New weather monitoring networks, drones and cloud-sourced information are all being tested as part of a research collaboration targeting better planning and responses to bushfire emergencies in Victoria. Known as Resilient Information Systems for Emergency Response (RISER), the project is investigating ways to collect and connect new data streams.
Associate Professor Allison Kealy is part of the University of Melbourne’s RISER team, which also involves Monash University, RMIT University and the University of California. IMB Australia and the Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner Victoria are also partners in the project, which has been funded through an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant.
Associate Professor Kealy has focused on testing new networks of weather and environmental monitoring stations that collect detailed temperature, humidity, solar radiation, wind speed and direction and soil moisture data. Monitoring stations, each about the size of a tissue box, have been deployed in dense wireless networks of up to 100 stations, at two fire-prone sites north-east of Melbourne.
The data collected during two summers has been used to test and refine the algorithms that underpin the Victorian Government’s predictive fire-modelling system. Another smaller network set up in the Victorian coastal community of Anglesea, on the edge of the Otway Ranges, is part of an ongoing education and community engagement initiative with a local primary school and the Country Fire Authority.
Associate Professor Kealy says the potential of local, automated sensor networks to assist in bushfire predictions is one of several positive outcomes from the RISER project. It is also investigating the use of drones carrying infrared and visual cameras to assess the dryness of grasslands and related fire risk, to supplement ground inspections and satellite imagery.
Another element is examining the relationship between emergency calls and cloud-based or social media reports to track the path of fires, adding this information stream to other fire-tracking data sources.
“The next stage of the project is to work out how improvements can be easily integrated into the operations of fire management agencies,” she says. “But one of the most valuable outcomes has been creating new relationships and engaging with emergency services and community stakeholders in research, and its potential to improve operations and decision making.”