Bushfire Social Intelligence


With the rise of social media platforms, phone calls have become a relic of the past – including a decline in emergency “000” bushfire calls.

Athena’s Social Intelligence Dashboard was developed to provide automatic alerting and intelligence gathering for bushfires, giving firefighters the situational awareness they need to combat fires effectively.

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  • Bushfire reporting has undergone a radical shift with the advent of social media. While "000" calls were once the norm, people have turned heavily to social media to post information about bushfires, and as a consequence are falling foul to the bystander effect; believing someone else has already reported the incident. Fire agencies need to increasingly rely on social media to enhance their situational awareness. By monitoring social media they can identify unreported incidents, assess public response, and gain insight into fire behaviour. But with billions of social media posts, how do agencies sift through to find meaningful public information?

  • Athena’s Social Intelligence Dashboard is a world-first emergency services workflow providing highly relevant public information to firefighters. Taking a human-centred service design approach, our solution improves past processes and reduces cognitive load. We created a machine learning model (ML) based on social media keywords and hashtags; through a process of user research, prototyping, and continuous improvement. By providing an interface for updating the ML model parameters, we enable agencies to continuously adapt to social media trends. Computer vision and real-time inference technologies are implemented to find pertinent imagery of fire location and behaviour, automatically attaching this data to relevant incidents.

  • The Black Summer bushfires of 2019-2020 killed 33 people, killed or displaced an estimated 3 billion animals, destroyed 3,000 homes and 16 million hectares of land; representing $200 billion in damages. Athena’s Social Intelligence Dashboard helps prevent these catastrophic events from ever happening again. So far we have alerted authorities to 2 unreported grass fires and provided ongoing intelligence for a further 43 grass and bushfires throughout NSW. By providing agencies with early fire detection, identifying unreported bushfires and providing better understanding of fire behaviour; we can enhance response times, minimise fire spread, and reduce infrastructure and environmental damage.

  • Significant effort has been placed to ensure the Social Intelligence Dashboard is malleable and able to be viewed in multiple contexts. We achieved this by visualising social media spatially, on a global feed and tailored incident dashboards. The feed aggregates posts from various social media platforms into a single view, using ML to identify relevant content through location inference, keyword matching, and image recognition. The feed can be customised to each user, allowing them to focus on the specific incidents they are responsible for. All location-based posts are displayed geospatially, providing context with other data like surface temperature, fire spread predictions, people movement, and aerial imagery. Posts are then validated as intelligence and shared with appropriate users involved in managing the related area. To ensure scalability and adaptability, we added a global filters setting page, allowing fire agencies to continuously update the parameters of the ML model within the platform. The Dashboard is underpinned by image recognition, machine learning, and computer vision technology. Social media posts featuring fire or smoke are identified through this solution. The model learns from a firefighters' interactions to become smarter over time; consequently, the more our users engage with the Dashboard, the smarter it becomes.