Australia — THE Country Fire Authority of Victoria has finished a $16 million technology upgrade just in time for the start of the bushfire season.
The state government-funded project is designed to bolster communications and technology in response to the Black Saturday tragedy.
The project, which included the restructure of CFA’s communications network to allow for a faster, improved flow of information, completed its second phase on Friday last week. Its first phase began in August last year.
The project delivered 42 incident control centres capable of supporting 40 operators at once as well as 170 divisional commands to support up to 10 people each.
The work stems from the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission interim recommendations released in August last year. “We realised that we would need an awful lot of infrastructure to get them (ICCs and divisional commands) working,” CFA technology services executive manager Michael Foreshew said.
The new networkimproves the flow of information between authorities, control centres, State Control Centre, firefighters, administrative staff and the community during a bushfire, providing real-time updates on fire incidents, firefighter welfare and weather forecasts as they develop.
CFA is responsible for fire and emergency response in country Victoria and the outer metropolitan area of Melbourne. It has 61,000 volunteers and about 2000 employees and supports about 1250 brigades in 1300 locations.
Mr Foreshew said the project would deliver better access to information and the ability to communicate more directly.
“It is just as though they were here at headquarters,” he said.
The first stage of the project, completed in January, involved upgrading communications systems at the largest incident control centres. .
Delivered by NetstarLogicalis Australia, it was based on Cisco Catalyst switches and included hardware, software and maintenance.
It provided a unified network for data, voice and video and was designed to help manage power consumption across the network and attached devices, allowing the CFA to reduce energy costs and its carbon footprint.
“We put Telstra TCS links as a primary and a 3G as a back-up, so if we lose the cable we have some sort of back-up,” Mr Foreshew said. “It included PCs, switch gear, networking equipment, both fixed such as CAT 6 cabling, as well as wireless access back into the CFA network so it was fully networked and operational with headquarters.”
CFA also undertook an extension of its IP phone system and put in equipment, such as projector screens to show incidents on a big screen, as well as installing radios.
“One of the things that we found is that on high fire danger days these locations will be staffed with volunteers who may also have to run their business,” Mr Foreshew said. “By giving them internet access they can do their email or whatever they need to continue their business.”
The second stage of the project was designed to imp
rove communications access to divisional command bases across the state to Cisco ISR G2 routers. CFA now has the ability to deploy or move remote firefighting command operations with ease and speed.
“What we are doing now with NetstarLogicalis and Cisco is the implementation of virtualisation technology to allow a greater resilience from our back-end servers,” Mr Foreshew said.
CFA has also implemented the Cisco UCS product with NetApp storage.
“Our Citrix servers are now running on it and progressively we will add new applications to it as the virtualisation strategy is complete and the disaster recovery strategy is updated to reflect this.”
He said additional work was planned as part of the royal commission’s final recommendations, which came out mid-year.
CFA plans to trial tablet-style computers this summer for use by incident controllers. It is also working on a program to put mobile data terminals into vehicles to allow users access to information such as maps and weather.