$21.5 mill for early fire warnings

$21.5 mill for early fire warnings

26 August 2010

published by www.weeklytimesnow.com.au

Australia — Plans for a cuttting-edge bushfire prediction and early warning system have been unveiled today by the Victorian Government.
Victorians have been promised real-time access to bushfire predictions online through a $21.5 million government investment – but it won’t be ready for this fire season.

This year, access to fire mapping information will be available to authorities to use when they issue alerts through the national emergency warning system.

Premier John Brumby today launched a 4-year 21.5 million plan that will upgrade the computer mapping and fire simulation system and deliver specific and detailed information on the spread of fires to help protect lives in the event of a bushfire.

The system, which the premier says is a world-first, uses weather, topography and fuel load information to predict the path of bushfires.

The system can zero in on three-by-three kilometre grids of terrain.

After consultations with about 1700 people following the Bushfires Royal Commission’s final report last month, Mr Brumby said one of the most common themes was people wanted more information, more quickly.

“We will see better information, more information provided more quickly to emergency authorities and to communities in fire affected areas,” Mr Brumby told reporters in Melbourne today.

“This year it will go out to all of the authorities.

“This is genuinely life-saving technology.”

Department of Sustainability and Environment fire chief Ewan Waller said the funding would be used to develop the system so eventually it could be directly accessed by the public.

“It’s about making sure that the public get the best information that we have as soon as we possibly can,” he said.

The government is expected to release its response to the royal commission’s 67 recommendations this week.

It has already expressed support for 59 of the recommendations but has held out on some of the most controversial proposals, including voluntary buy-outs of homes in high-risk fire areas and overhauling overhead power lines in bushfire zones.

Opposition scrutiny of government spokesman David Davis called on the government to adopt all of the recommendations in principle.

As for the new fire alert system, Mr Brumby said the fully-computerised, digital mapping system which will provide up to six hours warning of the direction, speed and intensity of a fire within minutes – instead of hours – of it being discovered.

Trialed for the past 12 months, the system integrates the existing FireWeb system with an advanced computer mapping and fire simulation system called Phoenix RapidFire.

The Victorian Government will spend $21.5 million to upgrade the FireWeb software and hardware to improve its speed even further, improve its mapping capabilities and to provide more comprehensive access for other firefighting agencies, he said.

“Black Saturday highlighted that our mapping and fire prediction systems needed improving. One of the key messages from the Royal Commission was that early warning of bushfires plays an extremely important role in making our community safer,” Mr Brumby said.

“This new technology is a world’s best-practice computer system that integrates critical fire, Bureau of Meteorology weather data, topographical information and on ground fuel data and maps it immediately in digital format for use by fire authorities to predict the path and intensity of fires.

“This will vastly improve the ability of fire authorities to determine which communities will be impacted by fire and deliver early and accurate warnings to them. This will happen within minutes of the fire being discovered rather than what could have taken hours previously.

Mr Brumby said the new system would also assist fire incident management teams in delivering information to firefighters on the ground to assist them in their suppression efforts.

He said information on FireWeb would immediately be made available to fire authorities to inform public warnings through One Source One Message, DSE and CFA websites and delivered to media outlets that have a Memorandum of Understanding to provide emergency warnings.

“Members of the community will be able to go to those websites or turn on their televisions and radios and access the warnings and information generated by FireWeb almost immediately after a fire has been discovered,” he said.

The $21.5 million Victorian Government investment will:

* Further improve the speed and capacity of the system;
* Increase capacity of the software to allow greater access by partner agencies;
* Full backup of the system through new computer servers;
* Establishing a training program for incident controllers in fire prediction mapping; and,
* Allow better tracking of firefighting staff and fire vehicles.

Environment Minister Gavin Jennings said the FireWeb and Phoenix RapidFire system, which was developed by Dr Kevin Tolhurst from the University of Melbourne, had been praised by visiting firefighting teams from across the world.

“This system has the capacity to calculate the potential spread of fire across the landscape under different weather, fuel load and fire suppression scenarios,” Mr Jennings said.

“Previously, predictions about fire behaviour have been hand drawn on a map and which took more time to be entered into our fire mapping system.

“We believe the new FireWeb system will provide exactly the type of early warning information the Royal Commission report said would help make Victoria safer.”

Mr Jennings said the FireWeb and Phoenix RapidFire system was trialled as a pilot system last fire season and would be live in time for this fire season.

“It will become the primary system for our bushfire response in Victoria,” he said.

Police and Emergency Services Minister Bob Cameron said the FireWeb system brought together information from across the fire services.

“As well as the DSE FireWeb is accessed by the CFA and other partner agencies who are working on bushfires and planned burns and can be accessed at remote locations by authorised users from anywhere with internet access,” Mr Cameron said.

He said fire authorities would be able to access information from FireWeb to enable warnings to be disseminated to the public.

“The public external system will also allow the community to access information on the location and timing of planned burns. They will also be able to apply for automated information on planned burns to be delivered to them via email or SMS,” Mr Cameron said.

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