CSIRO and AFAC to build data-driven bushfire prediction platform

The tool is expected to help fire and emergency services anticipate the spread of bushfires.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) have signed an agreement to develop a bushfire simulation tool to be used by fire and emergency services agencies across the country.

The bushfire simulation tool to be called Spark Operational will be based on CSIRO's Spark fire prediction platform, which uses existing fire behaviour data to produce predictions, statistics, and visualisations of bushfire spread.

It will be developed so that fire and emergency agencies will be able to tailor the tool to reflect specific landscapes and bushfire behaviour in their local environment, while also allowing for the agencies to combine it with climate and vegetation models to help estimate fire-based risks as a result of climate change.

In addition, Spark Operational will be integrated with the latest meteorological data, as well as land slope, vegetation, and other landscape information to help inform firefighters about their positioning during emergencies, as well as assess any potential vulnerabilities.

"We believe this advanced system will help firefighters outthink fire, to anticipate its actions, and to get ahead of it, so they can beat it. Spark is a great example of combining environmental, digital, and materials science and listening to Australia's front-line responders to deliver a real-world solution that works for them," CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall said.

For CSIRO, mitigating the impact of natural disasters such as bushfires is part of the organisation's multimillion-dollar post-COVID plan, known as Team Australia.  

See also: The Internet of Wild Things: Technology and the battle against biodiversity loss and climate change (TechRepublic)  

With work already underway, the new platform is expected to be fully operational over the next three years.

When in operation, it will be used alongside the Phoenix RapidFire bushfire simulator, developed by the University of Melbourne, the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, and the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, which has been in use for a number of years to predict bushfire behaviour, particularly in grass and eucalypt-fuelled fires.

"Spark Operational will play a significant role in allowing our emergency response teams to effectively plan for and respond to fire emergencies in a variety of landscapes and climates," AFAC CEO Stuart Ellis said. 

"It was identified as the best solution to use to help achieve a nationally consistent system that will take the nation to the next generation of firefighting intelligence, and ensure we are protecting as many lives and assets as possible across multiple scenarios, mitigating the dangers of bushfire." 

Minderoo Foundation is funding the development of Spark Operational. Minderoo Foundation is currently leading a AU$50 million wildlife and disaster resilience program that aims to deliver a plan on how Australia and the rest of the world can prevent, mitigate, and defeat bushfires.

Last May, Minderoo Foundation, which is headed up by former CSIRO's Data61 chief Adrian Turner, outlined that accessing and sharing structured data will play a crucial role in building Australia's fire resilience blueprint.

"Being able to look further ahead to get a more complete picture of potential risks, to be able to make better decisions ahead of time, and then to respond, so when something does happen, how do we speed up the response? And for us, it will involve what we're calling a resilient data collective and getting more structured data available to the world around natural disasters," Turner said at the time.

"Being able to access structured data is fundamental to probabilistic decision making."

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