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Fire warning systems under review -

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Reporter: Barbara Miller

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Questions are now being asked about how it was possible that there appeared to be
so little warning of the approaching fires.

The Federal Government says early warning systems must be reviewed in light of the disaster.

The Attorney-General Robert McClelland says the fact that many people died while fleeing the fire
suggests safety messages have not been getting through.

But fire safety experts say those messages may up until now have been far too simple.

Barbara Miller reports.

BARBARA MILLER: It was fast, ferocious and arrived with little or no warning.

That's the story being told by many of those who survived the fires.

THOMAS LIBRERI: No matter how much preparation you could have prepared yourself for fires, you
couldn't have been prepared because there was just no warning.

BARBARA MILLER: Thomas Libreri from Kinglake says he had no time to implement his fire plan.

THOMAS LIBRERI: No word of lie, we probably had one minute to prepare. I'm a local builder and I
had generators, fire fighting pumps, I didn't even have the chance to engage the fight then. If my
paddocks were on fire we probably didn't have a chance to (inaudible).

BARBARA MILLER: The Attorney-General Robert McClelland says fire safety practices must now be
reviewed.

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Many, many of those that causalities occurred by people fleeing, fleeing too
late. Now, we can't be judgemental about that decision but we need to get I think the correct
message and the correct message in early and I think we really do need to look at our early warning
systems. Whether those early warning systems are adequate and whether they can be enhanced on a
national basis.

BARBARA MILLER: Robert McClelland told ABC News Breakfast that one possibility would be to set up a
telephone warning system.

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: A lot of work has been happening over the last 12 months to look at how we can
do that and in fact Victoria had been one of the states leading in developing an early warning
system but there are complications of creating a system that doesn't itself overstretch the
telephone communication system.

BARBARA MILLER: But some fire safety experts say the problem is not the early warning system.

Dr Kevin Tolhurst is a senior lecturer in fire ecology and management at the University of
Melbourne.

KEVIN TOLHURST: The warnings have certainly been out there. The Premier, the fire chiefs, they've
all been giving warnings that this is likely to happen. It's, we as part of a general public really
need to be, take it one board in a much more real way.

BARBARA MILLER: But you have people in the fire affected areas saying that they were prepared, that
they did have a fire plan, but they simply didn't have time to implement it.

KEVIN TOLHURST: Well I think we don't have any way of really assessing at the moment how effective
some of those fire plans have been because they're, it's important to have your plan but it
certainly needs to be evaluated by someone with I guess knowledge. So we need toperhaps improve how
we help people do that, I know there are consultants who actually do some of that work, but that's
a very small proportion of the population that would use those sort of services.

But the agencies could probably do a lot more to basically do a door knock on a regular basis
throughout the year assisting people in evaluating their plan and their preparedness works around
their homes.

BARBARA MILLER: Do you think a lot of people thought they were prepared but weren't?

KEVIN TOLHURST: Yeah, I think that's the case. I think a lot of people sort of thought, well
they've got their sprinkler system or they've cleared up the leaves out of the gutters or they've
done certain things, but it's probably inadequate for the environment that they were actually in.

So, I think we've got an issue here that we're saying be prepared, but then we're not really
following through in being able to advise people that yes, what you considered to be prepared will
be adequate under these sort of circumstances or they will be likely to fail if the weather
conditions or the fire conditions exceed some particular threshold.

BARBARA MILLER: Do you think the message is being given out at the moment of how to prepare are
perhaps too simple?

KEVIN TOLHURST: I think it is. We need to not simplify the situation as much as we've done in the
past and be a bit more realistic about the full dynamics and complexity of fires that people face.

BARBARA MILLER: The Victorian Premier John Brumby has also said fire safety messages may now be out
of date.

Mr Brumby said the policy of telling people to leave early or make sure they had a fire plan had
served the country well for 20 years or so.

But he said there is no question that there were people there who did everything right but whose
homes were just incinerated.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Barbara Miller.