School operations

Shelter-in-Place Buildings


This policy outlines the requirement for all schools to nominate a building(s) on the school site that provide a last resort temporary shelter-in-place option during an emergency event, and its design and expected performance criteria.


  • All schools must nominate a building or buildings on their school site that provides a last resort temporary sheltering option against the hazards and threats most likely to impact the school. This building known as Shelter-in-Place building(s) will be used:
    • in the event that evacuation from the site is no longer a viable option
    • until either the emergency has passed, or a more suitable alternative is available or
    • as an assembly point prior to evacuation
  • All schools must identify the Shelter-in-Place building(s) in their Emergency Management Plan and on their evacuation diagrams.
  • Shelter-in-Place building(s) must meet performance criteria outlined in this policy based on the school's risk profile. There are
    • additional considerations to protect from ember attack for schools that have an identified grassfire or bushfire risk, and
    • additional performance criteria for schools identified to be on the Bushfire At-Risk Register to protect from ember attack and associated consequential fires
  • Some Victorian schools are also designated Neighbourhood Safer Places which are buildings or land that are intended to be used as a refuge of last resort during the passage of a bushfire, for persons whose primary bushfire plans have failed.
  • Some Victorian schools accommodate a Community Fire Refuge prescribed in legislation which provides a place of last resort for the local community in the event of a bushfire threatening the area, when all other plans have failed.


Shelter-in-Place buildings

All schools regardless of whether they are listed on the Bushfire At-Risk Register (BARR), must nominate a Shelter-in-Place building or buildings (SIP) 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 event of a fire in the landscape, 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 (or where none has been nominated, a suitable alternative) in their Emergency Management Plan (EMP).

The location of the SIP (or alternative) must be added in evacuation diagrams, printed and displayed in each building in the school.

Schools are advised to consider including at least one SIP emergency drill per year.

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 additional criteria required, as the school’s risk of bushfire or grassfire increases.

Note: The relevant regional Manager, Operations and Emergency Management, in collaboration with other relevant areas of the Department, can provide support to schools on ensuring the SIP meets policy requirements. The Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA) can also be contacted for advice on SIPs at

Changing the nominated SIP

It is essential that all school EMPs accurately identify their current SIP (if they have one).

Schools on the BARR should not change their SIP unless there are extenuating circumstances. In these circumstances, the school must contact their regional Manager, Operations and Emergency Management, who will liaise with the Department's Security and Emergency Management Division and the VSBA prior to providing advice back to the school. In changing a designated SIP building, works may be required to ensure this building meets the Department’s SIP assessment guidelines.  Schools are liable for any capital costs incurred to change a SIP building.

Maintenance around the SIP

Maintenance is a shared responsibility between the school and the Department. However, schools are responsible for their own vegetation management.  Schools with bushfire or grassfire identified as a risk in their EMP must undertake vegetation maintenance activities, particularly around their SIP, as per below guidance:

  • 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 50 metres 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 10cm 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

Note: If you have a particular concern about removing certain vegetation from near your SIP, say a heritage tree, please seek advice from an appropriately qualified arborist or contact by email to seek additional advice.

Information on landscaping in bushfire prone areas is available on the Resources tab.  

Community bushfire safety options on school premises

Neighbourhood Safer Places

There are a number of Victorian school sites where a building or land has been authorised by the Minister for Education to be a Neighbourhood Safer Place (NSP).

NSPs provide an option of last resort during the passage of a bushfire. They are typically open spaces, such as sporting ovals.

NSPs are intended to be used by persons whose primary bushfire plans have failed. They are places of relative safety only.

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 ongoing suitability to be a designated NSP.

Designated NSPs and assessment information can be found on the CFA Neighbourhood Safer Places website.

Community Fire Refuges

A Community Fire Refuge (CFR):

  • is not a replacement for community members having their own bushfire survival plan. The safest option is to be out of the area on all days of severe, extreme or Code Red fire danger
  • provides a place of last resort for the local community in the event of a bushfire threatening the area, when all other plans have failed
  • offers a higher level of protection than a residential dwelling but does not guarantee survival. Like all last resort options, CFRs carry a risk of injury or death
  • 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 Victorian schools that have a CFR in one of their school buildings. These buildings operate as their intended educational purpose, until activated as a CFR.

The CFR is only on standby for activation as a CFR on severe, extreme or Code Red days, when a fire is threatening the area. The decision to activate and permit entry to the CFR will be made by the incident controller of the bushfire.

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

If the CFR is activated within school hours, the school’s staff and students have priority access to the refuge and school staff will provide a safe space for students and the rest of the public. The site specific Community Fire Refuge Operating Procedures Manual maintained by Emergency Management Victoria outlines the operational procedures for the preparation, activation, opening and operation of the CFR during a fire event. 


Policy and Intelligence Unit
Security and Emergency Management Division
Phone: 7022 0015

Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA)
Operations and Programs Branch
Phone: 7022 2221

Relevant legislation

Department policy on the requirements/process for nominating a building(s) on the school site that provides a last resort temporary shelter-in-place option during an emergency event such as a bushfire

Reviewed 24 March 2021

Policy last updated

15 June 2020


  • Schools
  • School councils


There are multiple contacts for this policy. Refer to the Contact section of this policy for details.

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