Victoria’s devastating Black Saturday bushfires are Australia’s all-time worst bushfire disaster, killing more than 170 people.
But in what is potentially life-saving work, RMIT University experts are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to help protect people from bushfires.
Their new program helps emergency services and communities better prepare for evacuation.
“Prior to the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, Australia didn’t always recommend evacuations – the policy was ‘stay and defend’,” says Professor Lin Padgham.
“After people died on Black Saturday, that changed.”
She said the planning tool showed how evacuations of large areas worked in a situation where it was necessary to get a lot of people out quickly.
“The software uses a simulation where you model all the individuals and then we also model the decision-making of the individuals,” Professor Padgham says.
“If you tell people, ‘it’s time to leave now’, they’re not going to do that while their kids are at school, or if they haven’t assembled the family, or they need to check on a close relative.”
“People will never do exactly what you tell them, so you need to allow for that.”
“We simulate an evacuation where we block off roads or model car accidents – to get a picture of the sort of things that can happen. You can also see the cars moving, where they’re backing up, getting into traffic jams,” she says.
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