Will the pandemic evacuation plan work?

Will the pandemic evacuation plan work?

With another fire season approaching, the state government has announced its plan to deal with potential bushfire evacuations during a COVID-19 pandemic.

While the plan appears to have a common sense approach, many aspects may not be practical for South Coast residents.

In January, local showgrounds and surf clubs became makeshift evacuation centres for residents of all ages, a large number of animals and visiting tourists.

The government said last week, while personal protective equipment and screening for symptoms will be made available, evacuees will be encouraged to stay with friends and family in order to prevent overcrowding at evacuation centres.

A new evacuation assistance hotline, currently in its final stages of development, will also be available to register and help arrange temporary accommodation.

A huge crowd gathers outside the Bermagui surf club on New Year's Eve.

A huge crowd gathers outside the Bermagui surf club on New Year's Eve.

After this year's experience we know not all residents forced into evacuation centres were able to rely on friends and family, and with communication infrastructure among the first things to go down, making phone calls was not possible for many.

The issue of a lack of temporary accommodation in the region will also likely hinder the government's plan.

Commissioner of Resilience NSW Shane Fitzsimmons said the challenging circumstances will require adaptation and innovation, and Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott said authorities must be "agile".

"Coordinating a potential large scale evacuation during the COVID-19 pandemic carries significant additional risks including person to person transmission not only to evacuees but also to our dedicated emergency services volunteers," Mr Elliott said last week.

Is this plan innovative and agile enough for a region still recovering from last summer's devastation, lacking in services and with time running out for telecommunications to be made more resilient before the next fire warning?

Those who fall through these cracks will be forced to seek shelter while also having to physically distance from others, many of them also friends and family members.

There is also the issue of the current border closure, with many Victorian residents forced to evacuate north with the help of the military. Will they be forced to isolate aboard a navy ship? How's the social distancing on board them?


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