Fire, wind and rain – keeping safe these summer holidays

As I sit here, curtains drawn to keep the house cool as Melbourne heads for a hot top of 37 degrees, I thought it was time to update one of my first blogs about what to do if you are holidaying during severe weather conditions.

With authorities in many Australian states warning of a pending high risk bushfire season, it is not just people living in these areas who need to be aware of what to do, but also those planning to holiday there.

ash wednesday

The cross at Mount Macedon – a powerful symbol of survival after the devastating 1983 Ash Wednesday fires.

Having been a child living on the fringe of an area decimated in Victoria’s 1983 Ash Wednesday fires, then losing a family friend in the 2009 Black Saturday fires, it is an      issue I am extremely conscious – even paranoid about.

The day of the 2009 fires, we were going to visit my parents but changed our mind because of the horrendous weather conditions. If we had gone, we would have been driving along the very same highway that the fires engulfed. Too close for comfort.

So, if you are holidaying in a high risk area – or plan to travel into a high risk area on a declared extreme fire danger rating or higher, what should you do?

Preparing for bushfires

Luckily, there are resources out there that you can look up before you go. A great place to start is to familiarise yourself with the websites of the various state-based fire authoritie, including Victoria, New South Wales, South AustraliaQueenslandTasmania.

Victoria’s Country Fire Authority website has a travellers’ checklist you can print out. Importantly, their advice is to never travel into a high risk bushfire area declared Code Red – and if you are staying in such an area, leave the day before.

Know the danger rating of the area you are travelling through.

Know the danger rating of the area you are travelling through.

Other things to consider:
• Do you know the names of the fire weather districts you are travelling through? This will important to know if any warnings are issued.
• Check the latest fire danger ratings for the areas you are travelling to and through.
• Find out about bushfire safety plans for the area you are staying in.

The CFA also has a FireReady smart phone app which will provide you with the latest fire safety information.

You can also download a Tourism Victoria brochure – Staying in high risk bushfire areas. Safety tips for visitors.

South Australia has seen many devastating bushfires, and already just last month, a major bushfire threatened Tulka, a township just 12km from Port Lincoln on the Eyre Peninsula.

The November 2012 Tulka bushfire

The November 2012 Tulka bushfire

The Country Fire Service has information for travellers which includes the names of fire districts, as well as radio frequencies to tune into for up-to-date advice.

Staying safe during floods and cyclones

As any Australian will know, bushfires are not the only natural disaster that we face. The summer-autumn period can also produce cyclones and flooding.

The power of Cyclone Yasi is evident on the satellite imagery

The power of February 2011’s Cyclone Yasi is evident on the satellite imagery

Queensland experienced devastating floods in January 2011. If travelling in Queensland during the wet season, you should learn about how to avoid floodwaters and what to do if caught.

As Australia’s largest state, Western Australia has a range of weather conditions and can experience the threat of bushfires, floods and cyclones.

You can find safety information on the Fire and Emergency Services Authority website
The Bureau of Meteorology also has some goods tips on surviving a cyclone, with links to other state-based websites.

I know there is a lot of information here, but pick what is relevant to you based on where you are travelling to. Print it out and keep it with your other travel documents.

And most importantly, have a safe holiday with your family this summer.

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When your holiday is affected by the weather

What happens when your holiday is threatened by a bushfire or other natural disaster?

This thought hit home recently when my mum was trying to organise a family get-away for early February in Victoria’s high country.

“That’s well and good,” I told her. “But the reality is, if it happens to coincide with a severe to code red day, I am not going anywhere near a tree!”

That got me thinking – what do you do in this situation? Would we get a refund? And what about those who are already on holiday when severe weather hits?

Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 and Queensland’s tragic floods of 2011 brought home the reality of Mother Nature’s fury.

Although the chances of being caught in such events are slim, you need to know what to do – and what your rights are if you need to cancel accommodation.

Victoria’s Country Fire Authority website has safety tips for travellers. This includes information on how to check fire danger ratings for areas you are travelling to. You can also download an app for the Victorian bushfires information line.

Check out the CFA’s travellers’ checklist website for more information. Tourism Victoria also now has a page of bushfire safety resources for business operators, which includes a downloadable brochure – Staying in high risk bushfire areas. Safety tips for visitors.

Western Australia is Australia’s largest state, with a range of weather conditions. At times, it can experience not just bushfires, but also floods and cyclones. You can find safety information on the Fire and Emergency Services Authority website

The Bureau of Meteorology also has some goods tips on surviving a cyclone, with links to other state-based websites.

The other side of the coin is what to do if you have booked accommodation and dangerous weather conditions are looming.

Tourism Victoria has produced crisis management information for tourism operators, which covers this issue. The following information is from the ‘Crisis Essentials – Crisis Management for Tourism Businesses’ handbook:

If your business is not operational or is inaccessible due to road closures or explicit government warnings due to safety concerns then you may have no
other alternative but to cancel bookings.

 In this scenario, both you and the customer are released from the contract and the customer is entitled to a refund of any deposit paid, less any expenses reasonably incurred by you.

Even if your business is open and transport routes are clear after an incident, it is inevitable that some pre-booked clients will decide to cancel their visit,
rather than postpone. In this case the contract is still valid and your cancellation policy can be applied.

The best solution in both of these circumstances is to talk to the customer to see if you can negotiate something to suit you both. For example, hold the
deposit over to be used at a different time.

 To me, it seems the most sensible thing to do is to ask about the operator’s terms and conditions at the time of booking.

Have you had your family holiday affected by the weather?