Dr Rachel Westcott

Dr Rachel Westcott

Dr Rachel Westcott

Dr Rachel Westcott graduated in 1999 from Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia, with First Class Honours in Veterinary Medicine and Surgery. In 2018 she was awarded her PhD from Western Sydney University School of Medicine. Her thesis title was “Advancing public health in the context of natural hazards: normalising preparedness within a framework of adapted Protection Motivation Theory”.

A former serving Police officer, she founded South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management (SAVEM) Inc. in 2009, and has been working, volunteering and researching in Emergency Management since then. Rachel works as a general practice veterinarian and is co-Director of Engine Room Solutions Pty Ltd which has research, publishing and Emergency Management divisions. Her particular research interests are normalising preparedness in the community and cropland fires.

Presentation Abstract (co-presentation with Emilis Prelgauskas)

Target fire-fitness: preparedness and resilience in community and the built environment.

Fire-fitness means to be adapted, suited, fit-for-purpose in the evolutionary sense. It means to be “fit” to face a fire hazard – to be physically, psychologically and emotionally equipped in as many aspects as are possible and applicable to an individual or group. Fire-fitness is a year-round learned and applied pattern of behaviour: it should become established and routine regardless of the season or prevailing climatic conditions, or the perceived likelihood of a hazard event. The hazard itself may be non-routine, but the ability to respond in a protective, timely and safe manner, needs to become instinctual and assertive. Cultural change such as this occurs over the medium to long term, and is necessary because of the predicted ongoing effects of a changing climate on extreme weather events. Fire-fitness is therefore a present-day imperative given the “new reality” of natural hazards. 

Fire-fitness applies equally to the built environment. Australian Standards, Codes and compliance methods do not act alone: to be fully effective they need to be synergistically integrated with asset maintenance, management and operation. Fire-fitness links closely with the concept of “adaptive rewards” and dynamic risk assessment, which translates readily into the preparedness phase of built environment planning.

Data underpinning this presentation were obtained from the experiential, naturalistic setting of fire-impacted communities and in post-graduate research – and draws on the presenters’ practical experience in response and recovery. Several existing and proposed public health and industry policies aiming to help people attain fire-fitness will be outlined.

Emergency Management as a discipline can inform an wholistic melding of practical and applied processes relevant to the proactive evolution of built environment policy and practice.   Benefits are directly translatable across whole of community to create safer and more resilient urban, peri-urban and rural living spaces.