Bushfires (as we call wild fires in Australia) are not uncommon. What was uncommon about Black Saturday was the intensity of the fires. For example, the Black Saturday fires triggered the creation of pyrocumulus clouds, which are most commonly seen over volcanic eruptions, as well as firestorms, which are nasty things that basically turn a bushfire front into a large blast-furnace, melting and burning most things in their path, and sucking oxygen into the front so that they create a positive feed-back loop that results in temperatures above 1,000 degrees centigrade, and emit so much radiant heat that they ignite flammable objects before the front even arrives, and accelerating the advance of the front.
|Pyrocumulus Cloud Over Black Saturday Bushfires|
Sadly a large number of lives were lost during the Black Saturday fires, and this has appropriately led to a series of enquiries and studies into what went wrong, and what preparedness measures were in place.
My work is in resilient communications networks, and so I took particular interest in the section on pages 24-25 of the report that considered the various communications strategies that people used, or assumed would be used to facilitate communication of an impending bushfire.
What is clear from the data is that telephony (land-line or mobile) was a significant source of information, with 43% of people using that medium, much more than the internet, and exceeded only by radio and environmental cues.
This is important, because radio and environmental cues are the most available sources of information: radio has extremely good range and coverage, even during a bushfire, and the environment speaks for itself. Thus it seems that people used those services that they considered to be reliably available, and thus improving the resilience of mobile telephony would be of value to these communities.
There is some further indication that this is the case, in that a few communities had neighbourhood “phone trees” that they used to ensure that their entire local community were aware of any impending danger. This use case is particularly suitable for mesh telephony, because the distances are relatively short, and an automatic store-and-forward system such as Serval Rhizome could be used to automatically deliver the information to the entire community in one action, and without depending on any infrastructure that is required to keep the phone network running, which was itself a problem during the Black Saturday fires.
While we don’t have a complete solution that could be used by these communities, it does give us confidence that we are heading in the right direction, and so it inspires us to persevere in our efforts.