Shelter-in-Place Building(s)

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School Shelter-in-Place building(s) (SIP) must meet performance criteria based on the school's risk profile namely that schools:

  • meet the minimum prescribed performance criteria for their SIP;
  • consider some protection to make their SIP more resistant to bushfire and/or grassfire ember attack schools with a bushfire or grassfire risk ; and
  • if on the Bushfire At-Risk Register (BARR), have protections that make the SIP more resistant to bushfire ember attack and associated consequential fires.


Schools, regardless of their BARR status, should nominate a building or buildings on the school site that provide a last resort temporary shelter option until either an emergency has passed or a more suitable alternative is available. In the case of a bushfire, a SIP may be used as a central assembly point prior to evacuation, or as a last resort when evacuation from the site is no longer a viable option. Leaving early is always the best option.  

Schools must identify the SIP in their Emergency Management Plan and in their Evacuation Diagrams which must be printed and displayed in each building in the school. In the event the school does not have a nominated SIP, there must be identified and suitable alternate arrangements noted in their Emergency Management Plan. 

SIP performance criteria

The selection of a SIP needs to be based on existing accessible facilities. The following performance criteria should inform the choice of SIP on the school site with the criteria including additional elements as the risk from bushfire/grassfire increases.

All schools

The following performance criteria should inform the choice of SIP on the school site with the criteria including additional elements as the risk from bushfire/grassfire increases.

All schools with a nominated SIP must ensure:

    • all students and staff and visitors present on the site at the initiation of the emergency are able to be accommodated;
    • the requirements under the National Construction Code (NCC) are met for safe egress,  assuming that the maximum school population occupies the building;
    • access to toilets and water from within the building(s) is considered;
    • access for emergency services;
    • ­safety equipment (i.e. fire fighting services and equipment) is in proper working order and meets the relevant essential safety measures (ESM) maintenance requirements applicable to the age of the building;
    • the location of the SIP and emergency management plan is shared with co-located early childhood services (and vice versa)
    • that at the time of construction, or where there is any substantial renovation to an existing SIP,  works comply with the current NCC and are independently certified by a building surveyor. 
      • NOTE: Occupant safety is a fundamental requirement of building regulations. The NCC is a uniform set of technical provisions for the design and construction of buildings and other structures throughout Australia and allows for variations in climate and geological or geographic conditions.  See National Construction Code – All School Buildings (link to section) below for further detail..

Schools with bushfire/grassfire identified as a threat/hazard in their Emergency Management Plan risk assessment

In addition to the performance criteria for all schools, the following should be applied. The SIP must:

    • be sited as far as practicable from sources of bushfire both within the school and beyond the school boundary;
    • have adequate building surroundings that: allow safe egress and passage to the next contingent shelter option;
    • not present an unacceptably high ignition risk;
    • not provide an unacceptably high level of toxic smoke load to the SIP building or egress routes;
    • minimise flammable elements including combustible material within 10m of the building, such as plastic equipment, rubbish skips, recycling bins, wood piles, gas cylinders and plants with the potential to produce localised flame contact with any vulnerable part of the building; and
    • have access to a static water supply i.e. a properly maintained hydrant, booster systems and/or tank water supply that ensures fire crews have adequate means to defend the SIP if they are able to attend.

Where the SIP does not meet these criteria, the school's Emergency Management Plan must include alternate bushfire safety actions within their bushfire/grassfire response procedure.

Schools on the Bushfire At-Risk Register

In addition to the performance criteria for schools with bushfire/grassfire identified as a threat/hazard in their Emergency Management Plan; the SIP must: 

  • have sufficient doors for egress that are not able to externally combust or require passage over combustible surfaces or decking with exits that allow for the timely exit of the building under bushfire conditions with consideration of the potential rate that the building could lose tenability in a bushfire;
  • have non-combustible external building elements and attachments ;
  • consider specific building design details which limit the likelihood of ignition and limit the rate at which the building loses tenability (related to the effective evacuation/exit time) in a bushfire, such as avoiding:
    • hidden, unoccupied or unmonitored combustible building cavities or rooms
    • combustible external façade materials
    • attached buildings and building elements that are not built to the same requirements; (A significant structure that is located near a SIP can present a higher ignition threat to the building than an ember attack. Radiant heat and/or flames from a nearby burning structure may be enough to ignite a building. It is recommended that a registered fire safety engineer is engaged to analyse the risks and provide appropriate advice).
  • if assessed under the 2016-17 Bushfire Risk and Readiness Program, with works completed which used a combination of fire engineering principles and AS3959, continue to be maintained at this standard. The annual maintenance of the SIP is the responsibility of the school with any changes beyond the annual maintenance approved by the VSBA Operations and Programs Branch 
  • under the VSBA's Rolling Facilities Evaluation Project, a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) and condition assessment, including identification of  required maintenance works, is undertaken every five years, with a desktop BAL assessment half way through the five-year cycle. If the BAL rating is higher in comparison to the original BAL rating, an on-site BAL assessment and SIP assessment may be undertaken.
    • schools that require a BAL Report, for building(s) as part of an overall risk assessment, outside this timeframe should consult with the Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA) and/or use a Bushfire Planning and Design (BPAD) accredited level 2 or 3 bushfire consultant found on the Fire Protection Association Australia (FPAA) website (or in a very limited number of circumstances, direct support from the Country Fire Authority may be requested).  
  • meet essential safety measures maintenance and maintenance of exits and paths of travel based on when the building was built and may like to consider upgrades (funded by the school) that would align with newer construction dates;
  • have no combustible material within 10 metres of the building, such as plastic equipment, rubbish skips, recycling bins, wood piles, gas cylinders and plants with the potential to produce localised flame contact with any vulnerable part of the building  and
  • choose plants with low flammability and locate them correctly.

Where the SIP does not meet these criteria, the school's Emergency Management Plan must include alternate bushfire safety actions within their bushfire/grassfire response procedure.

Maintenance around the SIP and school buildings

School maintenance is a shared responsibility between the school and the Department.

Schools are responsible for their own vegetation management. Schools with bushfire/grassfire identified as a risk in their Emergency Management Plan must endeavour to ensure the below maintenance activities are met. These requirements are of increasing importance around the SIP.

  • the school site has been slashed or cleared of all flammable undergrowth such as dry grass and vegetation to the site boundary unless it is greater than 50m from buildings, evacuation routes and evacuation locations.
  • a fuel reduced zone must be established around buildings (20 metres as a guide) consistent with the following requirements:
    • grass must be short cropped and maintained during the declared fire danger period;
    • all leaves and vegetation debris must be removed at regular intervals during the declared fire danger period;
    • within 10 metres of a building, flammable objects must not be located close to the vulnerable parts of the building;
    • plants greater than 10 centimetres in height must not be placed within 3 metres of a window or glass feature of the building;
    • shrubs must not be located under the canopy of trees.
    • individual and clumps of shrubs must not exceed 5 square metres in area and must be separated by at least 5 metres;
    • trees must not overhang or touch any elements of the building.
    • the canopy of trees must be separated by at least 5 metres; and
    • there must be a clearance of at least 2 metres between the lowest tree branches and ground level.
  • remove dead vegetation and other flammable elements and prune lower limbs of established trees (check with local council before removing trees)
  • the fuel reduced zone, does not have plantings that are dense and typical of bushland settings (CFA's publication Landscaping for Bushfire provides information and ways to appropriately manage vegetation around buildings; additional advice may be available from CFA Community Safety in regional offices and CFA Headquarters);
  • trees or branches overhanging buildings and sheds have been removed or trimmed to a height of 2 metres from building rooflines and 2 metres clear of buildings;
  • all stockpiled leaves, pruning, dead limbs and trees and other combustible materials have been removed from the site;
  • thick, continuous shrubs or other vegetation contacting building walls or directly under windows have been removed; and
  • rooves and roof gutters are clear of leaves, twigs and branches.

Changing the nominated Shelter-in-Place

Schools on the BARR should not change their SIP unless there are extenuating circumstances. If these circumstances exist the school must consult with the VSBA Operations and Programs Branch and the Department's Security and Emergency Management Division. This will ensure that for schools on the BARR the Rolling Facilities Evaluation Bushfire Specification and any required work is applied to the correct building(s).

For all schools it is important that the school's Emergency Management Plan identifies the current SIP.

Community bushfire safety options on school premises

Neighbourhood Safer Places

There are a number of school sites where a building or land or both, with Minister for Education consent, has a Neighbourhood Safer Place (NSP).

NSPs provide an option of last resort during the passage of a bushfire. NSPs are intended to be used by persons whose primary bushfire plans have failed. They are places of relative safety only. To achieve designation as an NSP, sites go through the following process:

  • the Country Fire Authority (CFA), upon the request of local municipal council assesses prospective sites site to determine if they meet the requisite vegetation assessment criteria.
  • the council must then undertake a risk assessment which may be conducted by the Municipal Emergency Management Planning Committee to determine if the site is suitable for designating as an NSP.

Council may designate:

  • land it owns as an NSP
  • an NSP on non-council owned land, subject to approval from the owner/occupier - in the case of school sites the Department seeks authorisation from the Minister for Education (confirmed by a public notice in the Government Gazette).

The NSP may or may not be the same location as the school SIP.

The NSP is assessed annually by 31 August by the municipal council to determine if it is still suitable to be designated by continuing to meet the assessment criteria.

Designated NSPs and assessment information can be found on the CFA website

Community Fire Refuges

A Community Fire Refuge: 

  • provides a place of last resort for the local community in the event of a bushfire
  • offers a higher level of protection than a residential dwelling
  • must comply with the performance and operational requirements and required prescriptive inputs for the public construction of CFRs in accordance with Ministerial Directions for public construction

Ferny Creek Primary School and Millwarra Primary School are the only schools that have a CFR in our one of their school buildings. These buildings operate as their intended educational purpose, until activated as a CFR.

If there is a serious threat from bush or grass fire and a Watch and Act emergency warning or recommendation to evacuate is issued or if determined by the Incident Control Centre or State Control Centre, the community will be permitted to occupy the building as a fire refuge.

The only exception to this is if the CFR is activated within school hours. In which case, the School has priority access to the refuge and school staff will provide distinguishable separation between the public, school staff and students. A Community Fire Refuge Operating Procedures Manual outlines the operational procedures for the preparation, activation, opening and operation of the CFR during a fire event. 

National Construction Code – All School Buildings

The National Construction Code (NCC)  

  • is reviewed and amended every three years to include various technical and regulatory changes
  • incorporates all on-site construction requirements into a single code
  • comprises the Building Code of Australia (BCA), Volume One and Two; and the Plumbing Code of Australia (PCA), as Volume Three

Schools are Class 9 buildings in the BCA. 

For a brief overview see: NCC - All School Buildings (docx - 28.23kb)

Related policies

Department resources

Other resources

Further Information

Further information is available from or the relevant regional Manager, Operations and Emergency Management.