Experts offer comment on national bushfire crisis

Gospers fire front on Boxing Day 2019
Satellite thermal image overlay on Google Earth: Looking south over the Gospers Mountain fire front on Boxing day 2019. Andrew Leahy. 

As Australia continues to be gripped by the bushfire crisis, Western Sydney University has a range of experts available for media commentary.

Associate Professor Matthias Boer, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment: Associate Professor Boer leads the Fire Research Group within the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (HIE) and leads HIE research within the NSW Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub. He is an expert in fire ecology and fire management, with particular interest in the biophysical modelling of fire regimes, effects of climate change, and fire risk mitigation by prescribed burning.

Dr Rachael Nolan, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment: A member of the Fire Research Group within HIE and an expert in forest flammability, Dr Nolan can speak about the pre-conditions that are necessary for fires of this magnitude and the behaviour of forest fuel sources.

Dr Kate Umbers, School of Science and Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment: A Lecturer in Zoology and expert in animal behaviour, genetics and thermoregulation. Dr Umbers can speak about the impact of the fires on alpine animals – including the resilience of some species, and the potential impact of the bushfires on biodiversity.

Professor Brajesh Singh, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment and Global Centre for Land-Based Innovation: Professor Singh leads research on the impact of loss of biodiversity on key ecosystem functions and service. He can speak about role of soil biodiversity in recovery of fire damaged ecosystems.

Dr Maggie Davidson, School of Science: An Occupational Hygienist and Lecturer in Environmental Health and Management, Dr Davidson is a member of the Blue Mountains and Lithgow Project Air Watch Steering Committee and is involved in ongoing research that monitors air quality in the Blue Mountains. Dr Davidson can comment on the decline of air quality during the bushfires, and measures to control occupational exposure to aerosols.

Professor Basant Maheshwari, School of Science: Professor Maheshwari’s expertise includes urbanisation and climate change, sustainable water management during droughts and bushfires and balanced urban development for liveable cities with reduced risks of floods and fires.

Professor Sathaa Sathasivan, School of Computer, Data and Mathematical Sciences: Professor Sathasivan is an Environmental Engineer and the lead in Western Sydney University’s Water Group. He specialises on water quality and water treatment and can comment on the impact of the bushfires on water treatment processes and the distribution system water quality.

Dr Malini Sur, Institute for Culture and Society: An anthropologist that examines the impacts of air pollution, climate change and natural disasters, Dr Sur can comment on the potential social and cultural impacts of the bushfires.

Dr Jessica Weir, Institute for Culture and Society: A Senior Research Fellow, currently leading two projects funded by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre (BNHCRC). Dr Weir can comment on the involvement of Indigenous communities in fire sector management practices, and the relationship between science and fire policy and practice.

Associate Professor Gwyneth Howell, School of Humanities and Communication Arts: An expert in public relations, communications and corporate marketing, Associate Professor Howell’s research focuses on the use of social media during crises and disasters. She can comment on the mobilisation of online communities during the bushfires, and how social media has been used to disseminate and access emergency information.

Dr Joanne Orlando, School of Education and Institute for Culture and Society: An expert in digital literacy, Dr Orlando can comment on the use of technologies including social media during the bushfires.

Adjunct Associate Professor Karleen Gribble, School of Nursing and Midwifery: An expert in infant feeding, Dr Gribble can comment on the support that is required for infants and young children within bushfire affected communities and in evacuation centres, as well as the lack of planning for children in emergencies.

Dr Michelle Cull, School of Business: A Senior Lecturer in Accounting and Financial Planning, Dr Cull can comment on the organisational structure, governance and funding of the Rural Fire Services in Australia.

Dr Michelle O’Shea, School of Business: A Lecturer in Hospitality, Marketing and Sport, Dr O’Shea can comment on the implications of the bushfires for sport – from major sporting fixtures and events to junior level competitions. Dr O’Shea can also comment on training practices during extreme heat and bushfire conditions, and the involvement of sport organisations such as surf lifesaving clubs, both during the bushfire emergency and in helping communities rebuild afterwards.

Dr Felicity Picken, School of Social Sciences: A Lecturer in Tourism and Heritage, Dr Picken can comment on the impact of the bushfires on international perceptions of Australia and tourism practices.

For interviews, contact the Western Sydney University Media Unit:


9 January 2020

Photo: Andrew Leahy

Danielle Roddick, Senior Media Officer