In the summer of 2019, Bega Valley Shire Council in New South Wales became one of the worst affected local government areas with fire damage affecting more than 70% of its land area.
One of the first tasks the recovery team had to focus on was reinstating essential services and water supplies that had been interrupted when Council’s water hydrants, pipes and supply services melted.
Identifying the location of the assets as well as understanding the movement of the fire front became key to protecting field crews as they commenced recovery efforts.
Bega Valley Shire Council had to step its Geographic Information System (GIS) capabilities up in order to make smart decisions on damage assessment, emergency repair and resource deployment in the aftermath of one of the worst fires the jurisdiction had seen.
Council’s GIS Manager, Kellie Grady speaks with NSW local government business manager, Jeff Carabez, about the centralised platform that helped her team disseminate accurate and authoritative data across the whole organisation.
Jeff Carabez: Tell us about the recovery plan that came into play in the aftermath of the fires.
Kellie Grady: We had recently embarked upon a trial designed to augment a number of our diverse asset management systems with a centralised enterprise platform which visualised council’s asset information. Importantly, it was able to facilitate overlaying of other important information such as proximity to fire fronts, adjacency to asbestos contamination sites and the like. This enhanced our efficiency by bringing together many data feeds, allowing us to give decision makers a single source of authoritative information that would give them a complete, up to date picture of the situation.
This proved to be very valuable when we had to dispatch field crews to broad-ranging areas to assess and repair damaged fire hydrants, water supply services, water mains, pipes and sewerage – all while ensuring they steered clear of the moving fire front and avoided the many road closures.
So, we were constantly coordinating between first responders and our field crews, sharing data on asbestos contaminated damaged buildings, the moving fire front, wind, road closures and providing live updates to support the recovery efforts.
Jeff Carabez: From a technology perspective, what were the biggest takeaways in terms of preparing council to respond to future crises?
Kellie Grady: There are two main takeaways here: data sharing ultimately leads to better decisions, and automation ensures consistency, allows tracking and reporting, and most importantly, it allows us to run many more processes than we ever could have done manually.
In the midst of the crisis with all hands-on-deck; time was of the essence; our resources were scarce, and we had to deploy them where they were needed the most.
We were working to save the assets that had already been damaged by the fire, but we couldn’t afford to have more assets destroyed by excavations, for example.
As a result of the fires, we had seen a huge increase in the number of Dial Before You Dig enquiries coming in, and while we had a system in place – albeit still requiring manual intervention and involving three mailboxes – it was consuming too much of our staff’s time and effort.
We found ourselves fielding more than 100 enquiries a day; we couldn’t keep up and it was consuming a lot of time and effort that we needed to be directing at recovery and response. Automating the entire process allowed us to free up valuable resources at the time.
The SmarterWX Automate solution was stood up in 36 hours and because it was an automated solution, it required very little training and freed up our staff’s time. Being able to automate the response system took that workload completely off our shoulders during an extremely busy period of rapid damage assessment and repair.
Jeff Carabez:Aside from emergency response and recovery, how is geospatial technology used across other areas of Council’s operations?
Kellie Grady: We have plans to roll out GIS across more areas of our organisation, connect all our silos and streamline our processes and workflows.
We are scoping solutions that can be customised to serve our purposes and the needs of Bega Valley Shire’s community.
There are several innovative examples of global cities and local councils leveraging this kind of technology to improve service delivery to their community, and we see a lot of value in that.
Smart analysis of data will support informed decision making and ensure that we’re putting our efforts where they are needed the most.