An ingenious Aussie app that links people fleeing natural disasters with nearby evacuation centres could soon be saving lives around the world, after winning a prestigious United Nations (UN) competition.

The Guardian Evacuations app features a smart mapping technology – commonly known as Geographic Information System (GIS) technology – interface that displays centre locations and details, as well as real-time traffic, weather, flood and fire information to help users determine the safest routes.

The project took out the Global Disaster Resilience App Challenge, which is run by international smart mapping technology giant Esri and the UN’s Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

The app will be unveiled in Townsville today at Directions LIVE – one of the most important events on the smart mapping technology industry’s calendar.

GP One Consulting Director Gareck Packer – who developed the app in conjunction with Queensland disaster management software company QIT Plus – said it draws information from a range of sources, including government departments and community groups.

“The app equips evacuees with crucial tools to help them reach safety during a disaster,” Mr Packer said.

“This includes basic information, such as how to find an evacuation centre, what facilities the centre has, and what to take with them.”

“Evacuees can also use the app to pre-register while travelling, which reduces pressure on centre volunteers and provides a vital record of who is expected compared to who has been received at a facility.”

“Importantly, users can see which centres are currently accepting people, so they don't waste valuable time contacting co-ordination centres for this information.”

Esri Australia Managing Director Brett Bundock said smart mapping apps were increasingly becoming a crucial tool during major flood, fire and cyclone events – when the difference between life and death can hinge on having the right information at your fingertips.

“The technology provides an easy-to-use platform which allows different organisations to publicly share and present information in real-time,” Mr Bundock said.

“This is invaluable in crisis situations, where clear and up-to-date information is critical in keeping the public safe.”

“During disasters, people simply don’t have time to call different organisations to determine how to safely evacuate themselves and their families.”

“The visual, universal language of map apps means anyone – regardless of their technical or cultural background – can quickly understand where they need to go to be safe.”

Guardian Evacuations was developed to complement the award-winning Guardian Disaster Management Suite, a range of tools used by Queensland councils to manage call centres and on-the-ground responses during disasters.

While currently in its beta stage of development, the app is expected to be available for download on Australian council websites for use with phones, tablets and PCs within six months.

There are also plans to make it available through Google and Apple’s app markets.

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