New South Wales Operations Center

NSW Operations Centre
NSW Operations Center. Photo: NSW Rural Fire Service

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service has a very impressive Operations Center in Sydney, Australia which they activated on January 7 when the bush fire activity increased. The Center provides support and assistance to local Fire Control Centers and Incident Management Teams across the state.

As you can see, it has a HUGE video wall, which is reported to be the largest in the southern hemisphere. It has 100 individual LCD screens which can display either one large visual, such as a map, or up to 32 different inputs including graphs, statistics, weather predictions, and live feeds from various sites.

Does the dispatch center in your local area look pretty much like this?

NSW video screen


Myths about bush fires

Our friends in Australia seem to do a better job than we do in the United States of educating the public about being prepared for wildfires, or bush fires as they are known down under.

The Rural Fire Service of New South Wales in Australia has an interesting publication titled Myth Busters, covering some of the common myths about bush fires and bush fire safety. “Not knowing the facts can be life threatening for you and your family”.

Myths about wildfires, NSW RFSThe text on the image is a little hard to read, but here are the myths that are listed:

  • There will always be a fire truck available to fight a bush fire threatening my home.
  • It won’t happen to me.
  • Fire travels slower up hill.
  • I’ll be fine; the bush is a few streets away.
  • Standing on my roof and hosing it down with water will help.
  • Filling the bath tub when a fire is approaching is to sit in.
  • If I know the back streets in my suburb or town really well, it will be okay for me to leave at the very last minute.
  • A house can explode if it catches on fire.

HERE is a link to another publication about bush fire myths, this time from the state of Victoria. And another one from the Christmas Hills Fire Brigade in Victoria.

Astronaut’s photo of fire in Australia

Australian bushfire near Burrinjuck Dam, photo from International Space Station
Australian bushfire near Burrinjuck Dam, photo by Commander Chris Hadfield, International Space Station, January 9, 2013. Click to enlarge.

Commander Chris Hadfield, serving as a flight engineer on the International Space Station, has been taking photos and making them available to the world by using Twitter. His Twitter handle is @Cmdr_Hadfield. You can check out some of his other photos here.

Tasmania cools, but fire threat continues

This video about the fire situation in Australia has some excellent footage of driving at night through an area that is burning. It was uploaded to YouTube on January 9, 2013 by ITN with the description: “Australia’s record-breaking heatwave has sent temperatures soaring, melting road tar and setting off hundreds of wildfires. Report by Lindsay Brown.”

The next video was also uploaded to YouTube on January 9, 2013.

Record heat in northern and southern hemisphere

If you are one of the 18 remaining climate change deniers, you should stop reading now, because what follows will make you uncomfortable.

Northern Hemisphere:

Average temperatures, United StatesThe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is reporting that last year was the hottest on record for the contiguous United States, shattering CRUSHING by a wide margin the previous record set in 1998. The average temperature of 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit was 1 degree above the previous record and 3.2 degrees higher than the average for the 20th century. That is a huge difference.

From the Washington Post:

Last year’s record temperature is “clearly symptomatic of a changing climate,” said Thomas R. Karl, who directs NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. Americans can now see the sustained warmth over the course of their own lifetimes — “something we haven’t seen before.” He added, “That doesn’t mean every season and every year is going to be breaking all-time records, but you’re going to see this with increasing frequency.”

Southern Hemisphere:

Extremely high record-breaking temperatures and “catastrophic” fire danger ratings in Australia are not only contributing to the rapid spread of numerous bush fires, but they may cause some electronic gadgets to stop working. According to Wired, Apple advises that an iPhone should not be used when temperatures reach 95F (35C). In Sydney yesterday the high was 108F (42C).

The extreme weather is also causing problems for meteorologists when they attempt to display the highest ever recorded temperatures on their standard maps.

From Wired:

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology had to add new colors to its weather map. Now, those unfortunate parts of Australia that achieve temperatures above 122ºF (50ºC) — temperatures that were, until recently, literally off the scale — will be marked in deep purple and terrifying hot pink. It is an interesting moment in data visualization history when climate scientists find themselves in the position of revising the upper bounds of temperatures they ever expected to depict.

It is possible that our electronics and our infrastructure were designed for a climate that we no longer have. When the streets and buildings of lower Manhattan were built, no one expected that they would be flooded by a hurricane. Apple did not design the iPhone for the recent weather in Australia.


Thanks go out to Clyde, Kelly, and Dick

Unmanned aerial vehicles considered for monitoring fires in Australia

With numerous large fires burning in Australia, there has been discussion about the practicality of using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to detect and monitor fires. In an article at Wired, Thomas Duff of the University of Melbourne’s Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, which developed the Phoenix RapidFire bushfire simulator said he believes…

…the vast amount of data gathered by drones could be sent to base via data links and potentially provide far more accurate, real-time predictions of where a fire will spread and when.

NASA is already using drones to study hurricane patterns as part of its Global Hawk project, and it would be no great leap to do the same thing in Australia.

“From an aircraft point of view and a sensing point of view the technology is there,” said Duncan Campbell, head of the Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation. Campbell is currently working on embedding drones with smart sensors that prevent them from colliding with aircraft. “The big issue is the use of the airspace and that comes down to regulatory issues.” Nevertheless, he predicts we’ll see them in action over Australian skies within two years. However, we won’t be seeing pricey military grade versions:

“What we’re more likely to see in Australia are the smaller machines in the order of a few 100kg, flying a lot lower.”

The last time we wrote about Australia’s desire to buy large drones was in March, 2009, when they cancelled plans to buy some Global Hawks with an announced objective being surveillance of the waters surrounding the country. Since then the government has gone back and forth several times on buying or not buying these aircraft. The latest, according to Australia’s ABC News in September, 2012, is that the the military wants seven large UAVs flying by 2019. The preferred option is a new, maritime surveillance version of the Global Hawk – the MQ4C Triton with a total cost of $2 billion to $3 billion.


Thanks go out to Dick