4818.1 - Community Preparedness for Emergencies, NSW, Oct 2003  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 02/04/2004   
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One indicator of preparedness for emergencies is the presence of safety precautions in the household. This survey collected data on the presence of selected safety precautions. These included fire safety precautions such as smoke detectors, fire blankets and fire extinguishers, as well as items which would be useful in other types of emergencies, such as a torch (e.g. for use when power is cut), a radio (for access to information on storms, fires, floods) and a first aid kit. The most common of these safety precautions was a torch, which was present in 2,269,800 (89%) of the 2,538,500 households in New South Wales (NSW). Other common precautions were smoke detectors (present in 69% of households) and battery powered portable radios (present in 61% of households).

Households consisting of either a couple only or a couple with children were generally more likely to have safety precautions present than each of the other household types. For example, 37% of couple only households and 40% of couple with children households had first aid kits, compared with no more than 27% for any other household type. Similarly, 30% of couple only households and 34% of couple with children households had a fire extinguisher, compared with no more than 21% for any other household type.

While the presence of safety precautions is relatively high for couples with children, this may not be entirely attributable to the fact that there are children in the household. The high levels of safety precautions in couple with children households contrasts with significantly lower levels of safety precautions for lone parent households. For example, 76% of couple with children households had smoke detectors, compared with 66% of lone parent households.

There is a significant relationship between home ownership and the presence of safety precautions. Each type of safety precaution was more prevalent in homes that were owned than in homes that were rented. For example, 17% of homes that were owned had fire blankets, compared with 8% of homes that were rented. Similarly 32% of homes that were owned had a fire extinguisher compared with 16% for homes that were rented.

Household members' access to the appropriate emergency phone numbers can be a critical factor affecting the ability of emergency services to respond to emergencies. An estimated 811,300 (32%) of households in NSW did not keep emergency telephone numbers anywhere. The most common locations where emergency phone numbers were kept were on the fridge or near the phone (26% and 25% of all households respectively).


Households with fire safety precautions were asked for the reasons why they had these precautions in place. There were 1,742,000 households with smoke detectors. For 774,300 (44%) of these households, the smoke detector was already installed when the household moved in, while a further 9% had the smoke detector installed due to a requirement of building regulations. One factor contributing to these figures is that in NSW there is a legal requirement that all new houses built since July 1994, and those renovated since July 1994 must be fitted with a smoke detector.

Another major reason given for having a smoke detector was 'Just for safety or as a precaution'. This reason was given by 35% of households with a smoke detector.

An estimated 367,600 households had fire blankets and 680,400 households had fire extinguishers. The most common reason given for having a fire blanket or fire extinguisher was 'Just for safety or as a precaution' (56% and 61% respectively).


Another indicator of preparedness for emergencies is whether households have an emergency action plan. In households consisting of more than one person, an action plan needs to be communicated and coordinated amongst all household members if it is to be effective. In NSW there were 1,913,100 households with more than one person. Of these households, 277,000 (14%) had an emergency action plan, either written down or verbally rehearsed, for at least one type of emergency. A further 118,900 (6%) had an emergency action plan that was not written down or rehearsed.

Emergency action plans for households consisting of only one person are of a slightly different nature, as there is no need for communication amongst household members. There were 625,400 households consisting of one person only. Of these households 167,000 (27%) had some sort of emergency action plan.


An estimated 672,400 (26%) of all households had at least one household member who would have difficulty getting out of the home without help in an emergency. In households consisting of more than one person, the household was more likely to have an action plan if a household member would have difficulty evacuating in an emergency. Around 24% of these households had an action plan, compared with 19% of households where no household member would have difficulty evacuating.

In contrast, among one-person households the proportion of households with an action plan is higher for those households that would not have difficulty evacuating (27%) than for households that would have difficulty evacuating (20%). However as the number of one-person households in the sample was rather small, the difference between these proportions could arise solely from sampling error.


In the two years prior to October 2003, an estimated 289,900 or 11% of households in NSW experienced an emergency. The most common type of emergency experienced was a storm, wind or hail (6% of all households) while around 4% of all households had experienced a bushfire.

In Sydney, 164,800 (10%) of all households experienced an emergency, compared with 125,100 (13%) of households in the Balance of NSW.

Emergency experiences varied according to the type of emergency that occurred. Of those households whose most recent emergency was a house fire, 59% had something damaged and 21% required assistance. In households where the most recent emergency was a bushfire, 31% required assistance while 18% required an overnight stay away from home. Where the most recent emergency was a storm, wind, or hail, the most common emergency experience was that something was damaged (90%), while 47% of households required assistance.