6 steps to prepare your business for a bushfire

If the current bushfires in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia are anything to go by, Victorians are in for a long, dry and dangerous summer.

Bushfire risk is imminent and while most preparation is focused on getting your household ready, it’s just as important to prepare your business for disruption.

Regardless of if you have an immediate, future, direct or indirect threat of bushfire to your business, start planning your preparedness and prevention approach now – because after the fire will be a day too late.

Here are six simple steps to prepare your business for bushfire.

1. Have a plan

Make time to assess the bushfire risk to your building’s premises.

Then review your emergency procedures and make a written bushfire plan and evacuation checklist. The CFA Fire Ready Kit is a good tool to help you make this plan and includes a Bush Fire Evacuation Planning Guideline.

Having a bushfire plan in place means you and your employees know exactly what to do on days of severe fire danger. All employees should be aware of the plan and the evacuation checklist so they can put it into action without delay and provide direction for clients or other people on the premises. Your employees should be encouraged to contribute to the plan and identify what their individual needs are, as well as what their role will be on the day.

Your bushfire plan should include:

  • who is in charge
  • when you should evacuate
  • where your evacuation routes are
  • where your emergency assembly site is
  • who has first aid-training or other relevant skills
  • what your processes are for employee pay and leave entitlements
  • who will communicate to employees and visitors and how
  • who will collect the emergency kit, including perishables
  • who will implement evacuation preparedness on the premises
  • contact details for all employees.

It’s also important to regularly practice, review and update your bushfire evacuation drill to ensure you are ready when an emergency happens.

Make sure your plan includes those important last-minute preparations that will give your building the best chance to survive a bushfire when you are not there to defend it.

  • Turning off any gas supply
  • Diverting landline to mobile phone
  • Closing all doors and windows
  • Blocking gaps beneath doors with wet blankets or towels
  • Collecting water in any buckets or baths or tubs
  • Moving doormats and outdoor furniture or equipment away from the building
  • Blocking downpipes and filling gutters with water
  • Putting out any embers or spot fires surrounding the building
  • Wetting down timber decks and gardens close to the building
  • Bringing your garden hose and any other fire equipment inside so it won’t melt
  • Keeping ladders, shovels and buckets in prominent positions
  • Moving animals to large paddocks with short grass
  • Leaving the front gate open for easy access by emergency services
  • Writing a note for firefighters stating where you have any water sources such as tanks or altering them of dangerous chemicals on the property

Keep in mind that if you’ve been advised to evacuate, you should prioritise that over any building preparations.

Once you’ve made your plan, don’t file it in the cupboard and forget about it.  Make sure you keep it somewhere easy to locate – perhaps keep a one-page summary of your plan by the evacuation doors?

Remember, foresight beats hindsight every time!

2. Share your plan with others

When creating a bushfire preparedness plan for your business, it’s a good opportunity to include both your employees and neighbours from other businesses in its development.

If a bushfire is going to impact you, it’s likely going to impact them too.

By inviting a wider group of people to develop the plan you will be able to look more broadly at what you already have ready, what you need to do to get ready and how you can work together to evacuate if the time comes.

Connected communities are resilient communities, so the more relationships you can make with other businesses and local authorities in your community now, the better you will be when disaster strikes.

One idea is to start a local business bushfire preparedness group with others in your building, your street or your town.  This will enable you to better support each other to get ready, then respond and recover if there’s ever a need.

3. Fire-proof your property

When the bushfire is not imminent, take some time to prepare your business premises so it is less flammable and easier to defend.  The smallest efforts could mean the difference between your building catching alight or not.

Consider:

  • cutting grass, trimming branches and keeping gutters clear of leaf litter to make a firebreak around your building
  • reducing the amount of flammable materials on your premises
  • installing hoses that can reach all parts of your property
  • keeping ladders and other fire equipment in an easy-to-reach location.

While it might seem obvious now, when you’re in chaos preparing to evacuate these things won’t be front of mind!

4. Pre-pack an emergency kit

What would you and your employees need for survival if a bushfire was imminent and you had to evacuate right now?

Aside from your plan, there is a great benefit in making an emergency kit in advance so you can avoid the risk of not grabbing the essentials in a high-stress situation.

Here are essentials you should include in your kit:

  • copy of your bushfire plan
  • battery-powered radio (with spare batteries)
  • phone and charger
  • long shelf-life foods (plan supplies for three days)
  • cash and/or credit cards
  • torches
  • woollen fire blankets
  • first aid kit(s)
  • toiletries & medications
  • spare clothes
  • protective gloves, goggles, masks
  • printed copies or a USB of important business documents
  • water

Water is fundamental to survival, so make sure you have enough!

Another good idea is to put a typed list of what perishables you need to add at the last minute into your kit, like employee medications.

You could tape this to the top of the tub or backpack alongside a list of key contact numbers such as emergency services organisations and employee next of kins.

 5. Ensure access to your important documents

If the worst happens and your business is burnt in the fire, or even if you are forced to evacuate and cannot return to your property for a period of time, it is important to back up any critical documentation for business continuity.

Many businesses these days store their important documents in the cloud, meaning so long as you have passwords and log-in details you will be able to access them from anywhere.

If your business relies on printed forms, get into the habit of keeping all your important documents together in one place so you can grab them as you go.

Another idea is to copy what’s important onto a USB on the 1st of every month and keep that in your emergency kit.

If you have a fire-proof safe on your premises you can include a step in your plan including a list of what should be put away and kept safe as part of your evacuation process.

However, having your documents in the cloud means there is always a backup of your business. This may be the best method for protecting against bushfire loss for many businesses.

6. Follow alerts

While many people choose to remain and fight fires, the best option to ensure the safety of you and your employees is to leave when advised to.

For some business owners and employees who live nearby their work, they will be faced with the choice between preparing their workplace or their home for evacuation.

Make sure you include a policy on what you expect and are comfortable with when it comes to employees wanting to leave for personal reasons. It’s a good idea to talk about this with your employees beforehand so there’s no confusion during times of threat.

Regardless, it’s imperative you keep abreast of the formal information channels such as the Victorian Bushfire Information Line 1800 240 667 (TTY 1800 555 677) and VicEmergency App – and follow their notifications.

Note: These are broad tips that can be implemented across a range of businesses, please use a specialist consultant for more personalised advice.

For more help with bushfire preparation see:

– Victorian Bushfire Information Line on 1800 240 667 (TTY 1800 555 677)
cfa.vic.gov.au
depi.vic.gov.au
mfb.vic.gov.au
VicEmergency smartphone app
@CFA_Updates
facebook.com/cfavic

Renae Havin

Director | corporate2community

Renae Hanvin is pioneering business contribution towards a more resilient future – providing strategic solutions to government, businesses and communities that embrace ‘shared responsibility’, ‘shared understanding’ and ‘shared contribution’ outcomes.