Residents query fire alert policy

Tamra CarrGeraldton Guardian
Rangeway Utakarra Karloo Progress Association president Corryn Bull at the blackened site of the Abraham Street bushfire.
Camera IconRangeway Utakarra Karloo Progress Association president Corryn Bull at the blackened site of the Abraham Street bushfire. Credit: Tamra Carr The Geraldton Guardian

Community leaders have called for a review of emergency communications in the wake of fires that threatened Geraldton homes, amid concerns many householders did not receive the call to evacuate.

Rangeway Utakarra Progress Association president Corryne Bull applauded the work of firefighters, but said policies and procedures for communicating with residents needed review.

At the height of the November fires, which threatened homes in Karloo, Utakarra, Rangeway, Glenfield and Drummond Cove, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services issued warnings for residents to evacuate.

The warnings were given on radio, the emergency WA website and social media.

At the time, Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn said the advice from authorities was for residents to find refuge with friends or family away from the danger zone.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services has since advised residents should make their own evacuation plans in situations not considered critical enough to warrant activation of evacuation centres.

Several fire crews converged on the scene to put out the blaze.
Camera IconSeveral fire crews converged on the scene to put out the blaze. Credit: Tamra Carr The Geraldton Guardian

Miss Bull said communication to residents was discussed at an association meeting last week, with residents saying they had not heard about the fires — which broke out about noon on November 13 — until much later in the afternoon.

She said she had received feedback people did not know how to turn their gas lines off and were not sure where to evacuate to.

Concerns were also expressed for the elderly, people with disabilities, those who did not have a car, and people who did not have friends or family in Geraldton.

Miss Bull said people were left asking “what the hell do we do?”.

“Do we expect little old ladies to be on Facebook checking for this?”, she said.

“I think we did the best we could have done in this situation and the fireys did a bloody brilliant job.

“But I think there definitely needs to be a review of policies and procedures.”

She said many residents believed they should have received DFES warning messages.

Geraldton Streetwork Aboriginal Corporation chairman Zain Laudehr agreed communication had been inadequate.

Streeties operations manager Zain Laudehr stands next to the centre's evacuation point.
Camera IconStreeties operations manager Zain Laudehr stands next to the centre's evacuation point. Credit: Tamra Carr The Geraldton Guardian

He said fires threatened the homes of two corporation staff, but they only found out through word of mouth.

“One (staff member) didn’t even know about it until I drove past her house, saw the fire behind it and called her,” he said.

“We need more communication when something like this happens.

“We need that emergency text alert system or a firey with a megaphone urging people to evacuate.”

Department of Fire and Emergency Services Mid West Gascoyne region Superintendent Craig Smith said residents needed to monitor information during a bushfire.

He said it was not practical to expect firefighters or emergency services personnel to doorknock homes during an evacuation.

“Ultimately, there will never be as many trucks as there are houses, and firefighters are often too busy fighting fires to conduct doorknocks,” Supt. Smith said.

“It is important that community members seek information from a range of sources, and if they see smoke or flames, act immediately to survive.

“Don’t wait for a text message, a knock at the door or for emergency services to turn up at your home,” he said.

He said it was an individual’s responsibility to have a survival plan and residents should minimise fire risk by clearing properties of rubbish and debris.

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