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Spatial Data To Aid Fire Fighting Efforts

Spatial Data To Aid Fire Fighting Efforts

As Australia braces itself for what may well be another horrendous bushfire season, emergency management authorities and fire controllers are increasingly turning to a range of spatial information tools to assist their fire fighting efforts.

For instance the ACT Government will again this year rely on Sentinel, which went live just before bush fires swept through NSW and the ACT last summer devastating some Canberra suburbs, to help with its fire fighting efforts.

Sentinel Fire, a joint creation of the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO), Geoscience Australia, and CSIRO Land and Water Division, uses satellite imagery to help emergency management organisations fight bushfires and to keep citizens informed about current bushfires in their area. The web-based resource combines different forms of data and shows the advance of fire fronts on maps.

And with the ACT still recovering from its worst recorded bushfires, the ACT Government expects to make heavy use of the recently released GeoInsight Resource Kit, which has been made available to 3000 emergency services personnel and geospatial businesses, to assist in disaster management.

The GeoInsight Resource Kit shows emergency managers how geographic information systems can help them in disaster situations. Manager of the Risk Management Unit with the ACT Emergency Services Bureau Rick McRae says the material presented in the GeoInsight Resource Kit is essential for those managing emergencies in today’s complex world. "We benefited greatly from using many of the ideas during the catastrophic Canberra bushfires," he says.

Other states are also moving towards more extensive use of geospatial systems like Firemap 2003, a statewide 1:25,000 scale digital map series for use by Fire Management. Firemap is a series of map images compiled from the most current snapshot of tree coverage, fire management infrastructure, emergency service organisation (ESO) locations, state road network, and public land boundaries all overlaid on a topographic base.

Many authorities also intend to make heavy use of the new Australian emergency management portal, Australian Disaster Information Network (AusDIN), which provides a range of information services to emergency managers. The portal addresses specific threats and natural hazards using mapping systems on the Geoscience Australia web site.

According to Paul Kelly, Executive Director ANZLIC (the Spatial Information Council, a joint initiative of the Australian and New Zealand Governments and the governments of the States and Territories of Australia), the case is now “pretty clear” that there is significant benefit in the use of a wide range of different sorts of spatial tools.

“I think the case has been made that spatial information is a valuable tool amongst others for use to predict and then also to respond to a whole range of emergencies including bushfires,” Kelly says. “There are existing large investments in most of the States and Territories in building systems which now deliver image and other forms of geospatial data to emergency services operatives. And there is now a major report which is now looking at the use of spatial information for counterterrorism, for example.”

Meanwhile in the US the General Accounting Office has just produced a report to Congress: “Geospatial Information Technologies Hold Promise for Wildland Fire Management, but Challenges Remain” which finds geospatial information technologies can aid in managing wildland fires by providing accurate, detailed, and timely information to federal, state, and local decision makers; fire-fighting personnel; and the public.

However, the report finds there are multiple challenges to effectively using these technologies to manage wildland fires, including challenges with data, systems, infrastructure, staffing, and the effective use of new products.

“The National Wildfire Coordinating Group — composed of representatives from the five land management agencies and from other federal, state, and tribal organizations — has several initiatives under way to address specific challenges, but progress on these initiatives has been slow, and not all of the challenges are being addressed,” the report says.

It finds lack of an overall strategy guiding interagency management of information resources and technology is a root cause of many of the challenges.

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