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The challenge

Natural hazards pose a huge threat to Australia

Natural and man-made disasters constitute a major threat to the economy, environment, and communities in Australia and globally. CSIRO’s research aims at improving situational awareness and building decisional support for strategic, tactical, and real-time planning and post-recovery efforts. These decisions involve multiple complex infrastructures, multiple agencies, and multiple stakeholders and focus on building environmental and societal resilience. 

The NHI’s motivation to provide solutions in the areas described in this case study are:

  • Australia has a very large coastline with about 85% of its population living along this coastline
  • Australia is very bushfire prone and this is affecting more of its population due to the peri-urban
  • Expected increases in both the severity and frequency of both floods and bushfires due to climate
  • Australians like to live among nature and this creates its own challenges when it comes to
    evacuation during a natural hazard event.

Challenges faced by researchers in addressing these problems include:

  • Lack of good quality nationally consistent data and mapping
  • Spatial and temporal challenges in modelling and analysis of hazard events, especially in an urban context
  • Lack of understanding of climate change and its impacts especially in the context of local infrastructure planning
  • Inability to synthesize disparate historical datasets to then produce an evidence base for future infrastructure investment decisions
  • Inability to reconcile with apparent conflicts in planning decisions especially in larger complex cities
  • The unavailability of digital tools that incorporate the latest knowledge in natural hazard science impairing critical decision making in the event of a natural disaster.

Our response

Improving disaster preparedness

The Data61-NHI has worked to improve disaster preparedness through the development of innovative and integrated computer-aided modelling, data analytics and visualization tools for natural disaster management. These digital technologies will also serve as educational platforms for the community at large. The following technologies demonstrate the group’s specific response to this national challenge:


Development of flexible and globally scalable bushfire modelling tools Spark and Amicus – vehicles that build upon decades of bushfire research at CSIRO.

Flood adaptation

Creation of an integrated shallow water-based framework called Swift for the study of floods, particularly in an urban context with the inclusion of underground drainage infrastructure in the models.

Evacuation modelling

Development of an intelligent system for integrated evacuation planning. The evacuation tool provides information on when to evacuate, issue messages, and how to evacuate first. For evacuation modelling MATSim, an urban transportation system has been integrated into CSIRO’s modelling framework for planning and advanced operational emergency management.


The team is also developing a general purpose geospatial analytics infrastructure called Geostack that underpins the different digital tools developed by Data61-NHI. It is an open source infrastructure that can be used for a range of applications.

Emergency Situation Awareness platform (ESA)

CSIRO’s ESA, an award-winning technology, collects, filters and analyses Twitter streams across Australia and New Zealand in real-time, converting the deluge of data into situation awareness information and enabling effective alerting for unexpected incidents with results accessible via an interactive website for crisis coordinators and the general public.

The flexibility, scalability, transparency, and capabilities to incorporate the impact of climate change in these digital tools provide significant competitive advantage in comparison to the other solutions available in Australia and globally.

The results

Knowledge generation, transfer and improved decision making processes

Data61-NHI's work has led to significant advantage in terms of new knowledge generation and transfer to governments and the community that has originated from D61-NHI's work over several decades. A direct evaluation of the educative benefits to Australian society is difficult. However, the willingness to pay by outside organisations for CSIRO’s diagnostic tools – reflected in purchases to date – can provide at least a lower bound estimate.

Increase in government and industry willingness to pay for newly developed digital tools to replace their traditional assessment methods as they transition to address new challenges such as better disaster risk mitigation and management, the future effects of climate change on their policies and procedures in the natural disaster management space. Against CSIRO’s initial investment of 1.1 million in 2017, the project has attracted overall external funding of ~6 million for this program over past 3 years.

Data61-NHI work is generating new options for the future through enhanced capabilities, improved knowledge, better research infrastructure and clearer understanding in natural hazard space for future research. The capabilities help to inform decisions between those options. This is demonstrated through collaboration with communities and allied industries e.g. banks, infrastructural and involvement in shaping their policies and procedures.


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