Deakin tower provides vital fire link

1 March 2010

A humble tower, operated by Deakin University on Peter’s Hill, Cape Otway is playing a key role in the trial of a bushfire warning system, funded by the Federal Government.

The University’s tower and wireless link are playing host to a special sensor being used by FireWatch Australia to monitor fire conditions in the area.

The trial of FireWatch was funded by the Federal Government after the Black Saturday Bushfires. Following the fires, the Federal Member for McEwan, Fran Bailey investigated early detection fire systems technologies. 160 of the 173 bushfire deaths occurred in Ms Bailey’s electorate.

Ms Bailey suggested the Federal Government trial the FireWatch technology in the Otway region from January–April 2010.

The Director of Deakin’s Information Technology Services Division, Mr Peter Brusco, said the University’s existing microwave radio and fibre optic based network was able to be deployed in a short timeframe to enable the sensor to transmit real time information to the FireWatch control room located at the Melbourne Campus at Burwood.

“Deakin is very pleased to be able to provide technology to support such an important public safety initiative,” he said.

“When we were approached we were more than happy to assist in any way we could, particularly because the trial is based in the South West of the State, where many of our staff and students live.”

Mr Brusco also said that the IT Services Division had also been able to assist FireWatch in setting up access to technology such as the high speed internet connectivity and phones in the control room used for the trial.

David Goodrich, CEO FireWatch Australia, said FireWatch represents the future in terms of early detection of bushfires.

“It has the ability to make the emergency services response even more effective and uses proven technology to deliver this critical information automatically, day and night, and in real-time,” he said.

“It will save lives, property and the environment.”

Mr Goodrich said it has been estimated that bushfires contribute up to one third of all of Australia’s carbon emissions each year.

Additional information

  • Founded on aerospace technology developed for the NASA Mars Pathfinder mission, the FireWatch system incorporates an optical sensor, which boasts enhanced spectral sensitivity with near-infrared (NIR) sensing capabilities. This permits detection across a wide range of visible light wavelength (480 to 1200nm) day or night—far superior to that of the human eye (400 to 750nm).
  • The sensor’s extremely high grey-scale resolution enables it to distinguish between over 16,000 shades of grey—critical functionality for detecting the first signs of smoke and differentiating between smoke, cloud and dust.
  • In operation, each FireWatch sensor rotates through 360 degrees every 4-8 minutes, detecting smoke at distances of up to 40km depending upon topography. This year in Germany where the system has been installed for the past eight years, a fire was detected at a distance of 72 kms from the tower.
  • Once smoke or fire is detected an alarm with a corresponding image is transmitted to the Control Room. Here, the image is rapidly assessed and the resultant information disseminated to the fire agencies, allowing them to commence their fire suppression activities. Each Control Room workstation can monitor up to five towers covering a potential area of more than 3,500 square kilometers.
  • Similar detection networks based on FireWatch technology have produced impressive results overseas. FireWatch has been operating in Germany for eight years and has lead to an over 90 per cent reduction in area burned.
  • Depending upon user requirements and data availability, the FireWatch system can also interface with meteorological information sources to provide fire fighters with temperature, wind speed and direction, humidity and vegetation related information. FireWatch uses embedded GPS mapping data to pinpoint the location of the fire with phenomenal accuracy.
  • The Australian trial of the FireWatch system will have sensors at four locations in Victoria (Mt. Porndon, Crowes Lookout, Peters Hill and Mt. Cowley), with all information being fed back to a Control Room at the Deakin University campus at Burwood.
  • The communications system for the trial was designed and implemented by AirWave Solutions Australia, a joint venture between Broadcast Australia and AirWave UK, the provider of the UK’s emergency services communications network.
  • News facts
    • Deakin University tower used in trial of bushfire warning system
    • Trial is monitoring conditions in the Otway region

    Media contact

    Sandra Kingston
    Deakin Media Relations
    0422 005 485

    Deakin University acknowledges the traditional land owners of present campus sites.

    1st March 2010