We interview long-term NSW State Emergency Service employee, Andrew Edwards, who is currently completing a secondment with Fire & Rescue NSW. Specifically, he is working on the Miinder project bringing his understanding of technical and emergency management systems and operations in NSW and elsewhere in Australia to help improve the prediction of hazards and disasters.
Thanks for talking to us Andrew. When did your secondment start?
I have been working with Fire & Rescue NSW since November last year, prior to which I worked at the NSW SES for ten years in a role equivalent to that of CIO.
What is Miinder?
Miinder – which will be renamed at some point in the future – is about using analytics to forecast emergencies and disasters in the community. Traditionally, emergency services react to an incident, whereas Miinder can proactively predict when and where incidents or hazards can occur. Fire and Rescue NSW has a wealth of data – about 20 years’ worth of digitally stored incidents – so by examining the data and confirming it with what firefighters intrinsically know from years on the job, we can build a tool that will assist in determining where incidents are likely to occur.
We can match this with other information such as socio-economic data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and weather information from the Bureau of Meteorology and other providers. For example, firefighters tell us that on colder nights there is a high likelihood of house fires in areas dominated by certain socio-economic groups. This data and knowledge can be used to create models to identify these communities, so our community engagement staff can provide targeted education before the event occurs. Fire & Rescue NSW has already been doing some great work in engaging with at-risk communities and through my involvement with the Miinder project we are hoping to build on that.
Who else is involved?
The complexity of the project means that we will need to partner with various organisations to bring Miinder to life. At the moment we are talking to universities, companies, other agencies and potential suppliers. There are many organisations and individuals coming forward, wanting to work in partnership with us.
Why do so many want to be involved?
It comes down to the fact that we all want to build safer cities, protect life and property, and enhance environments and communities. What we talk about makes sense. Large organisations understand the benefit of investing in keeping communities safe, and what we are doing is quite innovative. Small organisations in niche areas, data science for example, have come forward, and even individuals such as one of our Community Fire Unit volunteers who received an Order of Australia for his work in analytics. People see what we are trying to achieve and want to be involved.
What does your role entail?
I work with a small group of people who go out to various communities and different organisations to talk about what we are doing to test viability of the project – something I strongly believe we have. From there it’s building up resources, preparing business cases, submitting funding applications and establishing procurement processes.
What makes this possible now?
A number of factors make creating Miinder possible at this time: the quality of information and spatial maturity has improved; the technology, such as in-memory databases, has been acquired; and a passion to make it happen.
What is the time frame?
A proof of concept has been completed. We have narrowed the scope of the project to focus on fires prevention. By the middle of this year, we hope to have completed an initial market scan and to have secured funding to develop the initial components of the project.
Finally, what have you enjoyed most about the secondment or the Miinder project?
Fire & Rescue NSW is a wonderful organisation. Every four minutes the dedicated men and women ̶ full-time, retained and volunteer firefighters – are responding to emergencies and disasters in their communities. In addition to this, our firefighters are engaging with their local communities to make them a safer place. Behind the scenes a dedicated team is supporting our firefighters and looking at innovative ways in which we can contribute to building safer communities.
I am proud to have worked for and with the many talented individuals to initiate this project.
Thank you Andrew for your time and we wish you all the best.
* Andrew has since moved on to study this subject as part of a PhD.