Google Crisis Map and the bush fires

We have all seen the movies. When the crisis comes the roads get blocked; cars go up on the verge; the verge gets blocked; and it all turns into a mess. And that’s why I like the Google Crisis Map which tells you what’s going on in the bush fire area and how to get out.

The Google Crisis Map shows not only the latest information from the Rural Fire Service but also the status of the roads out. My two Senior Disaster Correspondents, both currently sheltering under the GiS central-Sydney-a-long-way-from-the-fires roof, agree that this is a good thing.

The Rural Fire Service’s own website is a great source of information on the fires. It’s a shame, though, that they don’t seem to be able to superimpose the excellent linescan photos they are linking to from Twitter onto the maps and show where the fire activity actually is. I’m guessing they can’t take them often enough for superimposition to be safe, but there’s a lot more information in those photos than the brutalist black lines drawn on the map.

The RFS also has an app called Fires Near Me. The app is free. It appears to mirror the map-based information on the website rather than adding anything more – although it can obviously use the device’s GPS to automatically center the map on your location and give information on the distance to the nearest fires. It would be nice, sometime in the future, to see a saved home location for the app and push notifications based on distance. 

That all direct this information is available – let alone streaming news and video, SMSs, tweets and Facebook – is fantastic. When you compare the level of information available today to individuals to that which would have been available ten or twenty years ago, it really puts how far we’ve come into stark relief. In times of disaster we’re always going to be reliant on the grit and bravery of people, but information is power and the more information available the better.

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