Victorian schools in the potential path of a new wave of bushfires have been left off an emergency register designed to shut them down in the event of another Black Saturday.
The Bushfire-At-Risk Register, that mandates schools that must be closed in the event of a “code red” catastrophe, contains several glaring omissions more than three weeks after the commencement of Victoria’s bushfire season.
Diamond Valley College and Hurstbridge Primary Schools, in Melbourne’s north-eastern fringe, have been excluded from the 728-strong list against the wishes of the school community, while Hurstbridge Pre-School remains absent, despite the inclusion of Hurstbridge Kindergarten, which is located next door.
One source told Crikey that Diamond Valley parents were told by local fire chiefs to leave early in the event of a looming fire even though their school isn’t included on the list. The source said 30 members of the school community had perished on Black Saturday.
During last season’s disaster, roadblocks were set up outside Hurstbridge Primary School to prevent travel into dangerous areas.
Diamond Valley College principal Greg Williams called for his school’s inclusion on the list but said he was still negotiating an outcome with the department.
Another principal, who did not want to be named, told Crikey “the department might not have got it right in the first instance,”
“The schools that missed out have been referred back to department, and if we miss out again, we’ll be sure to making some noise about it.”
Other schools told Crikey that weren’t given a reason for their exclusion, but suspected the criteria on the self-assessment forms used to evaluate their suitability may have been faulty. They said they were currently in talks with the education department’s northern regional office, and that the bungle may have originated within the central department, located well away from the bushfire zone in the Melbourne CBD.
Principals contacted by Crikey said they expected that they would be included on the list before the “end of the month”.
Diamond Creek and Hurstbridge could confront fire chaos again this summer. A “Township Protection Plan” is expected to be released for Diamond Creek while Hurstbridge has been earmarked as a CFA “staging area”.
The new “Code Red” (catastrophic) fire rating was introduced by the Brumby government in the wake of the Bushfire Royal Commission, and bluntly warns residents that they may die in the event of another Black Saturday. The Victorian premier has staked his leadership on implementing several core recommendations before the commencement of this year’s fire season.
A spokesperson for the Education Department, Paul Barber, said “further work is currently under way with some schools and children’s centres, which may result in them being added to the register.”
He said the at-risk register had been developed “following a detailed assessment process involving individual government and non-government schools and children’s services.”