The cutting edge of bushfire surveillance will use drones and social media updates to feed an incredibly sophisticated data engine, making it possible to predict and monitor the unpredictable.
Fire authorities arewarning this summer’s fire risk is the highest since Black Saturday.
The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission into the 2009 Black Saturday fires noted there was a need for more “forward-looking research.”
But since then, the bulk of the work to prevent it happening again has been directed into community engagement schemes.
Dr Allison Kealy, a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Infrastructure Engineering, says that ‘big data’ can prevent and protect us from bushfires.But one expert says it’s now technologically possible to predict them in the first place.
“Yes. There is enough that we know about fire behaviour and enough that we can measure about the environment in which fires are occurring, it’s a matter now of making sure we have enough technology in place,” she said.
She says the coming fire seasons will see a decentralized information network, being fed with information from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), wireless sensors, improved high-resolution and real-time satellite imagery.
“It will even aggregate information from crowd-sourced data, like Twitter and Facebook.”
Her team at the University of Melbourne is partnered with the University of California in San Diego, and are working to design and build resilient streaming sensor networks for bushfire response.
Her project aims to add useful information to the currently incomplete data-set, for example, Bureau of Meteorology maps which don’t contain detail for high-risk areas.
“Slopes and gradients on those maps have micro-climates that have complete different characteristics.”
She says it’s a merge of real-time, event-driven data with pre-existing data.
“If we understand how wet the fuel is in the forest, we are able to determine how the fire will decrease in intensity or how it’s going to propagate through that area, then we can use satellite or live data to model its path.”
The use of technology in bushfire communications has improved; for example the CFA FreReady app allows mobile users to share user-generated geo-codded images and view official, real-time warning and advisories.
But new technologies, more specifically mining hugely complex data sets provided by emerging surveillance technologies, won’t be used on the front line this summer.
“The gap has closed when it comes to the ability to share information this summer, but we need a more detailed and focused approach when it comes to the integrity of data capture, analysis and visualisation,” Dr Kealy said.
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