[Guest blog post by Maurits van der Vlugt, a Spatial Information Strategist, based in Sydney, Australia. He is recognised as one of Australia’s leading authorities in the design and implementation of (interoperable) spatial data infrastructures, and web delivery of spatial data.]
The 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in the state of Victoria, Australia, burnt the equivalent of 1 million football fields, displaced 7,500 people across 78 townships, resulting in 173 dead and 2000 houses lost.
We know when bushfires happen, people want fast access to trustworthy information, whether that comes from official sources or not. For that purpose, a number of volunteers started Bushfire Connect last May. Bushfire Connect uses Ushahidi to aggregate information from multiple sources: official and social, about events and incidents such as community meetings, fires, and road closures, in a way that empowers anyone to contribute local knowledge and make informed decisions.
Since its inception in May 2010 the Bushfire Connect team has accomplished quite a few things: we’ve established a great core team, a steadily growing online following, and of course, a functioning prototype. All this in five months, with purely volunteer input and a cash outlay of about $500.
A special mention needs to go out to the Random Hacks of Kindness global hackathon held in June 2010. One of the RHoK events was held in Sydney, and it was there, over the course of a weekend, that the Bushfire Connect team transformed a great idea into an installed and functioning proof-of-concept Ushahidi instance for presenting real time information submitted by local community members and emergency agencies.
Currently, Bushfire Connect takes in official information as RSS feeds, and combines it with citizen reporting through web forms, SMS, email and Twitter. As the prototype is undergoing rigorous testing, we’re getting ready for the next step: to run a trial in Australia’s upcoming bushfire season (which starts in December) with real input from real people, in a real, robust and relevant production environment.