NSW Rural Fire Service uses digital video wall for bushfire season

NEC provides 100 screens as NSW RFS prepares for bush fire season

The NEC digital video wall in use at the NSW Rural Fire Service command centre in Homebush, NSW.

The NEC digital video wall in use at the NSW Rural Fire Service command centre in Homebush, NSW.

Replacing an aging projector setup with an NEC digital video wall made up of 100 LCD screens has already proven its worth for the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) after it was used in the recent Blue Mountains fires.

Installed in September, ahead of bush fire season which begins on 1 October, the video wall displays information including fire ground maps and weather conditions such as wind changes.

In addition, a number of screens are dedicated to television media, such as Sky News, to monitor what information is being provided to the public.

The digital video wall is supported by 14 computer systems, four servers and 32 digital video inputs including a helicopter mounted camera system which can transmit video from the fire front back to the command centre video wall in Homebush, NSW.

NSW RFS Inspector, Ben Shepherd, said that during the Blue Mountains fires, it was able to display footage from a Channel 7 helicopter that hovered above the fire directly on the wall.

“From that, we were able to develop some good information that went out on our website and social media feeds,” he said.

“Everyone who works at the centre is impressed because we can show good maps and information in a high resolution so we’re not losing any details."

Shepherd added that in the past, NSW RFS used a projector stack with four projectors screening the information onto a blank wall, plus large stickers outlining emergency contact details below the wall.

At the same time the wall was installed, the NSW RFS made a decision to have a high resolution mapping table introduced to the centre.

“For a long time, we’ve been using paper maps because they contain contour lines and more detailed information,” Shepherd said. “We get judged more on the information we provide to the public so this has allowed us to gather those details a lot quicker, display it internally and share it in on our website.”

Long term, the NSW RFS has a goal to replace all of its paper maps as it can display other information on the mapping table.

“For example, we have what is called a line scan aircraft which flies over the fires and can see through the smoke. We can display that information on top of the map as layers.”

NSW RFS comprises 2100 volunteer rural fire brigades and has a membership of 70,000.

In the advent of several bush fires, there could be up to 100 people from various departments including the Ambulance Service of NSW and the Department of Defence working in the centre.

Looking towards summer weather conditions, Shepherd said the state had the potential to have another La Nina event which traditionally means wetter conditions.

“This leads to unbelievable grass growth, especially in western NSW which also means grass fires that start quickly and spread rapidly,” he said.

“The need to get good information from the fire helicopter back to our centre so we can start publishing information is critical.”

In related news, Victoria’s Country Fire Authority (CFA) recently entered into a three-year deal with HP for the supply of ICT services to improve the management of information in its Advanced Warning System (AWS) in time for the impending bushfire season.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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