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Friday analysis: don’t let El Niño distract us from the fire season

It can be a bit difficult to start thinking, and planning, for another bushfire season when so much of the country is receiving record rains and battling floods.

But prepare we must.

Try telling the 42 firefighters the Forestry Corporation of NSW took to at Wauchope for a training camp there is no risk.

The camp was no holiday; essential skills such as fire behaviour, tactics and strategy, leadership, command, control and communications, and how to operate the range of appliances and equipment used at fires were taught.

Other skills included using chainsaws, first aid, chemical use and driving 4WD vehicles and tankers.

These are the people who will be at the front line when – not if – Australia is again threatened by fire.

Try telling Forestry Corporation staff from the Snowy region who this week received the National Emergency Medal for their role in managing the 2019-20 bushfires that there is no risk.

Forestry Corporation staff spent more than 300,000 hours firefighting during the Black Summer fires in 2019-20 as part of the State’s coordinated firefighting response supporting the Rural Fire Service and all other firefighting agencies.

The National Emergency Medal is awarded to persons who rendered sustained or significant service during nationally significant emergencies in Australia.

They deserve their medals, and so much more.

Vital to battling bushfires is good communications. But far too often mobile blackspots in regional areas prevent essential communications.

Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Minister for Regional Victoria, Peter Walsh, says addressing coverage issues would take far more than mobile towers.

He says that under a Liberal and Nationals Government, Victorians in areas with poor mobile coverage would be eligible for a rebate to install mobile boosters in vehicles, homes and businesses.

The subsidy is part of a $150 million Connecting Country Communities program which will see better mobile coverage and broadband services for regional and rural areas.

The $150 million program will address several issues plaguing country communities including mobile blackspots, slow and unreliable broadband services as well as disaster-proofing mobile towers.

The Connecting Country Communities program will also fund works to strengthen mobile towers, allowing people to stay in touch during emergencies.

“Recently we saw Victorian communities left without mobile coverage in the Black Summer bushfires and the storms in June and October last year, this program will work to make the state’s mobile coverage more resilient,” Mr Walsh said.

Victoria of course is not alone. In South Australia’s Southeast for example there is no mobile coverage nine kilometres south of Mount Gambier. None.

A good start in planning for another bushfire season might be getting problems like these fixed.