Bushfire locator map launches in Australia

Real-time CFA and RFS data to be used in new online map service

A free online mapping service which collates and displays up-to-the-minute bushfire information designed to empower fire-affected residents, has been launched in Australia.

The FireLocator map by Pitney Bowes integrates data from the Rural Fire Service in New South Wales, the Country Fire Authority in Victoria, satellite data from Geoscience Australia’s Sentinel as well as Australian census data.

Map creator and vice president of advanced concepts and technology at Pitney Bowes, Arthur Berrill, said the inspiration to develop the fire map came about towards the end of 2008, when California was in the midst of severe wildfires and development of the Australian map started soon after this year's Black Saturday fires in Victoria.

“Our goal was to try and activate as many good feeds of data as we could in California,” Berrill said. “By the end of the year we got as many as 750,000 hits on the site.”

Prior to the launch of FireLocator, there was no dedicated source of information which provided up-to-date information to the public about the wildfires in the US, Berrill claimed.

“We found satellite data and bits of data from various fire fighting organisations, and each of these were very different,” he said. “So if you wanted to get a good overview of current fires, and drill into specific details, that information wasn’t there.

“Our approach was to cooperate with anybody who’s prepared to let us have a data feed, and we’ll do the smart collaboration of that data behind the scenes.”

Using Microsoft Silverlight technology and Bing mapping, the raw data is collated by Pitney Bowes and placed on a map.

Users only need to type in a street address to find information on fires developing in an area. While data currently only exists for New South Wales and Victoria, there are plans to roll-out the service across other states.

The map also provides geo-tagged photos of the bushfires from Flickr.

“It’s for the casual user, the slightly panicked user, it’s a place to go and find out what’s going on around you and it will never be for profit,” Berrill said.

“Bushfires are very close to the psyche of Australians, they are a very real and well-known threat, so I think FireLocator will be a useful tool for them.”

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