Preparation and prevention – our tools to build rural resilience in the face of disaster

This topic was discussed as part of our online Bonfire Q&A on May 4th at 7:30pm, “Rural Resilience and Disaster Prevention”

Bill was at the weekly training night at his CFA station – it was a planning session for the coming summer.

But even as the brigade captain started outlining the latest advice from headquarters Bill was drifting, thinking even the military runs a distant second to agricultural Australia when it comes to planning.

We plan everything, from paddock rotations, to harvest, we plan to invest in more genetics for herd, we plan to trade more sheep, we have financial plans, expansion plans, succession plans, occasionally even holiday plans, hell at the dinner table we even plan to have planning meetings.

In 1904 a 19-year-old girl in London planned to write about her faraway country and Bill reckoned just a few lines told the Australian story:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.

That’s Australia alright, he thought – we burn, we flood, we face famine. In between we have bumper crops, bull markets, prices go up, then we burn, we flood, we face famine.

Of them all Bill knew fire was the worst, he’d seen it. Too often, too close. He knew the soul-destroying agony of drought, had seen floods, and yes, they could be bad.

Like fire, they can all be planned for. But on the fire frontline things change fast – and when they do plans quickly become panic.

As brigade communications officer, it was Bill’s job to get the most important message to local media and communities in his region.

“The thing is,” Bill told the journalist at the local paper, “there really is just one plan anyone needs to know – and done right it never fails.

“Check with all the other agencies, I’m pretty sure they all agree with the CFA advice,” he said.

“Which is?” said the journo, reaching for his recorder.

“It’s simple. Plan for all aspects of disaster preparation and recovery, and make sure everyone understands the plan, knows what to do, where to go and where everyone else is,”

“That’s it?” said the journo, now putting away his recorder.

“Of course not,”

“It’s much simpler – have your plan, work it out, and when there’s even the most remote chance you only have to do one thing.

“Leave. And leave early. And if you think you are leaving early enough, it’s already too late. So get out earlier. If the forecast is for extreme fire danger on Friday, make sure you are gone Thursday. Is that simple enough?”

Except now the journo wanted to add some meat to his story.

Without a lived example, he could not turn Bill’s brief lines into an eye-catching story.

Eye-catching? Bill almost shook his head with despair, looking at this young kid making his start on a bush paper with absolutely no idea about what fire could really do.

So he told the journo about that day.

Because at Bill’s place, despite all the plans, despite his time in the CFA, when the flames came, and they came so fast, he wasn’t there. Didn’t need to be, because his family had a plan.

Leave early, never look back, believe the fire rating when it warns a day could be catastrophic.

And it was. Bill and his brigade – along with dozens of others – were at the fire front that day, miles from home, when the wind suddenly turned, picked up the flank they thought was under control, and went tearing west towards town, faster than fire trucks could get out of the way, faster than anything anyone had seen.

So he told the kid about the small town in the unexpected path of the fire, about the people who died, the people he had known. The grief of losing family and friends that day had shaped his believe and understanding that you prepare to get out, and you get out early.

“This is great stuff,” said the kid. Flicking the switch on his recorder and they parted outside the station. And Bill drove home – hoping the message was received, but he could never know for sure. Because he didn’t know to leave early, until it was already too late for those he loved.

Injuries on the farm can lead to stress, long-term health concerns and loss of income or even fatalities, so preventing them from happening is the best way of protecting your mental health. When it comes to running the family farm, investing in mental health initiatives is not only good for your family and workers, but it’s good for business too. The NCFH is supporting farmers just like you to manage and respond to work-related risks that impact on workplace mental health – these are factors in your work that can affect an employee’s mental health and include high job demands, low job control, low role clarity and more. Managing these factors, means decreasing the risk of work-related stress, which can prevent physical injury, mental injury or even both at the same time.
Find out more about being mentally safe on farm at

This blog is part of the Primary Producer Knowledge Network led by the National Centre for Farmer Health to promote mentally healthy workplaces. Campfire, part of The Primary Producer Knowledge Network, is funded by the Victorian State Governments WorkSafe WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund.

You can review the online bonfire session, “Rural Resilience and Disaster Prevention” from May 4th at 7:30pm.

*Primary producers featuring in this blog are fictional, but based on research interviews with farmers, and developed with the assistance of the National Centre for Farmer Health