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Cutting Australia’s disaster costs with AI risk modelling


Mar 2023

See which Australian suburbs could be more prone to bushfires with disaster risk identification, powered by high-resolution aerial imagery and AI data.

Mar 2023

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With the release of the Australian 2023 Intergenerational Report by Treasury in October 2023, predictions pointed to global warming costing the country up to $423 billion over the next four decades, through the direct impacts of higher temperatures on labour productivity. 
While global action is needed to limit temperature increases, a focus on mitigation and risk reduction will help reduce the skyrocketing costs of recovery and rebuild in Australia. 
Understanding and monitoring major risk factors is central to the ongoing planning and prevention strategies. 
Geospatial intelligence, powered by high-resolution aerial imagery and AI data is providing a new level of predictive visibility to mitigate the impacts of climate change. This is being applied by insurers, to understand multiple risk factors surrounding properties, and across suburbs or regions; government agencies and emergency responders are using the technology to monitor locations, identify risk and act before disaster strikes.
At the beginning of the 2023-4 fire season, in December 2023 the Nearmap AI team looked at some of the elements that play a core role in Australian bushfire prevention and mitigation. 
Using Nearmap AI in MapBrowser, we searched Australian suburbs with a population of more than 1,000 people, and tree cover of at least 40%, to find locations with factors that could lead to increased fire risk.
As Australia prepares for another destructive bushfire season, AI-derived insights can help inform decisions that protect properties, keep residents safe, and reduce risk for insurers and responders.

Powerlines

Powerlines are a frequent cause of bushfires in Australia. In 2022, two fires in Western Australia started on overhead powerlines. Along with hardware solutions – including covered conductors, fast-acting circuit breakers, rapid earth fault detection systems, and underground conductors – vegetation detection and vegetation management is an important factor in minimising fire risk and creating safer electricity networks. 
By applying two of the 100+ Nearmap AI layers – ‘vegetation’ and ‘power lines’ – utilities asset maintenance teams can use imagery to quickly identify areas of vegetation encroachment or overgrowth in proximity to power lines. 


Powerlines

In 2018, fallen powerlines started a fire that destroyed 65 homes in Tathra on the NSW South Coast. The ignition point, in Reedy Swamp Road, can be seen in the comparison images below, with Nearmap AI in the lower image highlighting the corridor of powerlines that were thought to have started the fire. 
Fire Risk AI Identification

Powerlines in Tathra, NSW

Junk and wreckage

Piles of unmaintained junk can cause fires which take hold and spread rapidly. Switching on the Nearmap AI data layer ‘junk and wreckage’, our team saw that Londonderry in NSW was one of the suburbs with a high proportion of area covered by junk and wreckage in December 2023. 


Junk and Wreckage

Tyres

Cleaning up illegal tyre dumps across Australia is an essential but costly social and environmental issue. Tyre dumps are a major fire risk, generating toxic smoke and oils from melted rubber, and leaching harmful chemicals and compounds that break down as they enter the groundwater, causing longer-term harm to plants, animals and humans. 
Tyre Stewardship Australia runs Australia’s voluntary tyre recycling scheme, and is focused on identifying and removing illegally dumped tyre stockpiles
Always a pioneer in the location intelligence space, Nearmap is the first and currently only imagery provider with the capability to use AI to identify tyre stockpiles. Our search uncovered Mornington in Tasmania as an area with a higher-than-average proportion of discarded tyres.


Tyres

Pools

In remote areas, water supply can be one of the resources most challenging to access. Firefighters will sometimes rely on a Static Water Supply (SWS) which can include dams, creeks and swimming pools. While some rural properties have registered themselves as the source of a SWS, being able to identify those water sources, at scale, using AI identification on high-res aerial maps is a game changer. 
Click the AI layer ‘swimming pools’ and see the result – clearly visible along with a view of property access, if needed, or aerial obstacles such as high vegetation, buildings, or powerlines: essential knowledge for aerial firefighting resources.
Looking at the data from December 2023, we can see that Davidson in NSW has one of the highest pool-to-building ratios — with one pool for every 1.8 buildings – a valuable SWS location.
Woronora in NSW also appeared as a location high in swimming pools, also with a high percentage of vegetation cover.


Swimming Pool

Tree overhang

While high tree cover offers valuable shade and lowers the ambient temperature by several degrees, trees overhanging properties can present a dangerous fire risk, increasing the risk of bushfires taking hold and spreading quickly to surrounding buildings. 
When our AI team searched the country, Tecoma in Victoria came up as one of the suburbs with the highest average tree cover per building — with around 9% of buildings on average covered by trees. This means clearing gutters and trimming trees is particularly important for Tecoma homeowners. Mt Dandenong residents in Victoria need to be on high alert for tree maintenance too, along with those in Fern Bay, NSW and Spring Mountain, QLD.
The comparison image below shows instances of tree overhang identified by Nearmap AI, highlighted in red.


Tree overhang

Leaf-off trees and vegetation debris 

Bare branches during summer and springtime can indicate dead or unhealthy trees, which may act as a fuel source for fires. A number of towns in Tasmania, such as Dynnyrne and Port Sorell appear to have a high percentage of trees with bare branches near residential areas. 


Leaf-off vegetation

The area around Thrumster in NSW also showed a higher portion covered by vegetation debris, with areas of fallen trees and branches.


Vegetation debris

Nearmap AI is a powerful tool that helps you pinpoint the areas where action will deliver results. Our team of AI data scientists and engineers continually develops Nearmap AI to deliver the widest range of AI insights and capabilities. 
Get in touch with us to learn how Nearmap AI could help your organisation create smarter, more accurate plans for the disaster season ahead. 
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