System on trial

System on trial

09 March 2010

published by www.starnewsgroup.com.au


Australia —  A bushfire detection system being trialed in Victoria would need to be part of an integrated system of warning and communication technologies, if it is adopted as part of Australia’s future bushfire defence.

McEwen MP Fran Bailey has championed the Australian-made FireWatch system, which she studied in Germany last year following the Black Saturday bushfires.

She then successfully lobbied the Federal Government to trial the system, which has been on a four-month trial in the Otways and will finish in April.

Last week, Ms Bailey hosted a forum in Healesville to introduce the system to key stakeholders including CFA officials and volunteers, representatives of local government and others.

FireWatch managing director David Goodrich, who introduced the system, said it was not a new invention but one that could save lives, property and the environment in Australia’s fire-prone regions.

Mr Goodrich said the technology used a system of software and strategically placed sensors to detect smoke and provide an early warning system.

Asked whether it would have made a difference on Black Saturday, he was candid.

“I don’t think any system would have made a difference in those conditions. The only thing we can say is it could have detected the smoke earlier, but could anything be done? I don’t know,” he said.

“I don’t think even God could have stopped it.”

But he said more than 200 systems have been installed worldwide which were operating or being trialed in countries such as France, Portugal, Greece, America and Mexico.

Germany has been using the system for eight years and Raimund Engel, national co-ordinator of forest fire surveillance in Germany, provided an insight into the operation of the system that has 178 tower-based FireWatch sensors monitored by 22 control centres.

The system covers more than a million hectares of forest, and Mr Engel said it had helped reduce the area of forest burnt by more than 90 per cent.

Fire spotter Paul Jones was not convinced however that the system was suitable for the Australian forest environment and questioned its effectiveness stating that the human eye remained a superior method of fire detection.

Ms Bailey said the system was not a stand-alone proposition.

She said the message that was coming across consistently in the Bushfires Royal Commission was that information detected from whatever system should not just go to one place.

“With a system like this you have the ability to disseminate this information across a very wide area. What I would like to see is add-on technology such as every address within a fire area being notified that there is a fire in the area,” she said.


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