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DSTO collaborates to see fire through the smoke

19 January 2015
SWIR Imagery
SWIR Imagery at 11.15am on 4 January 2014 (© Digital Globe – licensed to the Australian Department of Defence)

DSTO, in collaboration with the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO), has been instrumental in initiating the collection of sophisticated satellite imagery over the fire-affected areas during the recent Adelaide Hills bushfire.The coordination of the DSTO/AGO response was initiated by DSTO researcher Chris Ekins, who evacuated his family from the area in the early hours of Saturday 3 January.

Through his research into enterprise geospatial information systems, Chris was familiar with a Short Wave InfraRed (SWIR) sensor capability on the WorldView-3 satellite (owned and operated by US company, Digital Globe).  One of the applications of SWIR is to support first responders to ‘look through’ smoke and haze created by wildfires.

Upon hearing reports of heavy smoke inhibiting the emergency response, Chris was quick to identify the potential application of this technology in support of the South Australian Country Fire Service (CFS).

“The SWIR imagery is absolutely ideal for this purpose, and it supports a range of other emergency activities,” said Chris.

“When combined with other high resolution imagery, it provides an assessment backdrop that can be used to rapidly and confidently show active, burnt and untouched areas.” 

The imagery, licensed by Defence from Digital Globe, was delivered directly to the CFS headquarters where it was used to assist in mapping the impacted area and active fire fronts.  It was also used to help identify unaffected properties, assisting the CFS’s fire suppression efforts and providing clear and accurate information to the public about the fire’s size and extent.

Chief Defence Scientist Dr Alex Zelinsky thanked Chris for his initiative and leadership in helping the CFS obtain access to the best imagery available. He also commended the work of Chris, the AGO and Digital Globe for their collaboration in providing timely support to the SA CFS.

“DSTO’s coordination of this collaboration effort is a perfect example of our role as a valued advisor, collaborative partner and innovation integrator,” said Dr Zelinsky.