THE last time Shoalhaven fought a major bushfire, mapping technology involved adding more desks to the collection of tables in the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) map room.
That was less than a decade ago and one of the most notable improvements to the EOC with the current fire is digital map technology and how it is tied into aircraft operations.
Now fire front details and images as well as real-time information about individual aircraft over the fire ground are a mere mouse click away.
Helicopters are sending back near-live data from the fire to the EOC. An aircraft based at HMAS Albatross flies what are called infrared line scan runs which show exactly what the fire is doing, and firefighters relay updates of fire activity via radio.
That information all ends up on the desk of Brenton Marchant, a NPWS fire and incident management systems operator based at Port Macquarie. He was sharing that desk at the Shoalhaven Emergency Operations Centre with other mapping specialists last week.
“I have been doing this for about 15 years and the program we now use is called Map Desk. It has made the job a lot easier,” he said.
“The computer is doing a lot of things in the background that we now don’t have to think about.
“We are building a graphical representation of all the information that is coming in.
“I have to keep the maps up-to-date so people can forward plan.
“I do go out and fight fires as well and I think I make better maps because I have been on the receiving end of bad maps in the past.”
While Mr Marchant’s desk is a long way from the fire ground he still gets his share of pressure when he has four people hanging over him asking when the next map updates will be ready.
Incident controller Ian Stewart’s life in the EOC has improved markedly as the mapping technology has come on stream.
Having access to so much up-to-date information from the fire ground has removed a lot of the guesswork involved in deploying firefighters to the most efficient locations.
“These high-detail maps are great tools; we had nothing like this in the Hyland fires, we have come a long way,” Mr Stewart said.
“I have been in the service for 32 years and I’ve been in some long campaigns and seen shocking conditions but what we were hit with on Tuesday was the worst I had ever seen,” he said.