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GIS to help emergency services save lives during disasters

Australia: Ahead of what fire authorities are warning could be one of the worst bushfire seasons in recent history, representatives from world-leader in emergency response American Red Cross is in Australia this week, meeting with local emergency services to share how new technology can help save more lives by improving disaster response.

Brian Keenum from American Red Cross, the largest volunteer organization in the world, will meet with Australian emergency services agencies, safety authorities and government representatives across the country to discuss the online, data-driven software being used to boost effective response to large-scale disasters such as Hurricane Florence and the Californian Wildfires.

With concerns that Australia is facing an elevated risk of bushfires and extreme weather events due to dry conditions, the search for innovative response strategies is at the forefront of focus for emergency services.

Senior Director of Business Infrastructure for the American Red Cross Brian Keenum said he will share his organization’s experience using world-class technology to enable more accurate, safe and effective decision-making in the face of a crisis.

Mr Keenum will provide insights from the American Red Cross’ new RC View tool – a custom-made application that uses Esri’s GIS technology to provide the organization’s 80,000 person-strong workforce with real-time situational awareness.

“RC View brings together thousands of federal, state and local data sources into one dynamic picture that informs the decisions and actions of our workforce. Along with our partners, RC View has revolutionized our efficiency of workflow during large-scale national disaster relief operations, as well as everyday response to home fires and preparedness efforts within communities,” Mr Keenum said.

“In 2018 alone, this technology-assisted us in facilitating life-saving emergency response across missions including the earthquakes and tsunami in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia in October, Hurricane Florence in September, and the Californian Wildfires in August – America’s worst fires in history that saw more than 376,000 hectares lost in 14 states across the North-Western parts of the United States.

“It’s a critical system for understanding the potential impact a crisis may bring, along with who will be affected worst, how we should respond and the right place to focus our resources in real-time.

“I can see enormous potential for GIS technology such as this to be used by emergency services authorities in Australia, where the threat of bushfires and extreme weather is a serious threat to communities,” he said.

ACT Emergency Services Commissioner Dominic Lane, who earlier this year launched a first-of-its-kind Auto Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) tool revolutionizing bushfire preparedness, said the ACT ESA was eager to learn from the American Red Cross’ use of advanced technology, understanding the potential advantages for their emergency response at a local level.

“Following on from our success using the AutoBAL tool, we are looking forward to seeing how these data visualization and mapping tools may assist our ability to prepare and respond effectively to bushfires, which is ultimately focused on keeping the community safe,” Commissioner Lane said.

“The ACT ESA is always looking at ways we can improve the coordination of response efforts, which is a crucial step following preparation, in community-focused response.

“We know that on the worst of days, Mother Nature will always beat us in relation to the impact of fire on the community, therefore it’s important we take all of our information, all of our resources and all of our technology and combine that together and use it collaboratively,” he said.

Mr Keenum will provide unique insights into the importance of inter-agency operability and collaboration during crises, emergency response, community support, and the changing role of technology in the face of danger, when he delivers a keynote address at the Australian Esri User Conference – Ozri – this month in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.