Firefighters get real-time simulator

Firefighters get real-time simulator

03 December 2011

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Australia — A COMPUTER program developed from collaboration between the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA), Landgate and UWA predicts bushfire movement.

One of the programs creators, School of Computer Science and Software Engineering Professor George Milne, says the system will allow firefighters to further understand how a fire will move and gives them a powerful tool in controlling it.

“[Firefighters will] more rapidly understand how changes to wind-speed and direction will impact on where the fire is moving…to more rapidly predict future fire locations.” He says.

The program uses a number of different data sets including topographic, vegetation, fuel-load maps and is able to calculate rate of spread for different vegetation types.

When a fire starts burning additional data such as current and future weather forecasts are downloaded automatically from the Bureau of Meteorology and the time and locations of ignitions can be input manually.

The system will then use this additional data to output a fire spread map which shows the predicted location of the fire front at specific future intervals.

This will give the teams fighting the fire an idea of how it may respond to the environmental and atmospheric conditions.

Predictions can be used in conjunction with early fire warning systems to let possibly affected members of the community know ahead of time.

The program can also strengthen preventative measures as it can test the effectiveness of fuel reduction measures and risk assessment strategies.

Prof Milne says it could possibly be used on board firetrucks giving the FESA teams direct access to the system in the field.

The system is a cell-based simulator which predicts the spread of the fire by dividing the mapped terrain into small separate areas and then determines the time that each area takes to ignite and spread.

One of the benefits of this type of system is that it is not performance intensive and means predictions can be made quickly and do not require high powered computers.

The speed of the simulation runtime—generally lower than one minute—means that predictions can be updated as quickly as new data from the field is available, giving firefighters almost instant access to the prediction map.

Prof Milne says the system is ready for use now and plans to field-test the system with FESA this coming fire season.

A FESA spokesperson said the new system has yet to be implemented and was not used in the recent Margaret River bushfires.

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