Sheltering together on the beach during the fires

The people alongside to help survive the disaster came from just over the fence.
Mallacoota beach after the fires. Photo by Colin Dixon/Unsplash

There were many terrifying scenes from last year’s summer bushfires. One of the most unforgettable was people sheltering on the beach, under ember attack, with fire raged on three fronts.

If you imagine yourself in this terrifying situation, who do you expect to be alongside you?

For most people, the answer is your neighbours.

That’s how Kate Arendsen spent the worst night of the bushfires, that were tearing through her home village of Karbeethong , just north of Mallacoota in East Gippsland.  

“We were a group of people that basically knew each other, and so we were looking out for each other,” Kate recalls.

“It was a relatively calm atmosphere, people weren’t panicked, possibly because they had previously had taken preparation, both physically and mentally.”

After the fires. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur/Unsplash

Knowing each other and being prepared. These simple acts can turn disasters into survivals.

During and after a major disaster, like last summer’s fires, it’s unlikely emergency responders will be immediately available.

Working together with the people close by, your neighbours, can help save lives and property.

Kate and her neighbours were ready. They had been planning for this scenario since Kate first started volunteering with Red Cross 14 years ago.

“We are a one road in, one road out town, and we felt we needed to be prepared and look out for our neighbours.”

The seven households in Kate’s street set up Karbeethong Central Phone Tree. A plan made by residents to lookout for, warn, and assist their nearest neighbours where and when possible.

“Every November, we send an email out to our seven neighbouring households, and check everyone’s whereabouts week by week.

“We have a phone tree too, to communicate quickly and check we are all okay.”

When the emergency came, the plan swung into action and the people who lived close by were the ones first on the scene to help each other.

Kate’s simple, but supremely sensible steps to staying safe

Fire phone tree

Ask households in your street to fill in a central calendar with their movements over the summer. Then everyone knows who’s in town to lookout for, warn and help during an emergency.

Run away boxes

Pack three boxes filled with medication, food and prescriptions in the garage. Include 30 litres of water. Each November checks the boxes. Updates any out-of-date food or scripts.

Let loved ones know

Communicating with concerned loved ones in an emergency can be stressful. Pick one friend to be your ‘spokesperson’. Communicate directly with them. Your ‘spokesperson’ shares news with your list of friends and family.

The ABC and Red Cross partnered to create a Ready Together Toolkit to help you and your community get ready for extreme weather together.

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