the proximity to fuel sources, impact of major road closures, likelihood of assets to be used as places of refuge (e.g. retail centres along arterial highways) as well as recent bushfire impact.
• Expanding the scope of our preparedness reviews to include planning for bushfire smoke and hazardous air quality. This will include the identification of staff employees with respiratory conditions (e.g. asthma), monitoring of the local air quality index and safety provisions for outdoor works (e.g. P2 respirators).
Lessons learnt have also led to improvements in our response plan, including changes to the way the Stockland Call Centre is briefed on unfolding emergency situations (particularly after-hours support), improvements to the process around authorising INS (emergency call system) messages, consideration of Rural Fire Service emergency text messaging systems, and the management of residents refusing to evacuate.