The Bushfire CRC operated from 2003 to 2014. It was consistently judged by the fire industry and independent reviews to be extremely successful.
The information in this submission provides a Case Study for the CRC Programme Review, illustrating how extremely valuable an end-user focused Cooperative Research Centre is to the Australian community and an Australian industry.
The objective of the Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) programme has been to deliver significant economic, environmental and social benefits to Australia by supporting end-user driven research partnerships between publicly funded researchers and end-users to address clearly articulated, major challenges that require medium to long-term collaborative efforts.
This submission demonstrates how a large end-user focussed “public good” CRC can deliver significant economic, environmental and social benefits.
This submission demonstrates that such a CRC is an exemplar for the CRC Programme, which meets the substantial criteria for the CRC Programme Review Terms of Reference:
A – The CRC Programme was the right vehicle for applied bushfire science.
B – Government investment delivered real outcomes for industry.
C – Government investment enabled frequent and effective collaboration.
E - The research sector and industry led the demand to continue such a collaborative and end-user focussed structure into the future.
Acclamations for the Bushfire CRC’s achievements.
The last performance review of the Bushfire CRC was undertaken, in 2012, by an independent review panel, chaired by Mr Neville Stevens AO (Chair of the CRC Committee). The panel reported that the Bushfire CRC:
1. Demonstrates sound governance and committee structures that effectively involve stakeholders, researchers and end users;
2. Has a high level of interaction between end users and researchers from determination of the scope of research projects through monitoring progress and in using results. Undertakes social and technical research of high quality that is valued by end users;
3. Manages research progress in a sound manner but with sufficient flexibility to take account of opportunities emerging during a research project; and
4. Operates a successful post graduate program that supports students and integrates them into the work of the CRC and that of the CRC participants.
The panel noted particularly the strong support of stakeholders and end users, at very senior levels, to the CRC and the extent to which evidence based research from the CRC was supporting cultural change within the participant organisations.
In commenting on the research impact, Mr Stevens noted that there was:
Very strong subjective evidence was provided by key stakeholders to indicate substantial uptake of the research outcomes had occurred. This uptake was reported to have resulted in considerable changes in stakeholder policy, practice and overall industry culture.
Mr Stevens further noted:
The outputs from the previous CRC’s research are being delivered and are highly valued by industry.
Enthusiasm for the Bushfire CRC by the End-users was highlighted:
During the review the panel received direct assessments and comments from a range of end user agencies, drawn from across all States and Territories. Both the degree of support and the esteem in which the CRC is held was evidenced both by the enthusiasm with which end users spoke about the CRC and the quality of its research, and also in the seniority of the representation provided by these agencies at the review.
Of the end user agencies that were represented at the review, a number of consistent and positive observations were made:
all were highly supportive of the research and conduct of the Bushfire CRC.
those who had direct contact with CRC postgraduate students were impressed by their ability, enthusiasm, and quality.
all felt highly engaged with the research.
many who spoke were able to identify impacts that the CRC had made to their organisations and/or to their operations during the time it had been active (this clearly included impacts resulting from the earlier Bushfire CRC funding round).
all valued the CRC and expressed a desire for research in this area to continue beyond the life of the current CRC.
The CRC was highly engaged with the peak industry body, AFAC. This partnering underscores the Bushfire CRC’s presence as a national research centre and helps to defend against perceptions that it is focussed on the needs or research issues of any single jurisdiction.
The CRC is able to leverage further benefits from its relationship with AFAC through the annual joint conference. There is little doubt that this partnering provides the CRC with greater access to potential end user groups and enables it to showcase its research portfolio to a broad national and international audience.
In discussions with a selection of end users it was apparent that the contributions of the CRC were valued and were actively implemented by a wide range of agencies; from the large organisations such as the NSW RFS to small agencies, such as ACT Parks and Tasmania Fire Service. There were many benefits derived by different end users with smaller agencies appreciating the additional research capability whichextended well beyond their individual budgets.
In 2009 the President of the Senate advised me that on the 11th of February 2009:
That the Senate-
Notes the extensive and internationally-recognised work of the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre in Melbourne, Victoria.
Prior to the formation of the Bushfire CRC:
To appreciate the great value that the Bushfire CRC has contributed to firefighter and community safety, through its sound scientific research and strong industry collaboration, it is worthwhile looking back to the state of the fire industry before the Bushfire CRC.
Prior to the Bushfire CRC:
There was no nationally coordinated bushfire research program.
Most fire agencies were unable to employ or sustain researchers with the depth and breadth of expertise needed to meet agency needs.
Australian fire researchers at universities and CSIRO were ‘aging’ and not connected to ‘end user’ needs.
Funding for research never matched the need.
There was little research information transfer and update.
Much of the targeted research was for local issues and did not address high priority national research requirements.
Before 2003, boom and bust funding cycles in response to catastrophic events were the norm. Post major bushfires saw increased funding but only for 3-5 years before return to low funding levels which allowed only for applied, short term research non-strategic research.
There was little provision for those longer term research programs necessary, particularly the biological effects of bushfires, where analysis of trends through the weather cycles of droughts and floods is necessary.
Across the research spectrum, whether the research was conducted in-house by an agency, by CSIRO, or a University, all researchers suffered from the boom and bust cycles. Researchers needed to chase cash support for their research. They had no longer term guarantee of funding. Hence, researchers needed to quickly chase other funds for their pet areas of research when the bust cycle occurred and funds dried up.
Only the Bushfire CRC has provided the fire industry with more than a decade of research stability to focus on end-user inspired, independent fire research.
During this period, the Bushfire CRC’s research was conducted by 17 research partners around Australia and New Zealand and agreements were negotiated with organisations in North America, South America, Europe and Africa.
Over that period, from a small management office in Melbourne, the Bushfire CRC successfully coordinated and delivered the largest and most integrated multi-disciplinary program of fire and bushfire research yet conducted in Australasia.
Between 2003 and 2014, the industry-inspired, independent research and strong operational-research collaboration, together with successful education and knowledge transfer programs, have delivered practical benefits to the fire and land management sectors as well as to the wider community. In addition, the succession of new researchers has built a lasting fire research capacity of industry researchers in disciplines not previously linked with the fire industry.
The broad research program of the Bushfire CRC, drawing on over 100 individual projects, contributed to better fire management across a range of topics including risk management, community preparedness, fire behaviour and modelling, fire in the natural landscape, fire weather and firefighter health and safety.
The Bushfire CRC has largely been a ‘public good’ CRC with end user inspired and independent research.
Its outputs are directed to the needs of the agencies of government that deliver safety and environmental services to the community. Many of these benefits are combined with other policy positions and settings to create an overall benefit to Australia.
The use of knowledge derived from a genuinely nationally-based, and internationally linked research program has set new standards in Australia in terms of fire management and in the conduct of fire-related inquiries, including the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. That commission’s final report specifically acknowledged its reliance on scientific research, much of it from the Bushfire CRC, in the framing of its recommendations.
The broad research program of the Bushfire CRC has contributed to significant improvements in the management of landscape fire across a range of areas including:
the understanding fire behaviour and suppression
fire and its relationship to biodiversity and more general ecosystem health
an improved understanding of the underlying risk exposure of the community and the things it values
the complexities associated with the communication of risk and threat
the difficulties associated with the management of extreme events
the elements associated with community self-sufficiency
volunteer recruitment and retention
house and vehicle protection.
The Bushfire CRC also accrued substantial social benefits for the nation. These include the inherent value of life to the families affected, the loss of social infrastructure, networks and personal belongings – all of which have substantial value to the owners but cannot be easily valued in dollar terms. The work of the Bushfire CRC has considerably assisted agencies and governments to build social resilience, to enable faster recovery and to lessen the trauma associated with loss from natural disasters.
Research Utilisation Through the development of education and training, technology transfer and knowledge networking programs, the Bushfire CRC has supported its industry partners to better manage bushfire risk. Research outputs have been transformed into tangible outcomes for the agencies and for the community.
A research utilisation strategy has ensured that research outputs are founded in rigorous scientific publications and are properly managed through to industry adoption. Industry partners provided ongoing guidance on the best way to achieve that adoption.
The approach combined product development with stakeholder engagement. It drew heavily on the existing AFAC consultative networks and provided considerable on-going opportunities for interaction between researchers and stakeholders.
Education and capacity building
A key reason for establishing the Bushfire CRC was the then national shortage of bushfire researchers and the absence of a national succession plan for the few fire scientists that remained. The education program was originally committed, under the Commonwealth Agreement, to have 20 qualified PhD graduates by 2010.
By late 2010 the program was actually fostering the scientific careers of 42 researchers at PhD level, with 22 submitted by the end of October 2010 and several others submitted in early 2011.
The 2010 -2014 program supported 67 postgraduate students, broadening the disciplines well beyond the traditional fire sciences into new fields including psychology, sociology, economics, law and urban planning. In addition to the support students obtained from their universities, the Bushfire CRC provided extra support through annual reviews, industry mentoring, professional development in media and presentation skills, conference travel support and other opportunities. Several postgraduate students from the Bushfire CRC 2003-2010 period carried over their studies into the 2010- 2014 period, and were therefore effectively funded under both periods.
The Bushfire CRC’s student involvement since 2003, through its scholarship program and its Bushfire CRC extension scholarship program, has been as follows:
• 98 PhD students.
• 8 Masters students.
• 10 Honours students.
This legacy will provide a lasting research capability for the industry and already, a significant number of former students have gained employment within agencies or in related research organisations.
Beyond the student program, the Bushfire CRC engaged the expertise of more than 150 researchers – from the postdoctoral level to the professorial. This has greatly increased the fire industry’s research capacity, as over 90% were previously not involved in fire research.
The benefits of this enhanced capacity were immediately obvious in the rapid establishment of the Bushfire CRC research task force that followed Black Saturday. This task force comprised a team of students, researchers and agency staff from across Australia and New Zealand that could only have been assembled through an appropriately skilled national research body.
Similar, follow-up post-incident analysis has now occurred across southern Australia and a consequential valuable national database has emerged. This is an example of a Bushfire CRC legacy that will continue through at least the life of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC.
Outputs for industry Workshops, seminars and field trips targeted to the specific needs of the sector were a feature of the Bushfire CRC extension.
The Bushfire CRC led the international effort to link the globe’s fire hotspots – Australia/New Zealand, southern Europe, and west coast United States – with shared knowledge. A highlight was the 2012 study tour to France that linked Bushfire CRC researchers with fire managers to exchange best practices in fire response. The success of this Bushfire CRC initiative led to a multinational symposium of fire managers and fire researchers in Canberra, in 2014. The International Fire Symposium identified current and emerging issues which would benefit from cooperation and collaboration. The countries involved were: America, Australia, Canada, France, Mexico, and New Zealand.
Researchers were a regular presence, providing scientific input, at the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council’s meetings (including Community Safety, Rural and Land Management, State Emergency Service, and Urban Operations); agency-hosted seminars and meetings; and also at the annual conferences, held jointly with the broader industry.
A prominent public role
The media, both in Australia and internationally, recognised the Bushfire CRC as a hub of bushfire knowledge. Through direct contact and through use of the website, bushfire research is disseminated into local communities via a range of media channels.
During the extension period the Bushfire CRC was in particularly high demand during annual conferences and major fire events, in Australia and internationally.
The Bushfire CRC was called upon to provide comment and opinion from news media around Australia and internationally. In doing this the Bushfire CRC provided much needed support for our partner agencies handling media demands.
Most of the queries were on complex issues where the media were looking for a more in-depth discussion to enhance what was provided by the agencies. Issues included climate change, fire weather, house protection, bunkers, community education and warnings, arson, and an historical perspective on Australia’s history of bushfire.
The Bushfire CRC annual conferences attracted considerable media coverage. Each year, members of the national media based themselves at the conference for the duration of the event and conducted many interviews across a range of media programs.
The Bushfire CRC had become the “go-to” place for public comment, analysis and background explanations. Over these final four years of the Bushfire CRC, researchers were regularly called upon for program content in documentary and current affair style programs.
The Bushfire CRC annual conference, in partnership with AFAC, continued to grow in size and professional content over the four years. Each year the conference attracted more than 1000 delegates. The trend was towards increasing numbers, with the final Bushfire CRC 2013 conference in Melbourne exceeding expectations with 1957 delegates from around Australia and the world over the five days.
The conference offers industry delegates the opportunity to participate in formal and informal discussion on research and innovation.
This was an important communications event for researchers. All Bushfire CRC postgraduate students and most researchers attended each annual conference – many got the opportunity to present their work on the conference or workshop program, and all presented their work on posters, which were prominently displayed in the exhibition hall.
Importantly, the conference, the workshops and the posters were key communication tools for ensuring awareness of the research among agency partners. The continued presence of so many people from across the industry – from the many CEOs to those in day-to-day operations – was an acknowledgement that the industry had seized the opportunity to be informed of the latest research developments in its field.
The trade exhibition associated with the conference had up to 130 organisations occupying exhibition spaces displaying the latest in technology. This exhibition allows researchers and partners to interact with representatives of various enterprises, including large corporations and SMEs.
In addition to the core research program, the Bushfire CRC was funded by partners and others to conduct supplementary research to meet a range of needs. The post-fire research was conducted at the invitation of partners seeking a quality independent overview of major fire incidents. Other projects drew on the existing skill set of the Bushfire CRC to evaluate specific areas.
In summary, major contract research projects were:
• Evaluation of the DC-10 air tanker.
• Evaluation of fire detection cameras.
• Fire reconstruction of the 2009 Black Saturday fires.
• Development of a framework for disaster cost evaluation.
• A climatology of fire in Victoria.
• Evaluation of the Convair CV580 medium air tankers.
• Initiation of the national fire danger rating project and a review of the science behind a new Fire
Danger Rating system.
• Risk assessment for the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation.
• Risk assessment for the Western Australian Office of Bushfire Risk Management.
• A $6.4 million contract with the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment to undertake several projects including investigating fire behaviour, fire weather, smoke emissions and fire ecology.
In the aftermath of the 7 February 2009 fires in Victoria, the Bushfire CRC assembled a large task force of researchers and fire agency staff from across Australia and New Zealand. The task force gathered vital data on fire behaviour, property loss and community behaviour from the fire areas.
Post-fire research became a regular Bushfire CRC activity after other major bushfires to understand what drives community behaviour during bushfires, to inform on policies to protect lives and property during bushfires, and to monitor the effects of those policies. Findings have contributed to policy changes, such as the introduction of the Catastrophic/Code Red fire danger rating scale and provided valuable information on how communities respond to impending danger.
This activity began on a small scale at the Bushfire CRC following the 2003 Canberra bushfires, but the 2009 Victorian disaster and subsequent incidents has led to a formalising and standardising of the post-incident data gathering and analysis, and the logistics behind such complex exercises.
That approach, which includes a balance of field data collection and postal and online surveys, has since been applied in the following major bushfires:
Black Saturday fires, Victoria.
Lake Clifton, Western Australia.
Perth Hills, Western Australia.
Yass, New South Wales.
Coonabarabran, New South Wales.
Shoalhaven, New South Wales.
Blue Mountains, New South Wales.
Port Stephens, New South Wales.
Wingecarribee Shire, New South Wales.
Rockleigh, South Australia.
Bangor, South Australia.
Eden Valley, South Australia.
Parkerville, Western Australia.
Bushfire CRC developed international recognition for its fire knowledge and approach to End-user inspired, collaborative research. Bushfire CRC researchers and fire agency managers who had utilised the Bushfire CRC research have been eagerly sought to provide presentations, sometimes as key note speakers, at international conferences.
Bushfire CRC personnel were also sought to participate on international Boards and working groups for fire management and fire research. In doing so, they brought the Bushfire CRC’s approach to seeking solutions for fire issues. An approach based upon strong collaboration between researchers in different disciplines and often from a number of universities supported by fire industry personnel, particularly in the research utilisation but also in the access to a wide field of data.
Canadian researchers have been so impressed by the Bushfire CRC approach that they sought presentations on the Bushfire CRC, its management, research findings and applications.
None of the above would have been possible without the Commonwealth funding which brought together all Australian States and Territories plus New Zealand into a strongly collaborative approach to this region of the globe’s fire issues.
2003 – 2010 Bushfire CRC achievements
4 broad research programs
37 partners across fire and land management agencies and research organisations
42 postgraduate students providing a new generation of researchers
111 research briefs distributed to industry as Fire Notes and Fire Updates
100 booths filled at annual conference trade expo by small and medium enterprises
130 researchers collaborating across Australia and New Zealand 4702 monthly average of visitors to www.bushfirecrc.com in 2010
600 residents interviewed on their Black Saturday experiences
826 publications including reports, presentations, journal articles and posters
1000 participants on average at our annual conference
1300 properties examined after Black Saturday
22,000 photographs of Black Saturday documenting fire behaviour and property damage.
2010-2014 Bushfire CRC achievements
3 broad research programs
57 partners across fire and land management agencies and research organisations