Victoria to invest AU$133 million into digital radios for bushfire prevention

Unveiled in a pair of announcements, the Victorian government will invest millions into technology aimed at bushfire prevention and bridge maintenance.

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Ahead of Victoria's 2021-22 Budget, due in 10 days' time, the state government has announced a pair of technology investments, including an allocation of at least AU$133 million towards technology that helps reduce the risk of bushfires.

The Victorian government will dole out AU$133 million for new digital radios for Forest Fire Management Victoria staff, said Minister for Energy Environment and Climate Change Lily D'Ambrosio.

She said the new digital radios would help Forest Fire Management Victoria staff avoid black spots and improve the way they communicate with other emergency services.

"While we can't ever thank them enough -- we can invest in the equipment, technology, and infrastructure they need to reduce the risk of the next bushfire season," D'Ambrosio said.

The AU$133 million is part of a bigger AU$517 million investment package that the Victorian government has framed would "deliver important technology upgrades" for firefighters and improve bushfire risk management across various state agencies.

The remaining amount in the bushfire package, AU$339.5 million, will be allocated to Forest Fire Management workers and firefighters, with some of that to be used for the maintenance of technology, fire towers, and equipment.

The AU$517 million investment comes off the back of two inquiries into 2019 and 2020 bushfires by the state's Inspector-General for Emergency Management and the Bushfires Royal Commission, which both called for more funding into firefighting technologies.

It also comes a week after the federal government said it would hand over AU$16.4 million in mobile connectivity grants as part of its 2021 Budget, which is set to be unveiled tomorrow.

The second technology announcement made by the Victorian government is that it will invest AU$50 million into a new joint venture with Xerox. The purpose of the joint venture, called Eloque, will be to develop new sensors that can remotely monitor bridges to improve the management and maintenance of the state's bridges.

The technology that will be built is the result of trials carried out through a partnership between regional rail authority VicTrack and Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center, which developed sensors that can be used to monitor structural health in bridges.

According to the Victorian government, the sensors can be attached to bridges and are able to collect and deliver structural information directly to bridge owners and operators remotely via an interactive dashboard. The information includes estimates of structural strain, thermal response, bending, loads, vibration, and corrosion, which are all measures of structural health.

"This technology being rolled out on priority bridges enables remote real-time monitoring -- meaning a small problem could be identified before it becomes a big costly problem that causes unnecessary delays to Victorians," Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said.

The technology will initially be installed on "priority bridges", with the Victorian government claiming the sensors could eventually be used on other structures that need maintenance, including roads, multi-storey car parks, tunnels, and ports.  

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