Bushfires – Fighting back with an asset management plan

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.

4 Thoughts on “Bushfires – Fighting back with an asset management plan

  1. Ashley Bishop on January 31, 2020 at 9:07 am said:

    I get concerned where the Asset Management Plan (AMP) has become the panacea for all problems, my experience in local government is that everything ends up an assets problem, but where does the responsibility for this planning, forecasting, scenario development and service delivery options rest with the Service Planner? There is an iteration between Service Plans and AMPs but in the end the Service Plan will define what is going to be provided and supported (you could substitute Business Plan here).
    Would an AMP be expected to have “in the event of a catastrophic disaster – assets are replaced with….” when there may be a decision to no longer provide the service that asset provided? This may be affected by a change in the demographics, environment or economic costs (like an escalation in insurance premiums) Surely the first decision to be considered is – do we continue the service and if so in what form, as this will drive the asset requirements.
    When I started in AM 20 years ago, Service Planning was a component of the AMP, however now the AMP is a component of the Service Plan and I think Service Planning needs to step up – especially in the areas of risk and forecasting.

    • Really good point and I agree. I’ve always thought of an Asset Management Plan being the same as a service plan for organisations but you’ve alerted me that I can’t make that assumption. In the NAMSPLUS templates based on IPWEA IMM we start in the executive summary with the description of the service and the life cycle cost of the service, not the asset. The goals and objectives section has a focus on providing services. Any asset management plan that does not do that is a “maintenance management plan” for existing assetsn not an asset management plan (in my view). Thank you for your comment – made me think.

  2. Ganesh Subramanian on February 4, 2020 at 5:23 pm said:

    I get an feel that in asset menagement – disaster management should be an additional entity to get included…..and its risk/cost/value to be foused….this should include the helath related disaster due to sudden virus spread (ex – corona virus spread) ….to discuss in detail for the prepareness by country / Global (say through unfccc.int- UNFCCC) as it would be a major “Global” asset Value…predict, prevent, manage……

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