This entire project was designed to fix the online communication of bushfire information in the state of Victoria, SE Australia in 2006 following some very scary fires in our district. Submissions were sent to every key person in the emergency services network in Victoria, but there was not so much as a glimmer of interest.
In 2009 the State was incinerated by the Black Saturday firestorms and the bushfire update websites once again crashed. No serious attempt had been made to convey the information in a form that was of use to people under threat, that is, LOCAL information that could be read at-a-glance. Some official warnings were so late that they were posted after entire towns had been burned to the ground. Our 2006 plan included a low cost solution to the overload problem.
We are to make another attempt to do this by the book, that is to go through official channels. Failing that we will modify the service to include mobile phone input from the public in affected areas. Software can be developed that will plot GPS coordinates and messages to local district maps. Security safeguards are being considered, along with funding for such a scheme. If you would be interested in contributing please contact Kim Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org
A very poor example of data visualisation is the map below from the main bushfire information site in Victoria. This is essentially the same today as it was in 2006, and from personal experience in the fire zone, is of little help to locals under threat.
The blue icons on the map are around about the same size as the district that is used for the demonstration maps of Nillumbik Shire in the links above.
The Black Saturday fires moved so fast that half the width of the blue icon was consumed by fire in 20 minutes. Too much reliance is placed on verbal descriptions for updates and for navigation. The CFA website is a confusion of verbal signposts and would be difficult to navigate by someone in a state of panic. Even if the information was found, a clear picture of the current situation would rely on the viewer being literate, able to use a street directory and be familiar with navigating lists, for all the current reports are published as words.
At the time of writing we are experiencing the first day of extreme bushfire conditions since Black Saturday. Even after a Royal Commission into the 2009 fires nothing much has changed to improve the delivery of online information. There is a clear need in the emergency services for some lateral thinking and acceptance of data visualisation expertise to fix this dangerous situation.