US risk education program piloted in Emerald, Victoria

A disaster resilience education pilot project developed by students from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, US identified three key factors for success: developing knowledge and skills, innovative use of technology, and engaging with community hazard experts.

Sponsored by AIDR, the Disaster Resilience Lesson Program plugged into the digital technology curriculum for Year 8 students at Emerald Secondary College in Victoria – located in a high-risk bushfire zone – and explored local bushfire risk and community resilience.

Built upon the philosophy that technology makes things more interesting for students, the project incorporated the use of advanced hazard simulation software and online learning. A designated learning website became the primary mode of course delivery as learning tasks moved online due to COVID-19 social distancing measures.

Interactive tasks included the development of a collaborative disaster map using information from the AIDR Disaster Mapper and Knowledge Hub resources, and an online noticeboard where students posted questions to hazard experts from the Country Fire Authority (CFA), AIDR and AFAC.

For the final assessment of the course, students were provided with a fire scenario and a topographical image of their local area. Using the knowledge and skills developed over the course of the project, students superimposed text and images to identify high and low risk areas considering factors such as terrain, wind and vegetation and appropriate shelter areas.

The students posted their projects online and received video feedback from Emerald Fire Brigade Captain Paul Yandle. Captain Yandle reflected on the students’ positive achievements and provided further information about the local context and considerations for the safety of the community in a bushfire event.

Data from the pre- and post-assessment of students found a significant increase in student’s understanding of disaster resilience from the project. Before the project, when students were asked what actions they could take to prevent bushfire impact, 69.1% of students responded ‘fire safety and reducing flammables’ and less than 2% responded ‘evacuation plan or survival kits’.

Post assessment, 23.5% of students identified ‘evacuation plan or survival kits’ as actions to prevent the impact of bushfires. Post assessment survey results saw a broader selection of actions, including ‘seeking shelter’, ‘wait for instructions’, and ‘fire response or resources’. This result indicates a more holistic understanding of bushfire preparedness and response among the students. 

Overall, the majority of students (69.7%) reported that communicating with community experts at CFA, AIDR and AFAC helped them to learn, and almost all students (93.9%) said the use of technology supported learning. In the student feedback, the three most popular aspects of the project among participants were ‘interactive activities’, ‘learning a lot’ and ‘the simulations’.

More information about the pilot project, including course units and students projects, are available from the interactive Disaster Resilience Lesson Program website.