Innovation Month – Data61 Spark Platform

Innovation Month – Data61 Spark Platform

Public Data
Friday, 27 July 2018

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Innovation Month – Data61 Spark Platform

During Innovation Month PM&C is sharing stories from across the APS highlighting how innovations are having real, measurable impacts across the government sector, business sector and importantly, for the public we serve.

Bushfires are a devastating and almost inevitable part of the Australian summer. They are fast and furious, notoriously difficult to accurately predict, and quickly destroy homes, infrastructure and lives. Improved knowledge of how bushfires spread is critical for emergency management operations, risk predictions and timely warnings. CSIRO’s Data61 in partnership with CSIRO Land & Water has been working on an innovative software platform which does just that.

Spark is a fire prediction and analysis tool, which takes our current knowledge of fire behaviour, and combines it with state-of-the-art simulation science to produce predictions, statistics and visualisations of bushfire spread. It can read weather data from meteorological forecasts and use this information directly within fire models. It allows users to incorporate environmental data to define a fire spread rate.

While bushfire modelling is not new, this is the first time that a bushfire modelling tool has been built for use across the country and potentially globally.

‘At the moment, there are a few capabilities out there which work in specific states,’ Dr Mahesh Prakash, Data61 Group Leader, said.

‘Our intention is to build something which works uniformly across Australia.’

There are a few versions of the software, which achieve different outcomes for a range of users.

‘There’s a version which is installed on desktops and runs modelling using user-defined bushfire scenarios. There’s also a version which computes a whole range of scenarios, millions of them, for risk assessment purposes,’ Dr Prakash said.

Something else that’s unique about the platform is its scalability.

‘This platform can basically be used anywhere in the world. The underlying tool is developed in such a way that fire scientists can input data for a specific region and then run scenarios for that particular location,’ Dr Prakash said.

‘It’s actually very unique from a software infrastructure perspective and in the ability to scale it up.’

Spark is designed for a range of users. Data61 has collaborated extensively with fire science experts and emergency managers during development.

‘A few universities are using it for research purposes, to better understand bushfire behaviour and we’ve also got consultants using it for risk assessment and planning purposes. So if they’re building a township in a region which is bushfire prone, they can use Spark to understand the risks before they go ahead,’ Dr Prakash said.

‘We’re also working with emergency managers, who are using Spark to understand risk profiles during bushfire season and who will potentially use the platform in a real-time context.’

Spark is certainly changing the way that emergency managers model bushfires and Data61 is working closely with them to develop a ‘locked down’ version, specifically for emergency responders.

‘Emergency managers want to integrate the fire science more closely with the software and develop it for their specific needs,’ Dr Prakash said.

And while Spark is currently only a bushfire capability, Data61 is in the process of expanding the platform to develop capabilities for other hazards.

‘We are now building the system as a multi-hazard globally scalable platform, such as for floods (especially urban flooding), landslides, mudslides as well as associated evacuation modelling. We’ve had a lot of interest already from Chile, Europe and the US and we think there are big opportunities for development in this space.’

You can find out more about Spark and other Data61 projects, on their website.

Innovation Month runs from 2 – 31 July. This year's theme is 'Working Together,' and includes a full program of events which provide everyone in the public sector with opportunities to share their experiences innovating and to explore new ideas to improve their work practices.