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MAPS Group's First Deployment

Report:  Mapping Support for the Bollo fire, Tumut 15 and 16 December 2006


I travelled to Tumut on the evening of Thursday 14 December 2006 with Steve Forbes, Field Mapping Officer, ACT Emergency Services Authority and returned to Canberra on the afternoon of Saturday 16 December.  While my role at the incident was minimal I am claiming this as MAPS first official engagement.  It also provided an excellent opportunity to observe how things work in an Incident Control Centre (ICC) and to make some recommendations for how MAPS should operate in the future.


How and why was MAPS called out


On Thursday morning 14 December I got a call from Steve asking if anyone from MAPS was available to be on standby at Curtin due to the high fire risk that day in the ACT and the proximity of the, at that time, uncontrolled fire at Tumut (the Bollo fire). I rang all coordinators.  Ian was in Perth.  Janine was at work but indicated she could get to Curtin about 2.00pm if needed.  I left a message for Stephen on his answering service.  Chris was at work but said he would go to Curtin in the afternoon if his boss agreed.


I spent the morning at Curtin doing a GIS project for the urban Fire Brigade.  This meant I had something useful to do while waiting to see what developed.  Chris joined me at about 2.00pm and we spent the afternoon familiarising ourselves with the computer set up at Curtin and the ICS Tools software.  The latter are very easy to use but do have some minor bugs that require work arounds.  Chris and I are now both familiar enough with the software to train others.


There were no outbreaks in the ACT during the day and Chris went home about 5.00 pm.  At about 5.30 pm Rick McRae got a call from Tumut (?) asking if the ACT could provide field mapping support.  The request was actually for the ESA Field Mapping Unit (ie Steve and Alan Walker) not MAPS per se.  The main requirement was for aerial mapping of the fire for which Steve and Alan are well trained and well equipped (tablet PC with GPS and PyroMap software).  However because of the high fire danger in Canberra it would have been difficult for Rick to release both Alan and Steve to go to Tumut.  As I was there at the time I volunteered to support the person going to Tumut so that the other field mapping person would still be available in Canberra.


In such circumstances MAPS volunteers can effectively double the capacity of the ESA Field Mapping Unit by enabling them to deploy two teams instead of only one or deploy one team and still have another in reserve.   However, had I not being at Curtin on Thursday when the request came in, I doubt this would have occurred to Rick or other ESA managers. 


Recommendation 1:  We need to embed a system whereby a MAPS volunteer is automatically called out to be the ground support for the Field Mapping Unit when they are deployed outside the Act or when they may be required to work multiple shifts locally.


Logistics of going to a fire


Steve arranged a vehicle and picked me up from home about 6.30pm.  We arrived at Tumut about 9.00 pm. 


Accommodation had been arranged through the Logistics group for the Bollo Fire. All I had to take was a change of clothes.  All accommodation and meals were provided by RFS at Tumut through local hotel/motels and cafes etc.  The standard of accommodation and meals depends on what is available.  Accommodation the first night was a pretty basic room in a very old country pub (took me back to my surveying days) but the second night we moved to a good country motel.  My only out of pocket expenses were a couple of beers here and there.


Bollo was a Section 44 fire in which case the state government picks up all the expenses.  Tumut is a fairly big town with a well established tourism industry but even it struggled to cope with the numbers of volunteers staying and eating in the town. Steve knew exactly how to arrange accommodation etc.  Had I arrived at 10.00 pm on my own or with another MAPS volunteer I would not have known where to go or what to do in the first instance but it is really only a matter of finding the ICC and asking a Logistics (blue arm bands) person.


Recommendation 2:   Our procedure manual needs to document basic logistics for volunteers who may not be familiar with RFS procedures for travel, accommodation and meals.



Steve took with him only the tablet PC and GPS.  The assumption was that he would be able to use printers etc at the ICC and that there would be a computer and MapInfo software there which I could use.  This was more or less correct but in hindsight I would not make this assumption again.


The ICC was in the local shire offices where Forestry and RFS normally have their offices.  This meant that Forestry was using its normal day to day network and equipment and RFS was using theirs.  I doubt that Steve would have been able to connect to either RFS or Forestry printers if he needed too.


Similarly it had been arranged for me to work with RFS Inspector Peter Jones who has MapInfo on his desktop machine and had previously been sent ICS tools.  On Friday 15 December however Peter was rostered off.  Fortunately I was able to get a visitor log on and use Peter’s machine.  The user specific install of MapInfo however did not give me all the fonts I needed and I was very lucky to be able to get ICS tools operational.


Fortunately Steve was also well equipped with multiple jump drives (memory sticks) which proved invaluable for transferring data between unconnected computer systems.


Recommendation 3:  MAPS volunteers should, wherever possible, take their own laptop with all the tools and whatever data is available already loaded.  Jump drives are essential.


The visitor logon did not give me access to e-mail.  This meant that for me to receive data from Steve in the helicopter we used the Incident Controller’s e-mail address and I had to get him to check his e-mail and let me copy files to my jump drive.  The Incident Controller can be very busy and hard to locate just at the critical moment. 


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