World-first bushfire risk assessment technology advancing community and emergency services

Sep 07, 2018

The ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA) has developed a first of its kind Auto Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) tool to help save lives and reduce the high cost of bushfires on Australian communities. The tool will be officially launched at the AFAC – Fire and Emergency Management Conference today in Perth.

Understanding the bushfire attack level of a property means that Australian homeowners, emergency services authorities, government agencies and planners can be prepared for the potential level of impact a severe bushfire may bring to people and property. 

The tool provides assessments at the individual-property level, giving people insights into the bushfire risk to themselves, their property and their family – enabling residents to make informed decisions on their level of risk, based on their location.

ACT ESA Commissioner Dominic Lane said the tool has set a global benchmark for bushfire preparedness, having strong potential to be used throughout Australia and globally.

“In the past we have talked about people living in bushfire prone areas, now we are able to go to a greater level of detail – not only in terms of their location in a bushfire prone area, but the potential level of attack that could come onto their property in the event of a severe bushfire,” Commissioner Lane said.

“As a tool for the ACT ESA and the ACT government as a whole, the Auto BAL can be used by emergency responders, planners, construction managers and decision-makers to help make better planning and operational decisions.

“The challenge for any homeowner or emergency services agency is how to take data and use it to inform decision-making, or in the worst case scenario, immediate decisions in preparing their property or responding to a warning when faced with a severe bushfire.

“More and more we are using the broad range of spatial information available to us to provide the community and emergency services agencies with the tools to ensure safety.

 “We know that on the worst of days, mother nature will always beat us in relation to the impact of fire on the community. Therefore, it is important we take all of our information, all of our resources and all of our technology, and combine that together to use it collaboratively.

“We know we have a really good way of dealing with the ever-growing and ever-present danger of bushfires so we hope to share this with other jurisdictions in Australia and also globally.

“The United Nations has signed up to the Sendai framework for risk reduction to reduce loss of life from natural disasters. By using the Auto BAL technology as an example, we’re able to demonstrate as a nation that this is how we’re doing this to the rest of the world,” he said.

ACT ESA Manager of Emergency Management, Risk, Spatial and Digital Services Nick Lheude said the Auto BAL tool would be a significant step forward to helping reduce the risk of bushfires for Canberra residents.

“Helping the people of Canberra understand their risk is absolutely critical and is one of the key tasks of the ESA in preparing the community for bushfires,” Mr Lheude said.   

“The automation of the BAL assessment turns what would normally require a physical assessment by a firefighter into an automated task that completes 16,000 property assessments in one hour.

“For the first time, we are able to quantify the level of bushfire risk for properties street by street throughout Canberra. This will be invaluable to give people an understanding of the risk to themselves, their property and their family,” he said.

Esri Australia Public Safety Expert Mark Wallace said ArcGIS is one of the key tools that brings together a whole lot of data and information that can be turned into intelligence – useful information that can be shared within incident management teams and with other agencies.

“It takes in not only data sets such as location of properties and vegetation, but also dynamic data sets and feeds such as weather. Combining those together you end up with dynamic situational awareness,” Mr Wallace said.

“The benefits for government agencies come from the ability to share and collaborate between agencies and other organisations involved in emergency management such as community recovery, infrastructure and utilities,” he said.

To learn more about the ACT ESA’s use of the Auto BAL tool, download the full behind-the-scenes case study.