Australian Bush Fires and Locating People

The bushfires are raging in Australia, temperatures are breaking records daily and the traditional hottest months haven’t even arrived yet. Meanwhile Imersia has been developing a technology that can reduce stress, improve efficiencies, information flows and potentially save lives in future.

It seems ironic watching this BBC News clip after watching a story on BBC News a couple of nights ago claiming that global warming is slowing down when in Australia the record books are being broken almost daily. Temperature maps on TV are being upgraded with new extreme grades and fire warning signs on the road now include Catastrophic as a condition. Catastrophic

First of all we want to wish all the best to our Australian cousins across the ditch who are personally involved or have friends and family in areas affected by this year’s terrible bushfires. I can’t imagine what it must be like, other than horrific and very frightening. Whilst we are a small country, I was pleased to read today that at least one team of New Zealand volunteer fire-fighters are in Tasmania to help out and I’m sure there are plenty more Kiwis there or on the way to help. Kiwis will be there to help with funds or personal help in the same way as the Aussies have helped us following earthquakes etc.

At Imersia we have been building a location based infrastructure technology designed to allow us to track and monitor devices including mobile phones, sensors and devices based on their location, their proximity to each other and other locations. This has the ability to scale significantly and we believe it would be very suitable for disaster situations like these.

We are constantly hearing stories about Police, Fire, SAR and volunteers racing from door to door, checking if people are safe or need rescuing. Video clips like the one above are frequent with anguished people wondering if their friends and family are safe, or even where they are. because of the scope of the situation across multiple states, getting information about people is difficult.

We would propose a number of things. Firstly a free mobile application for smartphones, typically iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile. This software could be localised by State or Region and made available via app stores and the regional emergency services web sites, by QR code in Yellow Pages, Local Papers and Directories. It could start with a number of simple features:

  • The ability to share the user’s location and status, like a Buddy Finder (Safe/Need Help/Free-text) with authorised people. This could be modified by the user on demand to include friends, family, employers, emergency services, school etc. This could use very small amounts of data allowing the phone lines to be left free for emergency communication. 
  • This could be set to poll periodically, say every 5 minutes an also identify if it has failed to poll someone, in which case it would identify the last time it was successful and where the person was at that time.
  • The same solution could be used within organisations which don’t by default have their own technology, for example volunteers, but could also be a back up where there are technology failures for official services.
  • It could provide live map data including road closures, real time traffic information and local critical travel information.
  • It cold provide map data showing weather conditions and forecasts.
  • It could provide map data showing fire danger status and where the fronts are.

Another area that Imersia is working on is access to data from location based sensors. In the case of bushfire, there could be a network of permanent, semi-permanent and temporary heat and fire sensors which are all geo-located. They can be viewed by authorities on a web map to assess local conditions and increase the level of information available both historically and in real time. Imersia has a technology called logo iconSmartpoints which allow data to be collected and maintained in relation to specific locations without requiring high investment in technology and allows different people or groups access to different information as required. There is also capability for redundancy so that if communications are broken, nodes can continue to communicate with each other until access to the main networks are restored.

Sensors could be located permanently at high risk areas, but could also be placed (or even dropped by helicopter) at strategic locations on demand. For example a bushfire may have already passed a settlement, but there is a risk that the fire will turn and go back. A sensor is a much lower risk and more economical method than having people on the ground.

It may be too late to do anything in the heat of the current disasters, but summer has only begun and this and every year there will be more fires, more tropical storms, more floods, more tsunamis, more earthquakes and other disasters. We are keen to talk to Councils, Government, Civil Defence, Fire, Telcos, Utility Companies and other authorities about how our technology can help save lives and help communities be better prepared than ever before.

We have a unique new proposition and technology made possible amongst other reasons because more people than ever before have mobile devices that know where they are. In the USA AT&T alone said that they were averaging 110,000 smartphones a day in Q4 of 2012! In June Telsyte said that more than half of all Australians have a Smartphone and that by 2014 more Australians will access the Internet by mobile than using a computer.

In New Zealand Vodafone CEO Russell Stanners said that they were going 100% Smartphone. Effectively that means that if you buy a Vodafone mobile in New Zealand, you have no choice, you can only buy a Smartphone!

You will find the word serendipity common in our vocabulary at Imersia. We have been building our technology while you have been buying Smartphones. Now we are all ready. Lets talk!

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About Luigi Cappel

Writer for hire, marketing consultant specialising in Location Based Services. Futurist and Public Speaker Auckland, New Zealand

One response to “Australian Bush Fires and Locating People”

  1. Luigi Cappel says :

    Reblogged this on Luigicappel’s Weblog and commented:

    Locating people via GPS has been a hobby horse for me for many years as you will know if you follow my blog. Perhaps crises like these will help us get funding to develop suitable solutions.

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