Victoria to tip in $3M to spy on bushfires

Victoria’s troubled bushfire alert system may be bolstered with a fleet of fire-detection cameras after a $3 million government trial announced today is completed.

Three-month trials across fire-prone areas in southern NSW and Victoria will start from next week to test the effectiveness of a system of unmanned cameras mounted on fire lookout towers.

It follows a separate private trial of four EyeFi SPARC early warning systems in the Yarra Valley during the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires in February last year. The captured footage was used in the Bushfire Royal Commission.

EYEfi SPARC cameras will be monitored during the trial by the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment and Forestry New South Wales using the EYEfi spatial video software. T he locally developed EYEfi SPARC system is used for detecting, pinpointing and tracking bushfires using solar powered video cameras that relay images to a central Web-based platform.

Twelve German made FireWatch sensors will be deployed in Victoria's Otway Ranges and a further three will be trialled near the NSW town of Tumut using controlled fires.

The FireWatch sensors automatically detect the presence of smoke via a software algoithm developed by the German Aerospace Institute for the NASA Mars Pathfinder Mission.

The system operates 24 hours a day with night-vision capabilities and is able to detect smoke associated with a lightning strike. Its range is significantly higher than a video camera, three times more sensitive and does not require human participation in the smoke detection process.

The Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre will compare the effectiveness of the systems and the possibility of integrating them into existing alert systems which includes telephone and SMS alerts, and updated information available on the Country Fire Authority (CFA) website

In early January human error saw the CFA Bushfire Information Line provide outdated information for 12 days, while the authority’s website crashed in December during a day of extreme fire warnings.

Red Cross enterprise architecture and planning manager, Ken Garnett, who is researching the systems for use by the organisation, said in a previous story there is no single solution to deliver bushfire warnings.

“The whole communications infrastructure is difficult… mobile phones are great until or if the towers burn down, hand-held radios have distance limitations, and satellite cannot work through thick smoke,” Jarnett said.

“Satellite can be wheeled in, but will fail in smoke and storms, which is an obvious problem near the fire.

“It creates a situation between a rock and a hard place.”

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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