CSIRO says tech tools can help in disasters

By Paul Hemsley

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has revealed that emerging technologies such as computer modeling and social media can help governments and emergency services more effectively manage natural disasters like bushfires and floods.

In the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy in the United States in October as well as 385 natural disasters in 2010 costing the global economy US$123 billion and affecting 217 million people, the CSIRO has released a report titled All Hazards: Digital Technology & Services for Disaster Management.

The report has arrived following the CSIRO’s years-long research into natural disasters such as bushfires and floods, resulting in a new disaster management research team called the Digital Productivity and Services Flagship.

Released in Canberra this week, the report argues that technology cannot prevent catastrophic events but it can improve the way emergency services manage natural disasters and minimise their human costs.

According to the report, these technologies include maths-based fluids models of tsunamis and storm surges, computer models of bushfire behaviour as well as spatial data technologies and analytics.

These technologies were the base of the CSIRO’s real life research into improving emergency response to natural disasters to predict which homes and businesses are vulnerable, allowing governments in Australia and overseas to direct aid more effectively.

The bushfire computer models give information of where to send people and equipment.

The report also cites social media outlets such as Twitter as an example of changing how emergencies are reported because CSIRO software detects Twitter posts mentioning disasters, which gives rescue workers early warning of impending situations.

CSIRO Government and Commercial Services research leader, Alan Dormer said the CSIRO also wants to collaborate with Geoscience Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology because of their complimentary data sources and capability.

"Although we've got lots of pieces of the natural disaster research puzzle, we haven't got all of them. We'd like to bring together CSIRO's existing expertise and provide support across the spectrum of prediction, preparation, emergency response and recovery,” Mr Dormer said.

Mr Dormer warned that it has yet to be discovered what the 2012-13 summer cyclone and bushfire season will bring considering the 2011 Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi, as well as the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria.

"Our disaster management report gives a science-based, referenced overview of what science is doing to inform decisions about what nature throws at us," he said.

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