Are you ready? Hastings communities help develop fire-disaster plans

Fire crews on Houston Mitchell Drive. Photo: Nick Moir.
Fire crews on Houston Mitchell Drive. Photo: Nick Moir.

WHEN bushfire surrounds your community, all roads in and out are cut, you may have to evacuate your home and all emergency services and volunteers are called to the frontline to avert a disaster. What do you do?

This was the scenario faced by the residents of Lake Cathie and Bonny Hills when a fateful change in the wind direction on October 29, 2019 sent a wall of fire south from Crestwood in Port Macquarie toward their village.

Lessons have been learned from the summer bushfires and many of them 'on the fly' as communities were forced to work together in order to survive.

An LAT flies over Bonny Hills as RFS crews watch on.

An LAT flies over Bonny Hills as RFS crews watch on.

How to be prepared when it happens again is the focus of a series of Community Emergency Readiness sessions being rolled out across Port Macquarie-Hastings.

The meetings are being hosted by council community recovery officer Kate MacFarlane through funding provided by Resilience NSW.

The next meeting will be held at Laurieton United Services Club (LUSC) on November 5.

To register for the meeting email kate.macfarlane@pmhc.nsw.gov or text 0408 209 869.

Lake Cathie RFS volunteers with support crews.

Lake Cathie RFS volunteers with support crews.

The first meeting was held in Pappinbarra, a small rural community still in recovery from bushfires in 2017. What they faced again in 2019 has provided valuable insights into the importance of community connection and having a plan.

At Lake Cathie, residents were able to hear from Rural Fire Service representatives about their role on the frontline and how resources are managed; the State Emergency Service about being prepared for storms and floods and the Red Cross about a community plan that can be actioned effectively to ensure all residents are informed and kept safe.

"Part of the framing of the evening is around why community resilience is so important," Ms MacFarlane said.

Eerie scene over the lake as fires roar toward the village. Photo: Lisa Willows.

Eerie scene over the lake as fires roar toward the village. Photo: Lisa Willows.

"Emergency services cannot always meet community expectations in large scale emergencies because they are doing their job. It is likely to be another member of the community or family who provides initial assistance.

"The impacts of disasters can be felt for a very long time and it will be family and the broader community who will be there afterwards.

"At a community level, if we are better connected we cope better with impacts of disasters."

The goal is for every community within the local government area to design and be responsible for implementing their own community readiness action plan in the event of an emergency, tailored specifically to what their community needs.

Part of developing those plans is bringing residents together to identify what their community's strengths are and where there are gaps, what key programs and tools they need to be educated and informed and tangible resources that will ensure they are ready.

"The Lake Cathie community was very supportive and shared some of their stories of bravery and tenacity and how they supported each other," Ms MacFarlane said.

Smoke billows over Lake Cathie. Photo: Lisa Willows.

Smoke billows over Lake Cathie. Photo: Lisa Willows.

The session format will also be replicated in the Camden Haven, Byabarra and Rollands Plains.

"We get people thinking about their "superpower" and how they can help. In Rollands Plains for example, one woman co-ordinated 250 meals a day for bushfire impacted people who had been evacuated but also for RFS volunteers out in the field," she said.

"Who are those people? That's what we want to know. These are really important conversations people need to have not just with their families but their neighbours and broader community.

"You need to know you are prepared."

Council will consolidate the information and ideas gathered in each community and go back to residents and work toward formalising what the action plans will look like.

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