Climate change is bringing increasingly dangerous and catastrophic weather events. Floods and fires are a regular occurrence in Australia, but not with the frequency and intensity that we are seeing now. While there are standards for building evacuations and fire risk management, these were developed without thought for vulnerable citizens. And when people need to evacuate to a communal place of safety, there is no guarantee it will be accessible.
Residents of the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales are not new to flood events. But the floods are getting worse as we saw this year. A major flood event occurred previously in 2017 and four researchers decided to explore the experiences of people with disability.
We found people with disability and carers are more likely than others to be affected and displaced. Their needs are more immediate and urgent than most, and their mental health is more likely to be compromised.
Their findings show the profound impact and systematic neglect experienced by people with disability and their carers. A longer term recovery period is required for people with disability with tailored supports. Consequently, people with disability should be included in flood preparations and recovery efforts.
The title of the article is, Exposure to risk and experiences of river flooding for people with disability and carers in rural Australia: a cross sectional survey. It’s not a very accessible document as the format is in two columns.
The NDIS aims to support people to live independently in a home designed around their disability. This usually means a step free entry and modified bathroom designs. However, little, if any, thought is given to the design of fire safety and safe evacuation in an emergency. Some NDIS participants will need extra support to prepare for and react in an emergency.
“Fire safety systems must be considered as a total package of risk management, equipment, maintenance, training and fire and evacuation drills. …Where disabled or immobile persons are concerned, the importance of the total package cannot be underestimated”
Hank Van Ravenstein outlines the role of the NDIS in his paper, Fire Safety and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The first part relates the history of the NDIS followed by technical considerations for safety. He argues that the National Construction Code regulations don’t fully address or reflect the needs and risk behaviours of NDIS participants.
If we are to take a universal design approach, if the fire safety regulations aren’t sufficient for people with disability, are they sufficient for everyone?
As cities grow and become more compact, some citizens feel the need to “go bush”. This usually means finding a forest haven amongst the trees away from urban living. Then there are those who have always lived in the bush and wouldn’t live anywhere else. But bush living is risky and can be costly in terms of lives and property. It is particularly risky for people with disability and consequently, a different risk assessment process is needed.
Despite fire and rescue authorities encouraging people to prepare for bushfires (and floods), many leave it too late. Some are unable to understand the instructions, or unable to carry them out.
A paper by Bennett and Van Ravenstein spells out all the technicalities of fire prevention and control. They argue for a risk assessment approach to existing and proposed buildings for vulnerable persons. The aim of their method is to provide a consistent basis for assessment.
The title of their paper is Fire Safety Management of Vulnerable Persons in Bushfire Prone areas.
There is an related paper on vertical evacuation of vulnerable persons in buildings.