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August 25th, 2011
Queensland Floods the Answer to WA Fire Storm

The report identified areas where the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) could strengthen their emergency response practices, to avoid a repeat of the catastrophic bushfire crisis that destroyed 71 homes earlier this year.

Prior to the February fire storm, Western Australia also experienced its own flooding crisis in December 2010 when the Gascoyne River, in the state’s west, burst its banks, leading to the evacuation of dozens of towns and around $100 million damage.

Mr Gardner said future natural disaster management in Western Australia could benefit from a Geographic Information System (GIS) technology solution similar to the Flood Map used during the Queensland crisis.

“The unique value of the technology lies in its ability to provide decision-makers with the ability to predict how a crisis may unfold – enabling them to effectively deploy resources and personnel, and issue evacuation notifications quickly, at a time when every second counts,” Mr Gardner said.

Flood Map, developed using GIS technology, provided a comprehensive, real-time picture of water levels, hazards and emergency infrastructure for local authorities and the public during the floods that inundated Queensland in January.

Mr Gardner said the map provided a clear and complete view of natural disasters, which was crucial to preparation, management and recovery efforts.

“The Flood Map conveyed critical emergency updates to large volumes of people in the easy-to-understand visual context of maps,” Mr Gardner said.

“But we’re not just talking about flood levels – evacuation centre locations, road closures, waste collection zones and other vital information was also conveyed.

“This enabled people to make better, more informed decisions on how to avoid hazards, protect property and, more importantly, save lives.

“The technology and capability behind the Flood Map would no doubt be invaluable in helping Western Australians prepare, respond to and recover from an event like the Perth Hills bushfires.”

Mr Gardner said the Flood Map also set a benchmark in crisis communications by giving eye-witnesses the ability to report real-time updates using online social media.

“We added a heightened level of community interaction by integrating social media feeds from Twitter, Flickr and YouTube – known as crowd sourcing,” Mr Gardner said.

“The feeds were assigned to the map based on their location and provided emergency services organisations with a more accurate picture of the scale of the disaster.

“The integration of social media into Flood Map has changed how natural disasters are managed, because the technology now allows officials to canvas sensory GIS data from community stakeholders.

“For example, people provided information regarding the flood’s impact on their property and businesses, which was in turn used to update the accuracy of flood line data and guide the reconstruction effort.”

The Flood Map received more than three million hits during the four days in which Brisbane was under water, and has since been honoured with several accolades, including a merit award at this year’s iAwards, which recognise Australia’s top information and communication technology innovations.

Mr Gardner said the success of the Flood Map showed GIS had emerged as a vital tool for emergency management and communications.

“Traditionally, we’ve relied upon radio and television broadcasts to provide the community with severe weather warnings, or information about damaged critical infrastructure,” Mr Gardner said.

“The Flood Map challenged this antiquated technology, transforming crisis communications into a two-way conversation and dragging it well and truly into the 21st Century.”