In the aftermath of the Queensland flood disaster, and with floods now also impacting other states, it looks likely that disaster prediction and communication technologies are likely to be back on the government agenda in the coming months; possibly even as quickly as the next round of State and Federal Budgets.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) is currently in the process of rolling out a modernised forecast process, the Next Generation Forecast and Warning System, which uses the Graphical Forecast Editor (GFE) system, to improve the accuracy and scope of weather forecasts. The system has been in place in Victoria since 2009, and will replace the current forecasting infrastructure which, according to the BoM, has changed little since the 1950s. BoM received $30.5 million over five years in the 2009-10 Budget to fund this implementation, according to Intermedium’s analysis.
However, while improving on weather forecasting, this BoM project will not address the issue of flash-flood prediction.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has announced an independent Commission of Inquiry into the flood disaster which will examine the preparedness for and the response to the flood crisis in the state.
‘This Commission of Inquiry, in my view, is absolutely critical to us understanding firstly, the community preparedness and importantly, the emergency response. We need to learn the lessons of this event so that we can protect ourselves better in the future.’ Ms Bligh said.
The Commission’s terms of reference state the scope of the review will include ‘adequacy of equipment and communications systems’ and ‘adequacy of forecasts and early warning systems’, suggesting a potential need for upgraded disaster management and communication technologies. With an anticipated cost of $15 million, the inquiry will have the full powers of a Royal Commission and will visit affected towns to hear evidence across state.
Echoing Ms. Bligh’s sentiments, Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman has also stated there is room to improve preparedness for natural disasters, saying: ‘can we improve warning systems...I’m confident we can’.
Australian disaster warning systems have already been upgraded in recent times with the establishment of the Emergency Alert SMS system, launched on 1 December 2009, following the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires.
However, the weather prediction systems currently in place are said to be unable to predict flash flooding incidents such as the Toowoomba tragedy. This prevents the issuing of timely warnings to the community.
Linlin Ge, Associate Professor of UNSW’s School of Surveying and Spatial Information Systems, has called for an investment in an Australian weather satellite to support near real-time disaster modelling and mapping and so help authorities provide warnings to those in danger.
Certainly as with the Victorian bushfire experience it seems likely that Queensland soon be investing in systems to manage and minimise the impact of future natural disasters.
Intermedium’s Budget IT tool shows Victoria allocated $31 million in 2009-10 to ‘Project 000 Response’ to improve emergency services communications and establish the Victorian Bushfire Information Line as part of the Victorian Bushfire Response and Recovery initiative. Budget allocations of a similar order of magnitude may therefore eventuate for Queensland
The nature and scope of any upgrades required in Queensland will be informed by the outcomes of the Inquiry which is due to deliver an interim report in August 2011, and its final report by January 2012.