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Chapter 12: Evacuation planning and shelters


12.1 Properly planning for evacuations is an important part of keeping communities safe from the harm caused by natural disasters. Planning for evacuations should occur early and involve local governments and communities. Evacuation planning should factor in key issues such as seasonal populations, evacuation routes, sheltering facilities, jurisdictional boundaries, messaging to communities and risks to safe evacuation. Evacuation plans should be regularly reviewed, where necessary, to ensure that they address all relevant issues.

12.2 The terminology used for, and functions of, the different sheltering facilities (such as evacuation centres and Neighbourhood Safer Places) during a natural disaster are not consistent across Australia. Inconsistency may cause confusion and risks to safety, particularly where community expectations of a sheltering facility do not align with the protection actually provided by that facility. The naming and designation of the various sheltering facilities should be made nationally consistent across jurisdictions, thereby minimising community confusion during an emergency, particularly for tourist populations.

12.3 Communities rely on evacuation and relief centres during natural disasters as safe places to avoid the effects of natural disasters. It is important, therefore, that these centres are selected and maintained appropriately to be able to accommodate those who seek short term shelter, sustenance and support.

Planning for evacuations

12.4 Planning for evacuations is one aspect of emergency planning which, if executed poorly, can create risks to people, communities and property, including bringing about life threatening circumstances. In some instances, evacuating an area in time could be the difference between life and death. For evacuations to be executed safely, they must be planned and those plans resourced, implemented and reviewed. [1222]

12.5 Evacuation planning is led by different levels of government. In some jurisdictions, local governments and disaster management groups are primarily responsible for managing evacuations. [1223] In other jurisdictions, management of evacuations is the responsibility of a state agency, [1224] with local governments typically playing a supporting role.

12.6 The planning for evacuations is supported in all jurisdictions by evacuation planning and management guidelines, including guidelines developed by the Australian Red Cross for states and territories. [1225]

12.7 We received evidence from a number of states and territories that the testing and review of evacuation plans occurs as part of the broader review or exercise of emergency management plans. [1226] The timing of such reviews varied. Some state and territory governments acknowledge the importance of field and desktop exercises to evaluate evacuation plans and the operation of evacuation centres, and to test capability and functionality. [1227]

12.8 Experiences during the 2019‑2020 bushfire season demonstrated the importance of planning for evacuations. We have not investigated the adequacy or inadequacy of individual evacuation plans. However, themes raised in submissions, and in some instances in evidence, identified matters that those responsible for evacuation planning and related resources should take into account. It is important for those with responsibility for evacuation planning and related resources, including those responsible for developing guidance and assessment and evaluation of plans, to ensure that relevant factors are adequately incorporated. The factors considered below are not intended to be a comprehensive list of all matters to be considered in evacuation planning.

12.9 Evacuation planning guidelines and evacuation plans should be regularly reviewed and incorporate lessons learned from significant evacuations nationally.

Local involvement in planning

12.10 As with all disaster management, evacuation planning and implementation are shared responsibilities. In some circumstances, the responsibility to decide to evacuate, or seek shelter, falls on individuals, assisted by the warnings and information provided to them by governments.

12.11 Local governments have an important role in evacuation planning, often as part of their role in the local disaster planning committee or group. Planning for evacuations needs to consider local capacity and capability to manage the evacuation process. [1228] This includes the sheltering facilities and community resources that are available, managing evacuation routes, as well as identifying and communicating with vulnerable members of the community. [1229]

12.12 Evacuations practically and necessarily involve more than one government agency. We heard of one example where, despite not having primary responsibility, local council officials conducted pre-evacuation door knocking and community meetings provided information on the location of Safer Places. [1230] Non-government organisations also play a significant role in assisting during the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, detailed in Chapter 21: Coordinating relief and recovery.

12.13 We heard that the planning of evacuation routes is assisted by local knowledge to understand not only the risks that could arise to the community in the face of a natural disaster, but also the knowledge of and availability of the routes themselves. [1231] Local capabilities can also be utilised as a ‘stop gap’, to provide temporary support to the local community while awaiting assistance from state or, when requested, Australian government agencies.

Seasonal populations

12.14 Seasonal populations can make evacuations more challenging. Seasonal populations include tourists, seasonal workers, and other temporary visitors to an area. Visitors can be unfamiliar with local conditions and locations, limiting their awareness of the need to act, [1232] what to do and where to go. Tourists, for example, can be unaware of local road closures, [1233] alternative routes, and safe areas. This can, in turn, lead to an increased reliance on emergency services, in circumstances where they might be otherwise committed to immediate response. [1234]

12.15 Evacuation planning guidelines in some states and territories require the consideration of transient populations, such as commuters and tourists. In others, evacuation plans are prepared on the basis of data that include seasonal population variation, or it is standard practice to take seasonal population into account. In Queensland, Local Disaster Management Groups that are impacted by seasonal population variations work with tourism bodies, such as Tourism Tropical North Queensland and the Working Tourist Safety Forum. In Tasmania, seasonal populations are considered and taken into account as a ‘vulnerable population group’. In WA, any application for proposed land use that is classified as ‘vulnerable development’, including tourism land uses, is required to submit a Bushfire Emergency Evacuation Plan.

12.16 The presence of tourists placed additional pressure on the capacity of some communities to manage evacuations and evacuation centres. [1235] The overlap between the bushfire season and the holiday period meant that the tourist populations in some bushfire-affected areas were high. [1236] We heard that the presence of tourists increased the demand for food, fuel and other resources, which in some cases meant that these necessities were limited or quickly exhausted, to the frustration of some local communities. [1237]

Beach evacuation at Lake Conjola, NSW

Figure 40: Beach evacuation at Lake Conjola, NSW [1238]

The peak tourist season coinciding with bushfires meant that people were stranded away from home for longer than expected. We have heard stories of interstate visitors being turned away from accessing services at evacuation centres. [1239]

12.17 State and territory emergency services can find engaging tourists with messages about the danger and unpredictable nature of the fires challenging. Tourists are not always engaged with local news and other information channels. They are potentially unfamiliar with the geography of the local area and may misjudge the seriousness of the threat. This may be compounded by tourists deciding to travel to areas at risk, despite advice to the contrary.

12.18 Even where evacuation plans are in place, the last bushfire season shows room for improvement. The more detailed reviews by concurrent state and territory inquiries raised similar issues about the experience of seasonal populations in evacuations during the 2019‑2020 bushfire season. [1240] The Final Report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry noted that the South Coast of NSW experiences a seasonal surge of tourism in the summer months and that local emergency management committees should be required to factor this into their planning. [1241] Similarly, the Victorian Inspector‑General of Emergency Management’s inquiry into the 2019‑2020 Victorian fire season recommended that Victoria Police – in collaboration with the community and the emergency management sector – review and enhance evacuation plans in light of the presence of tourists and non-residents, among other matters. [1242]

12.19 State and territory governments should be ready to stop people travelling into high-risk areas in the lead up to, and during, a disaster. Further training and exercising of evacuations could also improve evacuation planning to account for seasonal variations in population.

Evacuations and access routes

12.20 It is important that the accessibility of evacuation routes is considered in planning, and that efforts are made to ensure these routes are resilient for the purposes of a natural disaster. These routes are important not just as a means to evacuate communities, but also to provide access to communities for first responders, for the purposes of recovery and to ensure continuity of supply chains during and after a disaster.

12.21 A key consideration in planning evacuations is identifying evacuation routes, including any impediments and alternatives in the event that primary routes become inaccessible. In a disaster, road closures can result from a range of causes, including flooding, proximity to a bushfire front and hazardous trees.

12.22 We heard that during the 2019‑2020 bushfire season, the impact of the fires on the Princes Highway was of significant concern, given its role as a critical evacuation route for fire-threatened communities. [1243] The Princes Highway is a major road in Australia, extending some 1,941 kilometres from Sydney to Adelaide via the coast through the states of NSW, Victoria and SA. The Princes Highway was closed for extended periods due to fire and falling trees, [1244] with a different approach taken by road management agencies in different states. [1245] This meant that movement in and out of many coastal communities was limited for both residents and emergency services. The closure of this major freight route also restricted the flow of essential resources in and out of some communities, including fuel and food. [1246]

12.23 We also heard that a number of communities only had a single road that could be used as an evacuation route. In the event of an evacuation, those evacuating would be in danger if traffic could not freely move when threatened by fire. Similar risks will arise with single lane bridges, where movement will be easily restricted in the event of congestion. Indeed, we heard of a number of circumstances during the 2019‑2020 bushfires where many in the community attempted to evacuate on the one accessible road at the same time. Further, self-evacuations – that is, where people evacuate an area prior to, or in the absence of an official warning to do so [1247] – can lead to dangerous situations if a traffic jam occurs and evacuees have nowhere to shelter. [1248]

12.24 The Australian Defence Force (ADF) played a vital role in assisting with the evacuation of some isolated communities during the 2019‑2020 bushfires. Movement around some communities was ‘seriously constrained’ as a result of road closures from the fires, [1249] with evacuations eventually having to be undertaken by sea and air. One local council noted that evacuation of those communities would not have been possible without ADF assistance. [1250] Chapter 7: Role of the Australian Defence Force outlines in more detail the broader assistance that the ADF can provide to the community on request.

12.25 Possible evacuation by sea and air lends itself to exploring innovative evacuation routes that might not have been considered. In particular, further planning for high‑risk communities – for example, those with a single evacuation route – could explore access to alternative routes, including waterways, integration with road and rail transport, or evacuation by sea and air. [1251] In some communities in Australia, it should be recognised that the only access is by air and water. This is not to suggest, however, that evacuation planning should rely on the availability of the ADF.

12.26 Considering evacuation routes in planning for construction of roads and communities when they can more easily be developed, would reduce the risk of isolating communities. [1252]

12.27 Credible ‘worst case’ scenarios would assist in identifying whether alternative evacuation routes and plans should be developed. For example, evacuation routes through heavily wooded forest areas might not be accessible in a bushfire, or an evacuation route along an unsealed road might not be passable in flood conditions. [1253] Determining suitable evacuation routes reduces the risk of placing communities in life threatening situations. [1254]

12.28 Where alternative routes are not available, consideration should be given to the need to shelter in place and build more resilient sheltering facilities. The need for these facilities could also be identified through the use of ‘worst case’ scenarios in planning, to ensure sheltering facilities are appropriately resourced, fitted and protected in the event that evacuation routes become unusable. [1255]

12.29 It is important that evacuation routes, including any alternative routes, are communicated to the community. The community should be notified of other ways to evacuate in the event that the main access route becomes unusable. These routes should also be appropriately reflected on emergency apps.

12.30 Beyond accessibility, it is essential that the resilience of evacuation routes is addressed in town and evacuation planning. This should include the identification of the risks to individual roads and road networks more broadly, and the development of strategies to mitigate those risks in the lead up to and during a natural disaster. One key risk to be considered is the capacity of local governments and communities to rapidly clear roads of trees and other debris. In the event that risks to evacuation routes cannot be appropriately mitigated, planning for evacuation routes should provide for appropriate sheltering facilities. These facilities should be properly prepared and able to be utilised where evacuation routes become inaccessible.

12.31 Some jurisdictions have taken steps to mitigate aspects of this risk. We heard that delivery of bushfire fuel management on the Queensland state‑controlled road network is informed by the Roadside Bushfire Risk Assessment Model, which draws on QFES and CSIRO data to assess the consequence and likelihood, and overall bushfire risk on state-controlled roads.

12.32 State, territory and local governments should consider the existence and condition of evacuation routes in evacuation planning, including for construction of roads and new communities.

Access routes and roadside vegetation

12.33 A key risk to be mitigated in the context of natural disasters is roadside vegetation. In the aftermath of a natural hazard such as a bushfire, flood or storm it is not uncommon for vegetation debris to be present along roadsides. We heard that the ability to respond rapidly to clear this debris is critical to reopening roads. [1256] The process of re-opening is resource intensive and potentially hazardous, often requiring large sections of roads to be closed, [1257] and long delays. We heard concerns from a number of communities about road closures and debris inhibiting evacuations during the 2019‑2020 bushfires. [1258]

12.34 Dense roadside vegetation can result in road closures on catastrophic fire days, with limited forewarning as to when these closures will happen and their likely duration. These road closures affect not just evacuations themselves, but also access to communities for the purposes of recovery – in some cases, for many weeks.

12.35 There are, of course, a number of matters to be considered in determining whether a road will qualify for vegetation clearing, including whether it is a supply or evacuation route, provides emergency service access, or is a main road.

12.36 Some local councils told us that their communities were severely impacted by road closures, and that effective roadside vegetation management could assist in preventing the restriction of these vital links by burning or falling trees in a future fire event. [1259]

12.37 We heard some perceptions that there had been insufficient amounts of hazard reduction along roadsides in some areas. [1260] For example, concerns were raised by Kangaroo Island Council that roadside corridors may act as ‘wicks’ for a fire. [1261] We heard that some states and territories already have in place specific programs addressing roadside vegetation management issues and others are improving their existing plans and processes. [1262] We discuss the need for continuing research in relation to land management in Chapter 23: National research and emerging technology.

12.38 Nonetheless, we heard of confusion within the community, and between responsible entities, about the breakdown of responsibilities for roadside vegetation management. We heard of arrangements where fire management agencies coordinate with managers and owners of roads, including local councils, to identify roads where they will undertake treatment. We also heard how such considerations are integrated into municipal fire management plans. [1263]

12.39 We heard views that there are regulatory and legislative barriers to roadside vegetation management. [1264] For example, Kangaroo Island Council in SA, as well as Corangamite Shire Council in Victoria, stated that legislative barriers hampered their hazard reduction efforts. [1265] We heard from ForestrySA that ‘at present, planning and approval requirements hinder the ability to use mechanical controls and prescribed burning to control woody weed species along roadsides.’ [1266] One council noted the complexities of working under two different local land service departments, each permitting different levels of management of roadside vegetation. [1267]

12.40 The Final Report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry recommended the establishment of a consistent framework for roadside vegetation management that ‘analyses road priority, utility, amenity, strategic value and risk’. [1268]

Recommendation 12.1 Roadside vegetation management

State and territory governments, working with local governments and fire and emergency service agencies, should ensure that there are appropriate arrangements for roadside vegetation management that take into account, among other things:

  1. priority access and egress routes
  2. road priority, utility and strategic value
  3. cost, and
  4. residual risk to national natural disasters.

Cars queueing to evacuate Batemans Bay, NSW

Figure 41: Cars queueing to evacuate Batemans Bay, NSW [1269]

Essential service outages and compounding events

12.41 It is important for evacuation planning to take into account the likelihood that there may be essential service outages during a natural disasters, such as communications or power.

12.42 This was acknowledged by the Final Report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry, which recommended that the guidelines for identifying evacuation centres be updated to require a risk assessment of potential locations. [1270] This should include identifying alternative power sources.

12.43 In Chapter 11: Emergency planning, we note that the increasing likelihood of compounding disasters necessitates a different outlook on emergency planning. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic brings a new perspective to evacuation planning. The pandemic has demonstrated that evacuation planning for disasters needs to consider how to manage the population in the context of concurrent emergencies. Such planning is underway in some areas, including how to comply with social distancing requirements. [1271] For example, NSW developed a COVID-19 Supplement to accompany its Evacuation Management Guidelines, [1272] which acknowledges the new risks, and outlines controls to reduce the risk of contagion.

Inability to evacuate

12.44 Isolation, where a community is cut off from external access, must also be considered in planning, if only because evacuation may not always be the best or safest option, if it is an option at all. Communities need to prepare for this possibility, in particular those communities with ‘one road in one road out’. Some groups require special consideration and arrangements to evacuate, including those in aged care facilities, people with families (particularly young children), and people with disabilities.

12.45 Chapter 9: Essential services illustrates some of the cascading failures that can occur where supply chains to communities are disrupted.

Recommendation 12.2 Evacuation planning – Evacuation routes and seasonal populations

State and territory governments should ensure that those responsible for evacuation planning periodically review those plans, and update them where appropriate, including in relation to:

  1. roles and responsibilities of state and territory governments, local governments and local communities
  2. education and signage about evacuations and evacuation routes, including education of seasonal populations
  3. the adequacy of evacuation routes; including contingencies if evacuation routes or centres are assessed as not being able to cope, and
  4. the potential inability to evacuate, either by reason of circumstances or personal characteristics.

Recommendation 12.3 Evacuation planning – Essential services and supplies

State and territory governments should ensure that those responsible for evacuation planning periodically review those plans, and update them where appropriate, including in relation to:

  1. key risks that essential service outages have on communities during a severe or catastrophic natural disaster (particularly communications and power)
  2. availability of essential supplies, including food and water, and
  3. consequence management and compounding events such as the loss of essential services or health impacts.

Box 12.1 Evacuation experiences during the 2019‑2020 bushfires

Lake Conjola, NSW

Three people died and more than 130 homes were destroyed or damaged extensively when the Currowan fire reached Lake Conjola on New Years’ Eve. [1273] The community was isolated for eight days at the height of the crisis. [1274] Around 5,000 visitors were in the area during the fires.

The evacuation was described in a submission as ‘totally unplanned’ and it was ‘very lucky that there were not a lot more injuries, indeed deaths, occasioned during that evacuation’. [1275] We also heard that evacuees did not use the designated safer place and evacuated to the beach, with the direct route going through the centre of a camping ground full of holiday-makers. [1276]

Community members, of their own initiative, organised power boats and jet skis to go to Conjola Park and ferry people down to the beach. Once on the beach, no evacuation or other emergency support was available.

Mallacoota, Victoria

The evacuation of Mallacoota with the assistance of the ADF was one of the most significant evacuations during the 2019‑2020 bushfire season. HMAS Choules and MV Sycamore assisted with the evacuation of more than 1,100 people from Mallacoota, including the elderly, children and pets. Some evacuees who required more immediate care were evacuated by aircraft, although their evacuation was at times impeded by visibility issues caused by smoke. [1277] The presence of tourists in East Gippsland, and the decision of some to remain there despite warnings to the contrary, complicated evacuations in that area. East Gippsland Shire Council stated ‘the decision by many visitors to stay resulted in an escalation of the provision of immediate relief to the Mallacoota community and ultimately to a significant evacuation approach that was only possible with the assistance of the Australian Defence Forces’. [1278]

Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Kangaroo Island Council told us that evacuations were ‘handled in an expert manner by all emergency services’, [1279] and that the ADF support provided during evacuations was appreciated. [1280] However, Kangaroo Island Council submitted that there was some confusion among evacuees as to where they were meant to move to during an evacuation, including community confusion about the terms ‘Bushfire Safer Place’ and ‘Bushfire Last Resort Refuge’. Kangaroo Island Council also identified the need for better signage around the Island directing people where to go during an evacuation. [1281]

Sheltering facilities

12.46 Evacuation planning includes identifying appropriate sheltering facilities, including evacuation or relief centres. In addition to identifying sheltering facilities in planning, these facilities should be appropriately identified, maintained and sufficiently prepared for an emergency.

12.47 Responsibility for the identification and evaluation of sheltering facilities (such as evacuation or relief centres and Neighbourhood Safer Places) varies between jurisdictions, and differs depending on the sheltering facility. The responsibility may lie with the disaster management group or committee responsible for preparing the relevant disaster management plan, [1282] local government, [1283] or a government agency or department. [1284] Responsibility for identifying, establishing and auditing Neighbourhood Safer Places rests with the relevant combat agency, the local council or relevant planning committee. Inspections and assessments of these facilities are typically conducted by the combat agency. [1285] Responsibilities for evacuation centres in each of the states and territories is set out at Appendix 20: Responsibility for evacuation centres.

12.48 A number of sheltering facilities tend to be available to those evacuating in response to a natural disaster. Each of these provide different levels of protection, services and personnel.

Improving sheltering terminology

12.49 The terminology and features of sheltering facilities can differ across states and territories. Different terminology is used for the same type of facility. For example, a facility providing accommodation and other amenities to those evacuated in Victoria is called a relief centre; in NSW this same facility is typically called an evacuation centre. Table 6 captures the various labels that states and territories adopt.

12.50 The descriptions and functions of all the types of sheltering facilities available across Australia are, broadly, as follows:

  • Evacuation or relief centres are locations at which people can seek accommodation and other amenities in a location not anticipated to be adversely affected by a bushfire or other natural disaster. [1286] These centres are intended to house people who are unable to seek accommodation elsewhere and provide basic amenities. [1287]
  • Neighbourhood Safer Places can provide protection from the immediate life-threatening effects of a bushfire. [1288] They are intended as places of last resort when a person’s bushfire plan is no longer viable. [1289] Locations used as safer places are often open-air spaces, such as parks or sports fields, but may also include community buildings such as halls. [1290] Some jurisdictions do not have ‘Neighbourhood Safer Places’, but have similar facilities with similar terminology. [1291] For example, the term ‘Safer Place’ is used instead in other jurisdictions.
    • Bushfire Safer Places are used as a place for people to stay in or as a place of first resort for those who have decided that they will leave high risk locations early on a bad fire weather day. [1292]
    • Bushfire Last Resort Refuges are spaces or buildings that could be used as a last resort for individuals to go to and remain in during the passage of a bushfire through their neighbourhood. It is an area that provides a minimum level of protection from the immediate life threatening effects of radiant heat and direct flame contact in a bushfire. [1293]
  • An emergency or cyclone shelter is a public purpose-built building, usually constructed to meet a specific building standard, designed to be used during an emergency to shelter from its effects. [1294] It is not intended to be long term accommodation. These buildings are commonly used in relation to cyclones. [1295]
    • A place of refuge is usually a building that will provide a level of protection from the effects of a cyclone as it passes, but has not been built or designed in accordance with the disaster-related standards or guidelines. [1296]
  • Community Fire Refuges are purpose-built or modified buildings that can provide protection from radiant heat and embers. [1297] These facilities, like Neighbourhood Safer Places, are a last resort option when other plans have failed. They do not guarantee safety from a bushfire and cannot be relied upon as primary plan of action in a bushfire. [1298]

Table 6: Use of sheltering terminology by states and territories chart
Table 6: Use of sheltering terminology by states and territories

12.51 In light of the differences in terminology for sheltering facilities between states and territories, understanding the differences in their functions can be challenging. Facilities that sound similar can perform entirely different functions. For example, a Bushfire Safer Place and Neighbourhood Safer Place use similar terminology but serve different purposes and provide different levels of protection.

12.52 State and territory governments already undertake public engagement and provide detailed information about the functions of each type of facility, including through websites. For example, NSW explained that the methods of communication included door knocking, media broadcasting, social media, local council websites, text messages, community meetings and emergency alerts. [1299]

12.53 Despite this, we heard that people at risk appear to misunderstand the functions of each type of facility. We heard that individuals evacuated to sheltering facilities in the midst of the 2019‑2020 bushfire season, appeared to misunderstand the functions of the facility. In some cases, evacuees thought that a Neighbourhood Safer Place could be used as an evacuation centre, [1300] or that it would ‘turn into’ an evacuation centre if attended by enough people. We heard that people misunderstood the level of disaster protection that a facility can provide — for example, seeking shelter from an impending fire in facilities that were not fire proof. [1301] Local governments suggested that individuals in their area were confused about the difference between sheltering facilities, with some suggesting that there was also confusion among emergency services personnel at times. [1302]

12.54 One state conceded that similar misunderstandings had arisen in previous natural disasters. [1303] Some local governments told us they were well aware of the misunderstanding and had previously undertaken local education campaigns to help to clarify the function of particular facilities. [1304]

12.55 Concurrent and recent reviews also suggested that the community does not have a good understanding of differences in functions between each facility. [1305] The Queensland IGEM 2017-2018 Cyclone Debbie Review in particular suggested that this lack of clarity extends beyond bushfires, and applies to other natural disasters. [1306] Having regard to natural disasters more broadly, the Queensland IGEM 2017-2018 Cyclone Debbie Review identified the value in community education about sheltering facilities prior to disasters occurring, and that ‘early community engagement about safer locations and what to expect in terms of services and facilities should form part of regular pre-season preparation’. [1307]

12.56 We heard concerns from local governments that community confusion may arise from differences between sheltering terminology across borders. [1308] We heard of confusion in other areas (most notably, emergency warnings) caused by differences in terminology across borders, and we are concerned that steps should to be taken to ensure that community confusion does not arise due to differences of terminology in the context of sheltering facilities.

National consistency in terminology

12.57 More consistent terminology nationally could reduce confusion, particularly among tourists and those in border communities. The main barriers to this process appear to be the costs and time required to change to consistent terms, and the difficulty of jurisdictions agreeing on the national terminology. However, this process is necessary and must not take years.

12.58 There was strong support from the states and territories for nationally consistent terminology in relation to sheltering facilities. NSW observed that this has the potential to improve communication and understanding, inform an ‘all hazards approach’ and allow for a ‘surge workforce’ to support operations across jurisdictions. [1309]

12.59 Further education is needed to articulate the functions and limitations of different sheltering facilities. While such education is, in our view, needed even without a change in terminology to achieve national consistency, this provides an additional reason for governments to prioritise action to reach consensus quickly. Any change to the terminology of sheltering facilities for the purposes of national consistency would also require further community education.

Recommendation 12.4 Sheltering terminology should be made nationally consistent

State and territory governments should, as a priority, adopt nationally consistent terminology and functions for the different sheltering facilities, including evacuation centres, Neighbourhood Safer Places, places of last resort and natural disaster shelters.

Recommendation 12.5 National community education

State and territory governments should provide further community education on the function and limitations of different sheltering facilities, including evacuation centres, Neighbourhood Safer Places, places of last resort and natural disaster shelters. This education should be nationally consistent.

Adequacy of evacuation centre facilities

12.60 Much of the information we received on the experience of evacuation centres came from public submissions. Evacuation centres need to be appropriately prepared and maintained for use in disasters, as some facilities identified for sheltering may not be appropriate for use during an emergency. [1310] We have not investigated the adequacy or inadequacy of individual sheltering facilities. However, themes raised in submissions, and in some instances in evidence, identified matters that those responsible for evacuation planning and related resources should take into account.

Fitness for purpose of evacuation centres

12.61 We heard that evacuation centres were, at times, over capacity during the last bushfire season. [1311] Some submissions told us that, at times, people slept on floors with limited to no bedding, and others slept in cars or other vehicles where accommodation inside the centre was not possible. [1312]

12.62 Some evacuation centres appear to have experienced power and/or communications outages during the bushfires, and at times, may have also lacked sufficient storage for food and donated items. [1313] Public submissions noted that bathroom and kitchen amenities were not always equipped for the number of evacuees using the evacuation centre (especially where the centre was over capacity). Submissions also indicated that some centres experienced outbreaks of illness among evacuees. [1314]

12.63 Additional or overflow evacuation centres were, in some instances, set up to cater for the large number of people evacuating. Other community facilities, typically Returned and Services Leagues clubs, life-saving clubs, golf clubs and gyms, were opened to accommodate overflow from designated evacuation centres. [1315]

12.64 Some submissions pointed to impromptu facilities relying on the goodwill of local businesses for essential items – at times, at the expense of these businesses. While these actions were commendable, some concerns were raised in submissions about obligations and liabilities of those providing services in these overflow facilities that are not designated centres. [1316] This leads to the need for better planning, identification and preparation of appropriate overflow facilities.

Vulnerable people in evacuation centres

12.65 Evacuation centres must cater for all Australians. Steps should be taken to ensure that they are able to accommodate vulnerable people.

12.66 Some submissions expressed concern that evacuation centres were not always appropriately equipped for people with disabilities, mobility issues or chronic health concerns. [1317]

Although there is a hospital less than 2kms from my house, there is no obstetric [doctor]. We would have been safe sheltering in our home but due to being 9 months pregnant I could not risk being cut off from the hospital 60kms away. As a result, my husband, 3 year old daughter, cat and dog had to evacuate for almost 2 weeks, and I gave birth to my son during our [e]vacuation. This put strain on finances and the mental health of our 3yo, who became traumatised during the fires. [1318]

12.67 As set out in their terms of reference, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has been tasked to inquire into, among other matters, the quality of aged care services provided to Australians, and the future challenges and opportunities for delivering accessible, affordable and high quality aged care services, including in remote, rural and regional Australia. Given the dedicated focus of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, and the matters canvassed in their terms of reference, we referred the evidence we received relating to the evacuation of aged care facilities to that inquiry.

Box 12.2 Experience of the Corryong relief centre in Victoria during the 2019‑2020 bushfires

Fires burning near Corryong

Figure 42: Fires burning near Corryong [1319]

On 31 December 2019, Victoria Police closed key road networks around Corryong and required people to evacuate to the relief centre. At the peak of activity, the relief centre provided refuge for an estimated 1,000 people, with over 600 people relocating there from a nearby music festival.

The sheer number of people and their vehicles created difficulties around the relief centre. Staffing at the centre was extremely limited, consisting of two council staff, two Red Cross volunteers and volunteers from the local community.

Telecommunications were severely impacted and there were no communication capabilities for an extended period. On 31 December 2019, power was cut to Corryong and despite sourcing a generator, the relief centre was not equipped to accommodate it. ATMs were not operating in the area. People needed cash to access fuel and food, and they turned to the relief centre for assistance.

Local volunteers, community organisations and businesses stepped up to provide food for people at the relief centre. On 1 January 2020, emergency services convoys allowed people to travel away from the area and this relieved the pressure on the relief centre.

On 2 January 2020, the number of people accommodated at the centre reduced to forty. Throughout its operation, the relief centre experienced a constant flow of people seeking information, support and company. [1320]

12.68 Some submissions called for further consideration and planning for the health needs of pregnant women, infants and young children in evacuations and evacuation centres. We also heard of the need for appropriate designated spaces for children in evacuation centres. [1321]

12.69 State and territory evacuation planning guidelines account for the consideration of vulnerable groups and persons in the community. For example, in Victoria, the Evacuations Guidelines include considerations for evacuating those on vulnerable persons lists and in vulnerable facilities. [1322] The Final Report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry considered the matter of vulnerable people during an evacuation, and recommended that evacuation centre protocols be developed or refreshed to specifically address the needs of vulnerable people. [1323]

Animals in evacuation centres

12.70 Animals, both domestic pets and livestock, were often part of the evacuation process. Some submissions pointed to evacuation centres which were not able to accommodate animals. [1324] Some people did not use evacuation facilities if doing so required them to leave their animals elsewhere, such as in outdoor smoke-affected areas. [1325]

Figure 43: People evacuate to the beach with their animals at Malua Bay [1326]

12.71 Clarence Valley Council has noted that a lesson from the last fire season is that evacuation centres ‘need to cater for people and their animals, big and small’. [1327] Submissions suggest that facilities that were prepared for or allowed animals, as well as those that had RSPCA or other animal welfare representatives available, were received positively by communities. [1328]

12.72 In some states and territories, evacuation planning guidelines require or may provide guidance on the consideration of animals. [1329] In others, local disaster management groups have their own policies about managing animals in evacuations. [1330] The responsibility for management of animal welfare during evacuations – including companion animals, livestock and wildlife – often rests with separate functional areas or departments, such as primary industry or agricultural and animal services. [1331] In Victoria, the police ensure that councils have considered and provided for animals and livestock in their Municipal Emergency Management Plans. [1332]

12.73 Some states and territories emphasised to us the individual responsibility of the owner for welfare and transport of animals. [1333] In some states, we heard that evacuation or relief centres do not generally cater for animals other than service animals, although there may be outdoor areas available. [1334] In other states, we heard that evacuation centres typically have capacity to include domestic pets in the facility or close by. [1335]

12.74 The Final Report of NSW Bushfire Inquiry recommended, among other matters, that a process for animal registration at evacuation centres be developed, and that overflow sites for evacuated animals be identified. [1336]

Recommendation 12.6 Evacuation planning – Evacuation centres

State and territory governments should ensure those responsible for evacuation planning periodically review these plans, and update them where appropriate, to account for the existence and standard of any evacuation centres and safer places (however described) in the community, including:

  1. the capacity of a centre to handle seasonal population variation
  2. he suitability of facilities to cater for diverse groups, including vulnerable people, and those evacuating with animals, and
  3. the existence of communications facilities and alternate power sources.

Planning for evacuations across boundaries

12.75 Natural disasters do not respect state or territory boundaries and so cooperation and coordination is vital in planning cross border evacuations. Planning for evacuations can be more complicated where communities live near the border of states and territories. The challenge is ensuring that planning considers evacuations routes and facilities across both sides of the border. [1337] In some cases, while one state is experiencing a natural disaster, it will be an adjacent state that will need to provide the evacuation centre support.

12.76 Public submissions suggested that communities in border areas were frustrated by their evacuation experiences in the 2019‑2020 bushfire season.

12.77 Snowy Monaro Regional Council, situated on the NSW-Victorian border, told us of the contrast in their experiences with an evacuation centre in the two states. The Victorian evacuation centre had boxes of supplies provided, including linen, air mattresses and other provisions. However, when establishing centres in NSW, there were few supplies found at the centre and they had to approach local charities seeking donations of these items. Mr Peter Bascomb, Snowy Monaro Regional Council, stated that their role in NSW went well beyond simply providing the facility for the evacuation centre, extending to operating, obtaining bedding and supplies as well as providing staff at the facilities. [1338]

12.78 Some states have suggested to us that their evacuation plans already account for border areas. [1339] We heard that, in some cases, these evacuations plans are prepared in close consultation with state and territory counterparts. Evidence from the states and territories suggests that their cross-border evacuation planning tends to focus on border areas that have larger populations. [1340] Some local governments accepted that they should strengthen relationships with adjoining local governments across the border ahead of a disaster. [1341]

Asking whether a proposed policy, process or practice makes sense in the way in which it is applied at the border and within border communities. This approach could be incorporated into formal guidelines to be applied by government agencies and departments when formulating regulations, policies or processes. [1342]

12.79 Usefully, some states and territories regularly undertake cross-border exercising of evacuation planning. Exercising is critical for understanding whether evacuation plans will work in a range of different emergencies and improving those arrangements. For example, we heard of a recent exercise undertaken by Queensland and NSW that was developed for the bushfires but was adjusted to account for COVID‑19. This exercise included identifying evacuation centres on both sides of the border. [1343] Together with the knowledge and experience gained from managing the closure of borders during the COVID-19 pandemic, cross-border commissioners, such as the Cross Border Commissioners in Victoria and NSW, may have a useful role to play in future evacuation planning in border areas. [1344]

12.80 It is also important that community members obtain a clearer understanding of evacuation information, including where to go and what support is available on either side of the border. The Victorian IGEM’s Inquiry into the 2019‑2020 Victorian fire season identified that a lack of clarity in the information provided for cross‑border evacuations meant that some community members were confused, and the information did not provide them with sufficient guidance as to where they should go, or what supports were available to help them to evacuate. [1345]

12.81 The Final Report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry recommended that cross-border arrangements be reflected in evacuation centre management guidelines. We were told that the recommendation will be addressed as part of a full-scale review of the Evacuation Management Guidelines. [1346]

12.82 Local government evacuation planning should be appropriately resourced and supported by states and territories given their responsibility for responding to natural disasters. Local governments may find proper planning for cross-border evacuations challenging in the absence of state and territory assistance.

12.83 States and territories should facilitate and exercise close cross-border cooperation when considering evacuation needs.

Recommendation 12.7 Evacuation planning – Planning for evacuations across boundaries

State and territory governments should ensure those responsible for evacuation planning periodically review those plans, and update where appropriate, to provide for coordination between states and territories in cross-border areas and to provide cross-border access to evacuation centres.

Evacuation messaging and education

[The] Fires Near Me App suggested we evacuate the following morning ‐ if we had done this, we may have lost our lives ‐ as the fire came through our home in Upper Brogo the night before we were told to evacuate. A phone call from local RFS advised us to leave earlier. [1347]

12.84 Evacuation messaging to the community should be clear and delivered in a timely manner.

12.85 Where this does not occur, it can limit the community’s understanding of plans to evacuate, and have the potential to create dangerous situations during an emergency. [1348]

12.86 In the states and territories, general information about evacuations and evacuation centres is made publicly available, often in disaster management plans or guidelines. [1349] However, specific or operational information about the intended location of evacuation centres may not be published until they are established for use in an emergency. This is because the location of the centre being opened will typically depend on the nature of the emergency, and to avoid the community relying on particular centres being open for every emergency. [1350] Once established, information on locations of evacuation centres is often communicated through various means, including government and emergency services websites and apps, radio, social media, and at community meetings. [1351] Some of these communication means may not be available during and immediately after a disaster. Further discussion of emergency information and warnings systems in Australia can be found in Chapter 13: Emergency information and warnings.

12.87 Consideration should be given in evacuation planning to the likelihood that communications networks may be unavailable, and take into account communications blackspots.

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