How would our healthcare system have coped if Black Saturday left us with not only the 173 deceased, but 3000 casualties requiring urgent hospitalisation?
What if cyclone Larry had struck a few degrees north in 2006, putting Cairns in danger? And how would we respond to a major earthquake striking one of our big cities or a tsunami hitting a major population centre?
Many of the Bushfires Royal Commission's recommendations, while driven by the events of Black Saturday, have relevance across the whole range of natural hazards nationwide.
Since European settlement, more than 6000 people have died as a result of natural disasters in Australia. In each of the past 30 years, disasters have cost the community at least $1 billion in current dollar terms - and the costs are increasing.
Last December, the Council of Australian Governments identified the need for a national disaster resilience strategy to enhance Australia's capacity to withstand and recover from disasters.
In the light of the bushfires commission's findings, there are three broad measures that need to be taken to make Australia more resilient.
First, Australia's counter-disaster agencies and governments, at all levels, need to make greater efforts to educate the community about the hazards they face and community safety planning. Those who choose to live in bushfire or flood-prone areas must share some of the responsibility for dealing with the risk. Anybody who thinks that the emergency services or the military have the resources to save them personally in every crisis is delusional.
Warnings must be preceded by education about risks, how to recognise them, what they mean and how people should react. A more effective national approach to community warnings should be developed.
Just as we have the Bureau of Meteorology responsible for weather forecasts Australia-wide, we should establish a national warning agency that would enable individuals and emergency authorities to take action to respond to natural disasters and other significant emergencies.
It would operate around the clock and have staff in all states and territories to liaise with local emergency and police agencies. It would ensure that all relevant data was gathered to estimate the risks and issue warnings independently of response agencies.
Second, as a nation we need to address problems in land-use management. Due to population pressures and lifestyle choices, there are increasing demands for development in high-risk locations.
Building near bush, on flood plains or on foreshores poses dangers to community safety, but is rarely discussed because of the potential impact on land and house prices.
Australian emergency service agencies will need to play a more active role in land-use decisions so public safety criteria are given weight. The insurance industry needs to be engaged as part of the process.
Immediately after Black Saturday, then prime minister Kevin Rudd promised that ''we will rebuild these communities, brick by brick, school by school, hall by hall''. The former head of the Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority stated that it was vital that communities ''rebuild in the ways they wanted''. These messages are misguided. We should not be encouraging development in fire-prone environments, and existing settlements should be removed from hazardous environments. A multi-government Australian land-use planning taskforce should be established to take a national approach to land-use strategies and planning decisions.
Third, we need to deal with the fragmentation of our national emergency response effort. Unlike counter-terrorism, there has not been a similar degree of national leadership in emergency management policy and practice. Australia has a large variety of agencies with responsibilities for managing our various sources of risk to community safety. It's hard to get co-operative partnerships among politically powerful agencies involved in emergencies, which tend to see reform proposals as undermining their status and budgets.
One place to start getting better emergency services co-ordination would be comprehensive inter-agency professional development. The Commonwealth should be more active in facilitating such training and this might be developed along the lines of the Australian Defence Force's staff college system.
The Australian government should show leadership in driving greater co-ordination of federal agencies in emergency response and recovery through a cabinet mandate to Emergency Management Australia to this effect. Federal legislation should be enacted to allow the Commonwealth to exercise necessary emergency powers should a catastrophic disaster occur.
Finally, to tie together these broad measures, there is the need for serious research into national resilience. An Australian resilience institute that would research and develop measures to be implemented by families, communities, businesses and governments to resist, respond to and bounce back from any disaster would be a positive legacy from Australia's biggest natural disaster.
Anthony Bergin and David Templeman are the co-authors of Taking a Punch; Building a more resilient Australia, published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.