NSW Digital Twin to inform emergency planning this bushfire season

By Alison DonnellanDecember 15th, 2020

The new NSW Spatial Digital Twin will assist emergency services in developing effective emergency management strategies ahead of the upcoming bushfire season.

Over 2400 homes destroyed, roughly $1 billion in infrastructure damage, 5.4 million hectares burned and the loss of 26 lives – the Black Summer bushfires in NSW were one of the worst disasters the state had ever experienced.

The NSW Independent Bushfire Inquiry identified the loss of connectivity as a reoccurring issue throughout the season, with the destruction of critical communications infrastructure across the state leaving at-risk communities and emergency responders on occasion cut-off from the outside world.

The Inquiry found that the reliable sharing of critical infrastructure, telecommunications and spatial information will be a key component to preventing a similarly devastating summer, addressing the need for a tool that could integrate and visualise a volume of essential data.

Launched in February 2020 by NSW Department Customer Service Spatial Services, The NSW Spatial Digital Twin, a four-dimensional model, has been selected to securely house, organise, and visualise the data needed to develop effective management strategies for disaster planning, preparedness, response and recovery.

A map of NSW.

The NSW Spatial Digital Twin with four overlapping datasets, including current major fire incident alerts, electricity transmission lines, fire hotspots in the last 36 hours, and communications towers. Image: CSIRO.

Built on CSIRO’s Data61’s TerriaJS platform and incorporating secure open-source data catalogue MAGDA, the Digital Twin Visualisation Service leverages Data61’s strength in web-mapping and visualising data in 3D + time (the ability to look forward and back in time) to build a real-world ‘digital twin’ prototype.

“The Digital Twin enables emergency services and other critical organisations to download data and plug it into their system so they can make laser-like informed decisions,” explains Minister for Customer Service NSW Victor Dominello in a NSW Spatial Services showcase video.

“The data within the Digital Twin is so powerful because, quite frankly if you don’t have data then you are flying blind, and that’s where Digital Twin is unparalleled.”

The integration of a 3D spatial dataset mapping the locations of telecommunication towers and assets across NSW into the Digital Twin will enable emergency service organisations to better understand and protect these vital locations before and during an event.

“There is nothing more powerful than the spatial layers to paint the picture about what’s at risk, so having access to that Digital Twin allows us to invest in preventative and mitigation strategies,” explains Shane Fitzsimmons, Head of Resilience NSW and previously the Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service.

“In an unfolding emergency like a bushfire, we can know in advance what’s likely to happen in that fire in the next few days, making sure we can shore up protection as much as we can.”

The new dataset will also inform emergency responders as to what telecommunications services are and aren’t accessible for operational use, what services are available to the community, and ensure residents have the greatest possible prospect of retaining communications and connectivity during a crisis.

Two men in front of a graph

Mats Henrikson, CSIRO’s Data61 and Bruce Thompson, Special Services at the NSW Digital Twin launch. Image: CSIRO.

“Having a Digital Twin for communications infrastructure means we can factor into our risk planning, factor into our annual treatments in the months and years before a fire impact,” says Mr Fitzsimmons.

“In the event that something is impacted, we can put in contingencies for servicing resupply and repair to get it back up and running as quickly as we can.”

“What we’ve been finding for years now is the inability to have a collective data set from telecommunications and other utilities tied into our emergency services. This lack of understanding and detail means you are not appreciative of how vulnerable or how susceptible some sites might be.”

According to Minister Dominello, the real-time analysis and information the NSW Spatial Digital Twin will provide could be the difference between life and death.

This blog was first published by CSIRO’s Data61 on Algorithm.

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