Australia: Bushfire protection assisted by new aircraft and mapping initiative

Australia: Bushfire protection assisted by new aircraft andmapping initiative

(published by the NSW Rural FireService, 29 January 2004)

The NRMA Insurance FireScan – a new state-of-the-artaircraft and mapping technology package – will help NSW firefighters battleblazes by tracking fire spread in real time and assist bushfire pronecommunities prepare by mapping fuel loads.

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) and NRMA Insurancelaunched the initiative today at Bankstown Airport. The RFS and NRMA Insurancehave formed a strategic partnership to address the threat posed to life,property and the environment by bushfires in NSW by developing this initiative.NRMA Insurance is part of Insurance Australia Group, the leading generalinsurance group in Australia, which is contributing $1.5 million for theBeechcraft King Air 200 aircraft – callsign FireScan 255 – to carry advancedAirborne Infrared and Multispectral Scanner Mapping technology.

The scanning technology gathers data to create a range ofimages, such as thermal pictures of active fire edge, hot spots and burnt areas,or vegetation to indicate fuel levels, which are manipulated to create maps.”NSW will be setting the world standard in bushfire management with thistechnology,” RFS Commissioner Phil Koperberg said. “The RFS will be ableto map fires faster and more accurately so we have details of fire location andfire spread. We can use this to put firefighters, tankers and aircraft in thebest positions to protect communities and plan containment strategies. “Wewill also be able to be proactive about risk management by scanning and mappingvegetation and fuel loads so bushfire prone communities know where risks exist.”It is then possible to target high risk areas to carry out communityeducation programs to encourage people to prepare properties, formulateemergency plans, strategically place brigades and resources, target hazardreduction work, and ensure new constructions and renovations meet bushfireprotection standards.”

NRMA Insurance, Group Executive of Personal Insurance, RickJackson said, “Our commitment to the community is about sharing knowledgeof risk and educating people on how to mitigate or minimise the threat ofbushfire danger. “The NRMA Insurance FireScan will help the RFS and itspeople on the frontline fight fires, potentially saving homes and lives duringtimes of devastating bushfires. It will also be used to collect valuable data inthe ‘off season’, enabling NRMA Insurance to develop tailored programs forcommunities most at risk, educating them on risk mitigation and what to do inthe event of a bushfire. It will also enhance NRMA Insurance’s risk modelling.”

Although similar capabilities exist already in NSW andVictoria, NSW is taking the next step by improving the technology and placing itin the twin-engine turbine aircraft.

Current scanning systems, such as Forward Looking Infra Red(FLIR) from helicopters, will be complemented by the NRMA Insurance FireScan.Information gathered by FLIR can be limited because helicopters fly at lowlevels over small sections of the fire. They cannot get close enough forcompletely accurate plots if fire behaviour is erratic and smoke haze obscuresvisibility. Data processing often can’t be done until the aircraft lands,meaning information can be a few hours old. The NRMA Insurance FireScan flies athigh altitude collecting data through dense smoke and limited cloud. It canoperate day or night. Some of the data can now be processed immediately on boardthe aircraft to be quickly delivered to fire managers when it lands. Soon, thedata will be streamed directly from the NRMA Insurance FireScan to fire controlcentres so the information is as current as possible.

“One of the hardest, and most crucial, aspects offirefighting is having an accurate map of where the fire is,” CommissionerKoperberg said. “Real time data will give firefighters another advantage sowe are very keen to continue to develop the capabilities of the NRMA InsuranceFireScan to achieve this. “NRMA Insurance’s participation means thiscapability will be developed.”

In order to ensure the aircraft is used to its full extent,it will also transport key specialists and freight. The technology has otherapplications – such as vegetation mapping, flood risk analysis, flood monitoringsoil analysis, water temperature studies, reef mapping, drought damageassessment, earthquake fault surveillance, water quality studies, mineralexploration and many more.


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