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DiData saves fire commission from floods

The 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission, which released its final report on the Black Saturday fires over the weekend, twice escaped losing its information to floods.

The 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission, which released its final report on the Black Saturday fires over the weekend, twice escaped losing its information to floods.

Bushfire

The Royal Commission has estimated the
total cost of the fires at $4 billion. (FHR_Fire(141) image by Alex Miroshnichenko, CC2.0)

Dimension Data was selected as one of the commission's IT providers, to build and maintain its network and supply desktop support services. DiData also helped with virtualisation and cloud computing, to trim the fat from the commission's server hardware requirements.

This helped with disaster recovery, especially when the building in which hearings were to take place was flooded twice.

The first flood occurred in June 2009 due to a leaking hot water dispenser. The systems were able to be rebooted with minimal downtime.

The second flood was in November of the same year, when a water pipe burst, causing major flooding to the building. The majority of the commission's IT infrastructure on the north side of the building was damaged, especially the communications room which housed lots of sensitive equipment.

"A major effort and impressive technical ability on the part of DiData rectified the situation. The majority of services were available the next morning, before the week's hearings began, thus causing few problems other than wet carpet in the hearing rooms and allowing the scheduled hearings to proceed without interruption," the commission's report said.

Of all the affected services, 95 per cent were restored within 24 hours, according to the commission, with damaged hardware replaced over a number of months.

"Had it not been for sound continuity planning, quick action and access to extensive technical expertise, combined with use of server virtualisation technology and the resilient nature of the commission's ICT systems, the flood could have caused severe and potentially crippling disruption," the commission said.

The commission also used systems and security protocols from the Defence Signals Directorate to ensure protection and continuity. Those working with the commission were prohibited from removing data from the building via external storage methods.

The bushfires that ravaged Victoria on 7 February 2009 claimed 173 lives and countless homes. Forty-degree temperatures and an ongoing drought meant the state was "tinder dry", according to Premier John Brumby. The Royal Commission was established in the days following the fires, charged with finding the cause and evaluating the response.

The Royal Commission handed down 67 recommendations in its report, including the establishment of a unified evacuation message distributed through television, radio, and fixed and mobile phones.

The report also recommended that the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) standardise their operating systems and information and communications technologies to achieve better efficiencies.

The commission had identified that mapping the affected bushfire area was crucial in determining evacuation routes and plans of attack.

However, while CFA and DSE had intended to roll-out better mapping facilities for ground crews in the fire season of 2008-09, resolutions agreed upon had failed to materialise on 7 February.

One of the many subsequent recommendations of the Royal Commission was to give the CFA better "write" access to FireMap systems where possible.

In its report, the Royal Commission also recommended that the Victorian CFA identify a global positioning system unit that would be capable of uploading geospatial data to the FireMap system to keep all crews appraised of conditions on the ground.

The services were also urged to continue to improve their communications systems, after collaboration was hindered during the fires by under-performing technology.

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