Digital transformation

A new era in bushfire preparedness and disaster resilience

Sep 04, 2018

The Australian Capital Territory is taking a globally-leading and life-saving approach to mitigating the damage caused by catastrophic bushfires.

As one of the most fire-prone countries on the planet, Australians know all too well the devastating effects bushfires have on communities, the economy, infrastructure and the environment.

As a result, the Australian government has been reforming disaster management approaches, nation-wide. While response and recovery is certainly paramount, there has been a shift to also prioritise preparedness and prevention strategies to establish greater community and organisational resilience.

In essence, it’s about innovating to understand and mitigate the risk and impact of fires on communities in the first place.

One tool which is a shining example of this practice in action, is the Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) tool, developed by ACT Emergency Services Authority (ESA) using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology.

In developing this tool, EMA was guided by the principles of the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience program, to provide Canberra residents and emergency responders with an accurate understanding of the bushfire risk facing properties before a fire strikes.

From both a national and global perspective, this tool really is a first-of-its-kind, in that it introduces new rigor, accuracy and consistency to how risk assessments are managed, and provides new insight to not only authorities – but individual members of the public.

From an efficiency perspective, the tool has also been a game-changer, transforming what was previously a manual inspection task, to an automated process that completes more than 16,000 assessments in just one hour. 


While the BAL tool has been in use for some time, ACT Emergency Services Commissioner Dominic Lane AFSM officially launched it at AFAC18 – the country’s largest gathering of emergency services professionals.

He discussed not only how it has strengthened Canberra’s resilience, but how the approach could be drawn on by other authorities around the country – and the world – to achieve similar results. He even flagged it has piqued the interest of the United Nation’s as a global resilience platform.

When speaking with Commissioner Lane, what particularly resonated with me was how the tool is now also underpinning property construction regulation and building codes – to ensure that every new home built has the lowest possible risk in terms of exposure to bushfire, to prevent a situation like the devastating 2003 fires from ever occurring again.

It really is a best-practice example of applying technical innovation to a problem to create better outcomes that improve community understanding and safety.

If you’d like greater detail on the project, you can download the full behind-the-scenes case study.