Cutting-edge spatial technology will be at the core of Australia's newest bushfire prediction tool, one of the initiative's key architects has revealed.

Still in development, the Bushfire Spread Prediction Tool was presented to a captivated audience at Ozri 2011, the Asia-Pacific region’s premier showcase for the latest advances in Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, hosted by location intelligence specialists Esri Australia.

A combination of Esri Australia’s world-leading mapping software and a University of Western Australia (UWA) bushfire simulator, the tool uses data such as a fire’s location, weather forecasts, and topographical and vegetation type, to generate maps that plot the predicted path of a blaze.

The results can then be communicated to emergency services personnel and the public via mobile devices and an early warning website.

Speaking at the 25th annual Ozri conference, Landgate Senior Systems Analyst Gerrit van Burgel said Esri’s ArcGIS 10 software underpinned the tool’s crucial visual interface.

“The UWA Bushfire Simulator itself is quite complex, so we needed a user-friendly, visual interface which enables users without a GIS background to use it,” Mr van Burgel said.

“The control panel enables users to input information that will inform the UWA Simulator, such as the fire’s location and topographical and fuel load datasets,” Mr van Burgel said.

“The digital maps generated provide users with a visual picture of the fire’s predicted path.”

Mr van Burgel said the simulator would be important for testing fire fighting techniques, fire management strategies and managing the up-coming fire season.

“The system will enable emergency services personnel to test how a range of bushfire fighting techniques, such as fire-break location and design and back-burning, would work against a current or hypothetical fire,” Mr van Burgel said.

“They can also gauge the effectiveness of those interventions in protecting lives, property and infrastructure in any location in Australia.”

“The simulator could also be used to assess what changes to the layout or location of infrastructure could be made to reduce bushfire risk.”

Mr van Burgel said the bushfire prediction tool was part of a larger project funded under the Australian Government’s Digital Regions Initiative.

“The existing FireWatch website delivers critical bushfire information from emergency services and the public – and it will be expanded into a national early warning system,” Mr van Burgel said.

“As Western Australia’s geographical data authority, Landgate is charged with managing the project and developing the early warning website, desktop interface and other infrastructure.”

“The University of Western Australia, which has developed the simulation engine, and the Fire and Emergency Services Authority, which is the primary user of the bushfire prediction tool will help expand the use of the technology to other Australian fire agencies, are also project partners.”

Hosted by location intelligence specialists Esri Australia, the market leader in Australia’s $2.1 billion spatial industry, Ozri has carved out a reputation as the Asia Pacific’s premier showcase for the latest advances in GIS technology.

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