Latrobe Valley getting hold of real-time data before devastation hits

A network of sensors have been installed in one of Victoria's major regional centres to help emergency services and the local community to stay informed about potential emergencies.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor
Image: Attentis

During the recent flood crisis that devastated the New South Wales Northern Rivers region, in particular the town of Lismore, the State Emergency Service (SES) came under fire for its evacuation warnings and instructions.

An evacuation order was originally put in place for the Lismore CBD on March 29 and was removed the same afternoon, only to be reinstated at 3am the next day. The state government has since established an independent inquiry to examine and report on the cause of, preparedness for, response to and recovery from the flood event.

But with catastrophic weather events like these only predicted to worsen, parts of the country, such as Latrobe City Council in regional Victoria believes it has equipped the local community with the right tools to allow them to stay informed and respond appropriately to any potential emergencies.

The local council together with its local Emergency Management Plan Committee worked with Attentis to roll out the Latrobe Valley Information Network (LVIN), which is made up of 44 environmental monitoring sensors that are powered by AI technology from SAS to enable anyone -- from emergency services to residents -- to view localised snapshots in real-time about wind speed, rainfall, air quality, humidity, temperature.

Each sensor unit features four cameras and can monitor for environmental factors such as fire, smoke, and other severe weather events such as storms and lightning. It can also produce thermal imaging of the local forest.

"The real benefit of having this network is being able give the community the information to be informed about emergencies, in particular, fires and storms," Latrobe Council Emergency Management manager Lance King told ZDNet.

The necessity to share such information with the community, according to King, was further underscored by devastating events such as the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, when the Morwell River collapsed into the Yallourn Mine in 2012, and the 2014 Hazelwood coalmine fire, which burned for 45 days and left towns in the Latrobe valley covered in smoke and coal dust.

"We call Latrobe city the 'Disneyland of emergencies'," King said.

"The smoke during the Hazelwood fire was so bad we had to move schools and whole communities … it even impacted the hospital and working arrangements for a lot of the community and people in their own houses."

Off the back of installing the LVIN, King said emergency services have since been able to use it to support weather events, including during the devastating 2019-2020 bushfires.

"It's just another tool for the community to make our lives better," he said.

As next steps, Attentis said it will shortly be constructing a live flood monitoring network for the LVIN to monitor high-risk rivers and streams in real-time and provide early warning to the local community. 

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