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FEATURE ARTICLE: PREPAREDNESS FOR EMERGENCIES AND HOUSEHOLD ASSISTANCE REQUIRED
In 2007, just under half (47.7%) of Western Australian households had no portable radio with working batteries and almost one-third (32.3%) had no internet access.
Almost all (99.5%) households across the State were connected to the telephone network, via landline, mobile, or both. The largest majority (79.9%, 653,900 households) had both forms of communication while 10.2% (83,600 households) had only mobile phones and 9.5% (77,800 households) had only landlines. Of the estimated 3,800 (0.5%) households in the State with no telephone service of any kind, 3,300 also had no working portable radio.
Preparedness for Emergency Evacuation
As the more commonly occurring natural hazards in Western Australia (bushfires, cyclones, storms and related flooding) sometimes require residents to evacuate their homes, this analysis focuses on measures of community preparedness that are specifically related to household evacuation. These measures include whether households had an exit plan for the dwelling, an agreed meeting place outside the home, access to alternative accommodation and willingness to leave their home in the event of a major emergency.
Fire and emergency authorities generally recognise that households with an exit plan, agreed meeting place and alternative accommodation are able to respond more quickly and appropriately to an emergency evacuation than households whose members have not previously discussed these issues. Willingness to leave the family home is a further factor which authorities must take into account in evacuating any community or residential area. The latter has particular ramifications in the event of a major bushfire where householders are faced with a decision to leave, or stay and defend their homes.
In 2007, the majority of households (88.6%) indicated their willingness to evacuate in the event of a major emergency. Of those who did not wish to evacuate, half (49.6%) reported that they would prefer to stay to fight bushfires and two in five (39.9%) wanted to prevent looting and vandalism of their property.
The majority of households (92.1%) had access to alternative accommodation; however, among households with members whose mobility was impaired due to disability, the level of access to alternative accommodation fell to 88.1%.
Almost half of households (46.5%) reported having an exit plan for their dwelling but only one in ten (10.5%) had an agreed meeting place.
Evacuation Assistance Required
Data are presented below on the different types of assistance required by households in the event of an emergency evacuation. These include the need for assistance to exit the dwelling, assistance with transport and with evacuating household pets.
Assistance to exit the dwelling may be needed by households with young children, elderly household members, or persons with disabilities while lack of access to a motor vehicle can be of crucial importance in enabling a household to evacuate. In addition, the recent experience of New Orleans residents, many of whom saw their family pets perish in Hurricane Katrina, indicates that emergency authorities are likely to pay more attention to the requirements of households with pets in future large-scale evacuations.
In 2007, almost one quarter (24.6%) of households in Western Australia required transport assistance following an evacuation while more than half (53.3%) required pets to be evacuated.
Assistance to exit the dwelling was required by a smaller, but still substantial, proportion of households (19.0%). The main reason reported for needing this type of assistance was the presence of young children. Of the 155,300 households that needed exit assistance, three-quarters (75%) gave this as their main reason. Mobility impairment was the next most common reason, accounting for 20.5% of these households.
Around 48% of households, both in Perth and elsewhere in the State, had no working portable radios although households in the non-metropolitan regions had lower levels of access to the internet. In this case, the proportion with no access to the internet was 37.6% compared with 30.6% for Perth households.
In terms of telephone connections, those living outside Perth were also more disadvantaged, with 13.4% having no landline connection and 12.3% having no mobile phone (compared with 9.8% and 9.2% respectively for Perth residents).
While access to mobile phones may be expected to vary with physical distance from transmitters, it is interesting to note that the level of access was lowest in the Lower Western Region, where 15.0% of households had no mobile phones. This compares with 9.2% for Perth residents and 8.5% for residents in the remainder of the State. This may well reflect the greater proportion of older people living in the Lower Western Region.
Couple-only households were most likely to have access to a working portable radio. Only 37.8% of these households had no such access in comparison with 47.7% of households overall.
Persons living alone and households with children (of all ages) were least likely to have access to a working portable radio. Approximately half of all persons living alone (51.5%) and couples with children (50.3%) did not have such a radio while the figure for lone parent households was even higher at 54.6%.
More than one-quarter (26.4%) of persons living alone had no mobile phone and almost one in five (18.3%) had no landline connection. The majority (70.2%) of the 3,800 (0.5%) households in the State with no telephone of any sort were persons living alone. Of the estimated 3,300 households that had neither a telephone connection nor working radio, two-thirds (66.2%) were persons living alone.
A considerable proportion of lone parent households (17.8%) lacked a landline telephone whereas this was much less common among couples with children (3.1%) and couple-only households (6.4%).
Internet access varied considerably according to household type. Whereas only 10.8% of couples with children had no internet connection at home, the figure was considerably higher for lone parent households (33.1%) and persons living alone (58.3%), perhaps reflecting their generally lower disposable income and older age profile.
ACCESS TO COMMUNICATION, By Household Type
Households with older and younger members
While access to a working portable radio was quite low (47.7%) among all Western Australian households, those with children under 15 years were least likely to have such access. Of these 'younger' households, 55.0% reported that they had no portable radio with working batteries. The comparable figure for households containing older members (60 years and over) was much lower at 37.1%.
Not unexpectedly, the pattern was reversed in respect of access to mobile phones and the internet. Less than 2% of households with children under 15 years had no mobile phones and 17.7% had no internet connection at home. The comparable figures for households with persons aged 60 years and over were much higher, at 28.2% and 54.7% respectively.
In 2007, access to most methods of communication was lower for rental dwellings than for those that were owner-occupied. Of the 217,700 Western Australian households in rental accommodation, 55.6% had no working portable radio whereas the comparable figure for households in owner-occupied dwellings was 44.9%.
Those in rental dwellings were also more likely to have no internet access (41.8% compared with 28.6% for owner-occupiers) and were least likely to have a landline telephone connection. More than one-quarter (27.1%) of renters had no landline connection whereas the comparable figure for owner-occupiers was only 4.7%. However, the lack of a landline telephone among renters was partially offset by better access to mobile phones, with only 7.7% having no mobile phone compared with 10.6% of owner-occupiers.
Those in owner-occupied dwellings were more likely to have access to both mobile and landline services (85.1%) than those in rental dwellings (65.7%).
ACCESS TO COMMUNICATION, By Tenure Type
Households outside Perth reported slightly higher levels of readiness for an emergency evacuation than their urban counterparts in terms of having an exit plan (51.5% versus 44.9%). This may reflect the more frequent exposure of residents in rural areas to natural hazards, particularly bushfires and tropical cyclones. In fact, 16.3% of respondents in the non-metropolitan regions of the State indicated that they had previously experienced a major emergency compared with only 5.2% of those in Perth. The proportion with previous experience was considerably lower in the Lower Western Region (12.9%) than in the remaining, generally more remote, portion of the State (21.3%).
EVACUATION RESPONSE, By Region
Households in the East Metropolitan Region had noticeably more experience of major emergencies (9.9%) and were more likely to have an exit plan (51.1%) than others in the metropolitan area. This is perhaps a consequence of their higher levels of exposure to bushfires on the eastern fringes of the city.
Significant differences were also apparent between Perth and non-metropolitan households in their willingness to evacuate in the event of an emergency. While only 11.4% of households across the State expressed unwillingness to evacuate, this figure was higher in the East Metropolitan (16.3%) and non-metropolitan (17.7%) regions, where relatively frequent exposure to natural hazards, particularly bushfires, may result in more households deciding to stay to defend their homes.
Only 10.5% of households across the State had a prearranged meeting place following an emergency evacuation. There were only small regional variations to this figure. Once again, the East Metropolitan Region had the highest proportion (12.1%) while the lowest proportion was in the Central Metropolitan Region (7.6%).
Access to alternative accommodation was universally high, at 90% or more, across both Perth and non-metropolitan regions.
Lone parent households showed the greatest willingness to evacuate in comparison with other family household types. Only 5.1% of these households were unwilling to evacuate in the event of a major emergency, compared with 10.2% of couples with children and 13.3% of couple-only households. For persons living alone, the proportion unwilling to evacuate was a little higher at 14.1%.
Further analysis of households in Western Australia with an exit plan (46.5%) indicates that this relatively high figure is largely driven by persons living alone (62.4%). The latter were much more likely to have an exit plan than other types of households; however, this is not surprising given that single person households are likely to have smaller dwellings, fewer exit options and a reduced need to confer with others.
Almost two in five (39.0%) couples with children indicated that they had an exit plan. This is lower than the comparable proportions for lone parent households (41.9%) and for couple-only households (43.2%).
While only one in ten households across the State had an agreed emergency evacuation meeting place, this proportion would obviously be a little higher if persons living alone were excluded from the total (as they have no other household members to meet). The proportion with an agreed meeting place was higher for couple-only households (15.6%) and lone parent households (15.1%) than for couples with children (13.1%).
Access to alternative accommodation was uniformly high across all household types, exceeding 92% for persons living alone, couple-only households and all families with children.
Households with older and younger members
For households with children under 15 years, the proportion with an exit plan (41.7%) was a little lower than for all households in the State (46.5%). For households with persons aged 60 years and over, the figure was substantially higher, at 56.8%, perhaps reflecting the large proportion who were living alone.
Households with children under 15 years also had low levels of preparedness for evacuation in terms of having no agreed meeting place (10.5%). These findings suggest that families with school-age children could perhaps be targeted for emergency evacuation training through programs offered in the primary and secondary education system.
For households with persons aged 60 years and over, the proportion with an agreed meeting place was a little higher, at 14.1%. (Once again, this proportion would, almost certainly, be higher if persons living alone were excluded.) However, these households with older members were more likely to be unwilling to evacuate their homes in the event of an emergency (14.0%) in comparison with households containing children under 15 years (7.4%).
There was a uniformly high level of access to alternative accommodation, with the figure for both household types being within one percentage point of the figure for all households in the State (92.1%).
The differences between owner-occupiers and renters were negligible in regard to having an exit plan and an agreed meeting place. The proportions for both types of household were, again, within one percentage point of the overall figures for the State (46.5% with an exit plan and 10.5% with an agreed meeting place). However, access to alternative accommodation was lower for rental households (88.9%) than for households who owned or were purchasing their dwelling (93.2%).
NEED FOR EVACUATION ASSISTANCE
The need for assistance to exit the dwelling varied little between Perth (19.3%) and the remainder of the State (17.9%). Within Perth, the need was highest in the South Western Metropolitan Region (22.9%).
The need for transport assistance was similar across the State, with approximately 25% of households in both the metropolitan and non-metropolitan regions reporting this requirement.
Assistance with evacuating pets was a significant need across Western Australia, although somewhat higher among households in non-metropolitan regions (61.3%) than in Perth (50.6%). The inner city areas in the Central Metropolitan Region of Perth had the lowest need for assistance with evacuating family pets (32.6%).
While almost one in five households in Western Australia (19.0%) reported a need for assistance to exit the dwelling in the event of an emergency, the figure was comparatively low for persons living alone (5.6%) and couple-only households (5.7%). It is likely that many of these households would have contained older persons. Where exit assistance was required, mobility restriction was the main reason cited, by 80.8% of those living alone and 88.2% of couple-only households.
The proportion needing exit assistance was considerably higher among couples with children (38.3%). Interestingly, lone parent households reported less need for assistance of this kind (28.3%).
Approximately one-quarter (24.6%) of households in Western Australia required transport assistance and households with children reported a much higher need. In this case, the need for assistance was similar for couples with children (38.0%) and lone parents with children (39.6%). The need for transport assistance was lowest among couple-only households (9.5%), followed by persons living alone (18.5%).
While 53.3% of households across the State required pets to be evacuated, the comparable figure was higher for households with children, with around two-thirds reporting this type of need. (The figure was 67.8% for couples with children and 62.3% for lone parents with children). However, only 36.3% of people living alone reported this need, perhaps reflecting a lower level of pet ownership or their lower requirement for other types of evacuation assistance.
EVACUATION ASSISTANCE, By Household Type
Households with older and younger members
Although less than one-fifth (19.0%) of households in the State required assistance to exit their dwelling, more than half (52.8%) of those with children under 15 years required such assistance. In contrast, only 13.0% of households with persons aged 60 years or over reported a need for this type of assistance. The findings relating to transport assistance were similar, with more than twice as many households with children (50.3%) reporting this need as households with persons aged 60 years and over (22.1%).
The differences between households with these different age profiles, though less pronounced, were also apparent with regard to pets needing evacuation. Although the overall State figure was high at 53.3%, the comparable figure for households with children was even higher at 66.5% while, for households with members in the older age group, it was only 42.0%.
EVACUATION ASSISTANCE, By Age Group
The need for assistance in the case of an evacuation varied according to tenure type. Those in rental accommodation were likely to have a greater need for assistance to exit the dwelling (20.5%) and for assistance with transport (29.2%) in comparison with owner-occupiers (18.5% and 23.1% respectively).
The greatest difference between the two tenure types was in respect of pets needing evacuation. In this case, the need for assistance was reversed, with 57.4% of owner-occupiers and only 42.7% of rental households reporting this need.
EVACUATION ASSISTANCE, By Tenure Type
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
The results of the 2007 survey, Community Preparedness for Emergencies, indicate some household types that may be vulnerable in major emergencies. The information is relevant to government and volunteer agencies in alerting communities to, and providing advice on, emergency situations; in targeting education campaigns to appropriate age and community groups; and in providing appropriate assistance to households in an emergency evacuation.
Some of the more significant findings are summarised below.
Persons living alone and households with persons aged 60 years or over were the most vulnerable in terms of their reduced access to telephone and internet services.
Of the 3,800 households in Western Australia that had no telephone service of any kind, 70.2% were persons living alone.
Households with persons aged 60 years and over were more likely than younger households to have a working portable radio.
Households in rental dwellings had generally less ability to obtain information about an emergency via a portable radio, landline telephone or the internet but had better access to mobile phones.
Households in the Lower Western Region suffered some disadvantage in relation to mobile telephone connections. These households were more likely than households in Perth and elsewhere in the State to have no mobile telephones, perhaps reflecting the greater proportion of older persons living in that region as well as (in some cases) distance from transmitters.
Households on the eastern fringes of Perth and in the non-metropolitan regions were generally less willing to evacuate in the event of an emergency. However, these are the households most often threatened by bushfires and most likely to be prepared for an evacuation in terms of having an exit plan and an agreed meeting place.
Those living in inner city areas were least likely to have an agreed meeting place but this element of preparedness was consistently low across all households in the State.
Among family households, couples with children were least likely to have an exit plan or an agreed meeting place, indicating the potential value of emergency evacuation training for children in the primary and secondary education system.
Need for evacuation assistance
The need for evacuation assistance was highest among households with children; with more than half of these households requiring transport assistance and assistance to exit their dwelling, and two-thirds requiring family pets to be evacuated.
The need for assistance with pets was high across the State, particularly in outer metropolitan and rural areas.
Households in owner-occupied dwellings were more likely than renters to need assistance with evacuating pets.
Persons living alone and couple-only households, many of which would have contained older persons, had the lowest reported need for assistance with exiting their dwelling.
Households with persons aged 60 years and over had a much lower need for assistance with transport, exiting the dwelling and evacuating pets than households with children under 15 years.
Australian Standard Geographical Classification, July 2007, ABS cat.no. 1216.0
Community Preparedness for Emergencies, May 2008, ABS, cat.no.4818.5, data available on request
Bureau of Meteorology, Severe Storm Summary July 2006 to June 2007, http://www.bom.gov.au/weather/wa/sevwx/summary.shtml
Fire and Emergency Services of Western Australia, Annual reports, http://www.fesa.wa.gov.au/internet/default.aspx?MenuID=261
Geoscience Australia, http://www.ga.gov.au/hazards/introduction.jsp
Reuters, No Pets Left Behind in New Orleans Evacuation, Sep 1, 2008,
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