Upgraded bushfire monitoring capability to keep communities safer

11 August 2015

A new and improved bushfire monitoring system will be in place for the 2016 disaster season, transforming an existing delayed monitoring service into a more responsive emergency management tool for firefighters.

Geoscience Australia's Sentinel Hotspots system will receive a major upgrade as a recipient of the 2015-16 National Emergency Management Projects (NEMP) grants announced in Canberra today by the Minister for Justice, the Hon Michael Keenan MP.

The Sentinel Hotspot monitoring system currently provides information about potential bushfire hotspots to emergency service managers and the general public across Australia through the use of satellite imagery.

Geoscience Australia CEO Dr Chris Pigram explained how the upgrade to the Sentinel Hotspots capability will provide Australia with observations 144 times a day, opening up opportunities to monitor change as it happens.

"The increase in frequency from 6-hour updates to 10-minute updates will enable emergency services to monitor fire development in near real-time," Dr Pigram added.

When natural disasters occur, timely and accurate decisions need to be made by emergency management authorities to ensure the safety of individuals and to minimise impacts on property and infrastructure.

"Emergency services will be able to draw upon Sentinel when deciding where and how to prioritise resources when they are in most demand."

"This is particularly important where there are multiple fire fronts or large scale incidents across state and territory borders," Dr Pigram said.

The new Sentinel capability, which is due to be operational by June 2016, is made possible by the Japanese Government's A$927 million investment and Japanese industry's technical excellence in developing the Himawari-8 satellite, launched October 2014.

Governments, land planners, emergency managers and communities need to know the risk and potential impacts of natural hazards in their area, and have access to the information they need to understand to the whole picture. The new Sentinel capability will boost the availability of information for bushfires.

In addition to the $260 000 to upgrade Sentinel, Geoscience Australia also received two other NEMP grants to enhance its community safety programs: $130 000 for the development of flood vulnerability models for non-residential properties; and $200 000 to improve national situation awareness information and systems.

The flood vulnerability models work will build upon Geoscience Australia's existing building vulnerability expertise. A gap exists in the understanding of the vulnerability of non-residential properties, such as those for commercial and industrial use. The vulnerability models developed will help individuals, asset owners and all levels of government to better understand the cost of floods.

The national situation awareness information and systems work will strengthen and expand the availability and consistency of situation awareness information shared by the states, territories and Australian Government for decision making in response to natural hazard events and disasters. By improving the timeliness and accuracy of information this project will enhance governments's ability to respond to disasters and activate consistent and targeted financial assistance.

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Video: A short timelapse video of the Sentinel Hotspots system, before (left) and after (right) the upgrade.