Sometimes you ask a question and the answer is unexpected but once read, so completely obvious, you feel an idiot for not seeing it in the first place. Read this exchange on bushfires (and value) between Jeff Roorda and me – but mostly Jeff.
The devastating fires that have blighted Australia in 2020 have now burnt through 18.6 million hectares of land. The fires had a total perimeter of 19,235 kilometres. That’s the equivalent distance of Sydney to Perth four times over and further than Sydney Australia to Los Angeles USA.
An estimated 1 Billion animals were killed, and entire species or plants and animals may have been wiped out. 33 people died and 2,779 homes were lost.
The cost to fight large fires is very high and growing with questions about the effectiveness of reactive strategies. We have avoided putting a value on air, fire, water and earth because it doesn’t neatly fit into our built infrastructure silos.
A large fire shows not only the connections of our artificial silos, but is instructive in a better understanding of value, cost, benefit and risk. These are the inputs to asset management plans. Decisions can then be based on scenarios based on evidence, expertise and experience to come to a wisdom decision for future generations.
We understand cost and cost and value are connected. The cost to react to crisis is high and growing but cost should be based on an asset management plan that has benefit, cost, risk and value of decision scenario options.
Fires do not confine themselves within council boundaries, or even State boundaries and this was amply demonstrated in our recent (indeed still current) fires. Asset management plans are necessary but they are, sadly, not sufficient. How do we go further?
If any future event is identified then there are options to mitigate that event. Examples are a large fire, reliable energy or water or infrastructure congestion or under utilisation. Not making a decision or not having an evidence based asset management plan with possible scenarios is actually a decision to run to fail.
This often happens because we think we can’t reliably measure value. But when we get to the point of run to fail we can measure cost. In 2017, the NSW Government invested $38 million over four years for three Large Air Tankers to be used in firefighting efforts. In December 2019, the Federal Government announced $11 million on top of the annual $15 million. Add to this State and Local Government Costs and the opportunity cost of over 72,000 members just in NSW.
So there is a connection between cost and the value we put on something. Concepts such as deprival value and service potential become useful. Cost is a proxy for the value of what we lost, human lives, houses, businesses, over 1 Billion animals died and some flora and fauna may be extinct. A better concept of value is essential to making long term decisions for future generations.