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ANU-Optus Bushfire Research Centre of Excellence

Contact Information

Marta Yebra

EMSINA's 5 Capability Questions

Q1: What is the Project Scope / What is trying to be solved?

Australia is experiencing unprecedented extreme fire conditions that create catastrophic bushfire conditions that exceed known firefighting technologies. During the 19/20 lighting ignitions cause most of the damage mainly because of the inability to detect and extinguish those remote ignitions before they spread and become hazardous so we need a faster response. In response to this situation, the Australian National University Bushfire Initiative is developing an innovative national system with the aspiration of detecting bushfires as soon as they start and put them out within minutes. To achieve that ambition, we have put a comprehensive research program covering 6 main topics;
1. Prevention and risk reduction; Implement and evaluate the effectiveness of novel and existing fire risk reduction strategies – ecological approaches.
2. Lighting forecasting and detection as well as prediction lightning strikes that will ignite fires
3. Early Ignition detection; Early detection of ignitions will be achieved by integrating data coming from multiple sensors onboard different platforms (on ground sensor networks, fire towers, drones as well as Low Earth Orbit and geostationary satellites). The ANU-Optus Bushfire Research Center of Excellence has been stablished to tackle this early detection research program.
4. Data analytics and communications; Analyse and communicate detection data rapidly to suppression vehicle
5. Safe and rapid suppression water gliders prototyped at the ANU to be dropped half a tone of water from transport aircraft (C-130) on standby in the air over high-risk areas. The water gliders are GPS guided autopilots that can be deployed all-weather, day/night operation, all-terrain
6. Legal and economic analysis. Evaluate existing regulatory regime around airborne technologies and risk appetite during a crisis and carry out an economic analysis of options for detection and suppression


Q2: What will be available to the EM community / decision makers at the end of your project?

At the end of the initial 5-year program, the EM community and decision-makers will have an evaluated proof of concept of an integrated system for early fire detection and suppression in the ACT (and potentially SE Australia, depending on funding).


Q3: How will the EM Sector access the results?

We have a end-user steering committee composed of members of the EM sector as well as land managers. The committee will advise on the best way to make the results accessible to the broader EM sector. Overall, apart from regular meetings with the Steering Committee, we will maintain regular communications with end-users on progress and results via social media, newsletters, conferences and our website (still to be created). Our ultimate goal is for data collected and products derived from the project to directly feed end-users (e.g. we have already kicked up a project for automatic early fire using cameras mounted in fire towers in the ACT and the data from our cameras directly feed to the ACT-RFS headquarters)


Q4: What are the main hurdles faced in completing your Project?

The main hurdle to achieving the overall goal is that the funding we currently have cannot fully cover the research activities under the 6 research programs. Funding under the ANU-OPTUS partnerships is limited and only cover a set of projects from the research program on early detection. We are looking for more partners to contribute to the ANU-Optus partnership or the broader ANU Bushfire Initiative. In terms of research/implementation, we have not found any hurdles yet but we envisage data integration and implementation on decision making will be a big task.


Q5: What input data / work do you need from jurisdictions?

All the early detection technologies will be evaluated against current fire detection methods, so information on bushfire alerts registered by fire and emergency agencies will be of benefit. Initially, the system will be evaluated in the ACT and we are resourcing that information from the ACT-RFS. We will need assistance from other agencies as we role over technology in other jurisdiction. We will also need the expertise and feedback from the EM sector from the different jurisdictions to achive research utilization so please get in touch with us if you are interested in being involved.


Other Information

Other information provided by the presenter.


Question and Answers

The following are overflow questions that the presenter was unable to answer during the meeting.

At what height are the drones proposed, thats 1000 drones in amongst general aircraft, gliders.... theres not universal ADS-B aircraft location

    One of the aims of the technology demo in Namadagi is to determine what altitude above ground level will be most effective. Higher altitudes will cover more ground, and lower altitudes will be able to detect smaller heat sources. We suspect the answer will come in at around 2k feet AGL. It also may be that the best altitude is different for day and night flights, as heat signatures are likely to be easier to find at night, so higher altitudes may be pratical, perhaps 4k or so.

    Regarding 1000 aircraft, we are a very long way from being able to do that. The initial project will have 1 aircraft. Then it will take years of working with CASA before we could realistically expand to large numbers of vehicles. It isn't just a matter of getting permission for 1 aircraft and replicating 1000 times - we would need to have many aircraft per ground operator, and that requires special permission.

    It is likely to happen in stages, with permission for 1 aircraft, then for 5 then 20 etc. We don't think anybody has attempted mass scale BVLOS before, so we can't easily predict what issues may need to be overcome.

How dangerous are lightning strikes to the drones - they'd be surveying as strikes are active.

    Drones may enhance the leader formation as aircraft do but we are not sure how much difference size makes in this equation. Aircraft are designed to survive such things so potentially drones as well. Overall we think it is unlikely lighting strikes to be too dangerous for the drone but that will be something to find out during the pilot project and something to factoring in the design.

Marta, your large scale analytics project presents valuable data, but as an agency we wish to integrate that data into our own reports / analysis. How?

What are the timescales between lightning strike detection and operations deployment?

Are the plastic bags of water under parachutes theoretical only or have any been created? They look very promising

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