Host – Belinda Heit – Communication and Education – RTA
Guest – Andison Lai – Customer Experience – RTA
Host: Welcome to the Talking Tenancies podcast, brought to you by the Residential Tenancies Authority. I'm your host, Belinda Heit. Join me as we explore everything you need to know about renting in Queensland with experts from the RTA and industry. We're here to help make renting work for everyone.
Queensland experiences some of Australia's most extreme weather events each year. Fire season typically begins in July and ends in October, and can extend through to February. But with varying climate conditions, bushfires can occur anytime and anywhere. Today's expert from the RTA is Andison Lai from Customer Experience. Welcome Andi.
Guest: Thanks for having me.
Host: Welcome back now. Can you tell us about your role at the RTA and what you're responsible for?
Guest: Yeah so since then, I'm currently acting in the Team Leader role in the Bond Management team. I am responsible for resolving escalated matters, such as complex bond or tenancy enquiries and complaints that we may receive.
Host: Great. Now today we're talking about bushfire season. Now when we look at bushfire survival, it helps to focus on four key actions. So we need to first have a plan, ensure we are prepared, understand the risks and tune into warnings and updates. So let's start with action point one: have a plan. How can we prepare ahead of time before a bushfire strikes?
Guest: Well, with bushfires and extreme weather, having a plan and being well-prepared can really make a difference and is a key for survival. There are a few handy tips and tools that can help you come up with a comprehensive plan to ensure you and your family’s safety when a bushfire does strike. The easiest way to do this is to use the bushfire survival plan from the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, or QFES for short. This tool will go through the important questions with you and cover the evacuation basics.
For example: whether you will stay to defend or leave the property early; when you should leave; identify safe places you can evacuate to; how you get there and make sure everyone is accountable, including the pets. You should also have a list of emergency contacts handy as part of the evacuation survival plan. Ensure you have the most up-to-date details of the property manager or owner, so you are able to contact them in case of an emergency. It's important no matter what the plan is, you should discuss it and share it with the family so everyone is in agreeance and well-informed on when to do what for the best chances of survival.
As part of the planning, we also encourage everyone to put a bushfire evacuation kit or emergency survival kit together. You and your family should have the important items and equipment required to relocate for a necessary amount of time. The basics would include the following: a battery-operated radio with spare batteries; a torch; a fire blanket; important personal documents such as passports, birth certificates, family photos—whether it's hard copy or, even better, save it on a USB saving some space there; and valuables like family heirloom, jewellery or keepsakes; food and water for at least three days; clothing and toiletries; as well as phone and portable charger. Make sure this kit is stored in a waterproof container in a location that is easy to access for all household members except for young children.
Host: Yeah and having one of those can be handy in so many events, regardless of what's happening in Queensland, but bushfires, it's best to be prepared because you've got to get out quick. Now action two: be prepared. It's important to prepare the home to make it easier to defend from fire and also reduce danger to the neighbours. So how can we do this?
Guest: That's a really good point about preparing the home. There are regular and general maintenance that we can do around the property to make sure our home does not become a hazard to us or others in bushfires which include the following: clearing gutters and roofs of twigs, bark and debris; mow your lawn regularly; removing excess flammable materials like long dry grass, dead leaves, mulch wood piles. Remember your outdoor furniture and hanging baskets as well—these are not often the top of the mind, but they are flammable and pose a level of risk. Having a maintenance schedule for firefighting pumps, water systems and generators, ensuring a clear, well-maintained pathway and accessibility to fire protection equipment.
If you are unsure what your responsibilities are regarding maintenance, have a discussion about this with your property manager or owner, document any agreed arrangements on maintenance in writing, so that everyone knows what to expect. You can use the special term section of the tenancy agreement to outline the agreed maintenance responsibilities. It's also important to make sure that your insurance policy provides adequate cover for bushfires. Tenants should check the insurance policy for their possessions, including any vehicles is up-to-date. Property owners should have adequate insurance coverage for their property.
Host: Yeah so making sure the path is not fed for fire and also making clear if you do need to escape is really important there. Now action three: know your risk. How do you know if your home is at potential risk of being impacted by a bushfire?
Guest: Yeah so, once the planning and preparation is done, it's time to put your plan into action. The QFES have a post code checker map on their website where you can plug in your post code or suburb and see the bushfire potential in your neighbourhood. It's also a good idea to check the neighbourhoods in general area of your loved ones to make sure they have a good idea of the potential risk and are prepared. It's important to understand the risk of your home or property being threatened by bushfires. Be aware that fire embers, smoke and the radiant heat from a large bushfire can travel, which can cause spot fires and crack or melt objects like glass windows from a distance. A fun but serious fact that the radiant heat from a large bushfire can actually be felt more than 100 metres away.
Host: That's incredible.
Guest: Apart from melting and cracking objects, the toxic fumes, smoke and heat can cause dehydration and heatstroke in people in animals, and make it difficult to breathe and see. So risk assessment is really important to make sure you have a truly informed decision for you and your family. There are also ways to reduce that bushfire risk and vulnerability of your home or property, for example by having metal screws, vents, or non-combustible deck or veranda, window trimmings, and exterior walls.
Host: Yeah that's a really good point, because, you know, particularly if you've just moved into a property you might not know whether you're at risk. So it's a good idea to jump on that website and check it out. And also for your family and friends as well if they're also in the path of a fire. Now action four: tune into warnings and updates. Being informed can save your life, so what are the best sources for this?
Guest: You're right, Belinda. Being well-informed can really increase your chances of survival. Make sure you're familiar with the bushfire warning system, which comes at three levels. The first one being advice: stay informed and monitor the situation. The second one, watch and act: heightened level of threat presence, act now to protect you and your family. And three, emergency warning: you're in danger, take lifesaving action immediately.
The Fire Danger rating in the local area is also useful as an early indicator of potential danger and should act as your first trigger for action. This is the multi coloured fan rating scale that ranges from low, moderate to extreme and catastrophic. It assesses the level of bushfire risk in your community on any given day. The higher rating, the greater the need for you to act. You can remain informed by tuning into the local media, including: radio; official social media feeds; websites, including the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services website, Facebook page and Twitter; your local ABC's radio station; your local commercial radio station. Don't assume you will receive an official warning as a fire approaches.
Local councils have also implemented disaster dashboards across Queensland to keep the community informed. These can be found through your local council website or through the Queensland Reconstruction Authority website and their Recovery Hub. Remember, you don't need to rely on one source of information, so make sure you just check multiple places to stay up-to-date. It is up to each and every one of us to be prepared, take notice, seek information, remain informed and make decisions, and act where necessary.
Host: Yeah it's a good idea, because there's so many sources of information, to actually set up your phone when it's not an emergency, so you have that information before it does hit so that you're getting real time alerts and information as you need it.
Guest: Exactly right.
Host: So lastly, speaking of resources. What are the best resources available to tenants and managing parties on everything we've covered in this episode?
Guest: Of course, we have mentioned the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services a lot in this episode. There is a lot of information on their website which can help you prepare for bushfires in extreme weather. This will help to ensure that you and your family can remain safe and have the greatest chance of survival if a bushfire does strike.
The other tip I have is to understand the risks and discuss your plans and concerns with the other party early or at the start of the tenancy. This will ensure that both parties are well informed of the risk and potential impacts and any outcomes will inform the plans that are put into place. This could be a very useful and can provide peace of mind to both parties. The RTA website also has a range of resources to help you get on top of the maintenance and preparations.
Host: So much to keep on top of there, Andi. Thank you so much for helping us today to get a greater understanding on what we need to know when it comes to staying safe this bushfire season in Queensland.
Guest: Thanks for having me.
Host: Thank you for listening to the Talking Tenancies podcast. For more information about the Residential Tenancies Authority, visit rta.qld.gov.au.