Bushfire frequency is set to increase
Bushfires are an integral part of Australia's environment and are influenced by many factors including warmer and drier conditions, extreme heat, strong winds and low humidity, housing design and materials, fuel loads and management.
Improved technology for post-bushfire surveillance is crucial, as bushfires are likely to increase in frequency as a result of climate change. Surveillance technology may help to mitigate the devastating impact of bushfires on communities by enabling better planning and preparation.
Most of the data used in research about the impacts of bushfires on urban infrastructure is collected by going in after a bushfire event and surveying the damage. This data can be analysed alongside information collected from laboratory experiments to better understand what's happening in the urban environment when a bushfire attacks.
New apps for critical bushfire assessment
We developed two apps that can be used by fire services in the aftermath of a bushfire to critically assess the impacts on urban infrastructure:
- The first app is the Rapid Impact Assessor. It enables assessment teams to enter a bushfire zone and quickly gauge the extent to which properties have been either untouched, damaged or completely destroyed. The app works in real time, so multiple teams can use it simultaneously.
- The second app is Bushfire House Surveyor. It captures the finer detail around a house, such as its design and the surrounding landscape. This includes polygons, polylines and point features. The information is loaded into a geodatabase and analysed for further research into fire management and prevention of house losses.
These apps provide a significant advantage over the traditional methods of assessment.
Data collected by assessment teams is updated in the apps in real time and overlaid onto maps. This allows teams to see what data has already been collected, reducing duplication in the surveys and making assessments much more efficient.
The app is also used to collect videos and photos to log the nature and impact of the bushfire for further research.
Real time results for fire services
The apps were first trialled by the NSW Rural Fire Service in the Blue Mountains towns of Winmalee, Lithgow and Mount Victoria. These towns were among those severely affected by the NSW bushfires of 2013.
The trial resulted in increased efficiencies for the NSW Rural Fire Service in conducting their building impact assessments.
The type of information gathered enables an accurate analysis of the impact of fires on the communities and buildings affected and this will help to improve community safety in the future - particularly where people are living in bushfire-prone areas.
CSIRO has a long history of collaborating with fire services, such as NSW Rural Fire Service, to share information about the loss of houses in bushfires. Our partnership with NSW Rural Fire Service has led to us both being considered key contributors to the reform of building and planning regulations in NSW.
The apps have also been tested by other agencies, which creates the potential for unified data collection process across multiple agencies, making the sharing of critical information easier.