Australia — Multi-award winning mapping technology used during Queenslands flood crisis is set to become the new weapon for the states 35,000 firefighters during the 2011 bushfire season.
The Queensland Fire and Rescue Service (QFRS), in conjunction with leading data mapping specialists Esri Australia, has spent the past two years developing a Geographic Information System (GIS) capability, which enables the organisation to plot fire, asset and resource information on a centrally accessible digital map to give them a complete picture of fire situations before, during and after they have occurred.
However, this bushfire season will be the first time several recent enhancements, including the ability for firefighters on the ground to upload data to the map in real-time, will be put to the test.
Speaking at the Australian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Councils (AFAC) annual conference in Sydney today, QFRS GIS Unit Manager Mark Wallace said the new, improved system would give firefighters a critical edge in protecting lives and assisting the 35,000 volunteers across the service.
Similar to its role in military operations, GIS is crucial for enhancing situational awareness by giving firefighters a greater understanding of what is going on around them so they can make decisions on how best to respond to an incident, Mr Wallace said.
The Esri Australia GIS technology lets firefighters view information about weather conditions, water sources, evacuation routes and other intelligence, in the easy to understand visual context of maps.
In some circumstances, GIS can mean the difference between driving five kilometres to find a water source or using a dam located just 200 metres away but hidden from view.This can result in improved decision making, better response times and a more effective allocation of resources which ultimately saves lives.
Mr Wallace told attendees at the AFAC conference that GIS technology would be crucial for the 2011 bushfire season, which began at the start of August.
While summer presents the greatest fire threat across most of Australia, spring is usually Queenslands most dangerous period.
Mr Wallace said newly acquired mobile uploading devices for frontline firefighters would ensure the GIS was more accurate and up-to-date than ever before.
Theres a lot of information about fires which cant be gathered unless you are literally on the ground battling the blaze, Mr Wallace said.
This will be the first fire season where firefighters in the thick of it can transmit valuable intelligence back to the main database and access information themselves.
Strategists in control centres will also have access to real-time information, making them more equipped to decide the best course of action.
The system will also be used for aspects of fire prevention, including the planning of fire breaks, evacuation coordination and recovery efforts.
The solution compiles information from internal sources and external organisations such as the Bureau of Meteorology, Department of Transport and Main Roads, and Geoscience Australia.
Mr Wallace said GIS was multifaceted and included data gathering and posting technologies but a key component was the mapping software.
The visual nature of GIS lends itself to firefighting because having a greater idea of the location of the fire front and how close it is to people, assets and environmental variables is crucial to the work of QFRS, Mr Wallace said.
Its also crucial that the information accessed by QFRS personnel is meaningful during high pressure situations where accuracy and timeliness of the data is paramount.
That is why the Esri Australia GIS solution is so valuable to us – its intuitive user interface allows anyone to use it, even though they may not have an in-depth understanding of the technology itself.
Mr Wallace said the QFRS planned to develop an online map aimed at informing the public of fire dangers and other critical disaster information.
We are currently working on how to use GIS to better engage with the community, Mr Wallace said.
Thats already happening, in line with the State Governments Prepare, Act, Survive campaign, and will be up and running as soon as possible.
About Esri Australia
Esri Australia has a 33 year history of providing location intelligence and data mapping solutions that help organisations make smart business decisions. The combination of local expertise and world-leading Esri GIS technology has helped thousands of government departments and commercial organisations to turn their data, information and knowledge into collective insight to reveal opportunity.
Geographic Information Systems are a key piece of technology used in thousands of organisations Australia-wide from the military and government, to the insurance and mining sector. Australias GIS industry currently stands at over $2.1 billion and more than 300,000 organisations across the world use Esri GIS.