Bushfire Data Challenges

The ARDC is supporting the development of national digital infrastructure to overcome the data challenges associated with bushfire research and response in Australia.
A bushfire at night

Sharing Data Is Critical for Preparing for and Managing Bushfires

The devastating Australian bushfires in 2019/2020 left thousands homeless, burnt over 24 million hectares of land, claimed the lives of 33 people and over a billion animals, incurred financial impacts of over $10 billion, and significantly impacted health, infrastructure, industry and small businesses.

It will take a long time to recover from such an enormous disaster. The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements (2020) recommended supporting better decision making through the national sharing of data.

Data sharing is a key challenge for the numerous Australian research agencies, federal, state and local governments, and emergency management organisations involved in preparing for and managing bushfires. Data is being captured in different formats, with different metadata, and by different levels of government in the states and territories. The ability to harness the full power of data by sharing it across organisations and borders will have a significant impact on how Australia prepares for the next fire season and responds to it effectively.

The ARDC has unique breadth and depth of expertise in facilitating collaboration across organisations to create national data capabilities. In partnership with the bushfire community, the ARDC is investing in developing innovative digital infrastructure solutions with the aim of improving Australia’s bushfire resilience, response and recovery.

Consultation and Collaboration—The Key to a National Approach

For the Bushfire Data Challenges program, the ARDC conducted 9 months of targeted consultations, including a series of facilitation meetings and participatory design workshops with 92 stakeholders. This process captured priority areas for national digital research infrastructure.

The ARDC has convened key national stakeholders from the research and public sectors to design a national data capability that spans research, development, operational planning, response and recovery, as shown in the following infographic:

An infographic illustrating the bushfire data challenges operations and infrastructure scope
Bushfire data challenges operations and infrastructure scope

Understanding Fire Behaviour and Impact

The consultation process identified two key areas of national digital research infrastructure focus, which will happen in two phases:

  1. modelling fire behaviour: nationally aggregating data and models on fire history and fuel
  2. modelling fire impact: nationally aggregating data and models on the impact of bushfires on physical and mental health and that on the built and natural environment.

These 2 phases are visualised in the following infographic. Data governance will also be addressed to ensure data is collected, used and communicated according to an agreed framework and structure.

A infographic illustrating the infrastructure frameowrk for modelling fire behaviour (Phase 1 and 2)
Modelling fire behaviour infrastructure framework (phase 1 and 2)

Digital Infrastructure Solutions

A kangaroon in a burnt forest with ash on the ground

The ARDC Bushfire Data Challenges national digital research infrastructure will benefit:

  • researchers — researchers will have access to high-quality data assets, which will lead to better models for fire behaviour, enabling risk reduction and more accurate predictions for fire spread
  • operational organisations — improved models empower operational and planning organisations to prepare and manage fires more effectively, with the right data and predictions at their fingertips
  • flora and fauna — integrating bushfire data improves our understanding of the impact fires have on flora and fauna. It enables researchers to pinpoint species at risk of extinction due to habitat loss from extreme fires and recommend appropriate action
  • health — improved data will help us to understand the impact of bushfires on physical and mental health to ensure Australia is best prepared to support the community during and after natural disasters
  • infrastructure and urban planning — a wide variety of data inputs, when synthesised, provide insights into the impact of bushfires on infrastructure, urban planning and livability.

Phase 1 and 2 of the Bushfire Data Challenges program will be completed by June 2023.

“The ARDC and the project teams have done an excellent job of understanding the fire industry’s needs and these projects could solve some long-standing data sharing and integration problems. The new data sets and capability created will set Australia up for improved and more consistent fire management and prediction in the future,” said Stuart Matthews, Senior Project Officer at NSW Rural Fire Service.

The Bushfire Data Challenges program is part of the ARDC’s Translational Research Data Challenges initiative, providing innovative and high-impact digital infrastructure solutions for real-world problems. It focuses on translational research, operating at the intersection of research and broader society, to provide tangible and enduring economic, environmental and social benefits to Australia.