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Automated Fire Danger Signs
Fire services encourage people to know their local risk when deciding whether to remain in a high risk location.
The local daily Fire Danger Rating is key information community members will need to use when making what are potentially life and death decisions.
Not all people read the daily paper, listen to the radio or watch the evening news, especially when on holiday.
CFA members have long provided this vital information using the manual fire danger rating signs you see displayed on the road side.
Manually updating signage on a high traffic high speed road can place CFA members at considerable risk. Often the forecast weather is changed early in the morning. Often the information display remains unchanged.
It is possible to provide the most up to date information on manual signs, but it is not always easy. The Melton brigade would attest to this. A sign update for one of the manual signs located on the Western Highway was a 40km round trip. The fact that the brigade was prepared to undertake this effort speaks of the high value they place on the information and the dedication of CFA members to provide it to their community.
Major roads carry high volumes of traffic. Often people travelling on these roads are unfamiliar to the area and unaware of the risk. The problem fire services face is how to get fire danger rating information out to the highest number of people without placing our members at risk.
Electronic signs are commonly used in other industries but have not been used in the emergency services sector. Solar power and extended mobile phone coverage has created the opportunity to use this type of technology in the sector.
In 2010, the Victorian Fire Services Commissioner and CFA initiated a trial of automated Fire Danger Rating (AFDR) signs. After research, two prototypes were chosen to be part of the initial evaluation pilot.
Locations were chosen across the state to test the limitations of the technology. It had to be reliable in remote areas with limited phone coverage, a hot and dry or wet environment or survive the risks within a metropolitan area.
The pilot was across 14 locations, with seven needle signs and seven LED signs. Evaluation of the trial focussed on community preference, reliability, readability, and internal feedback. On the findings from the research an LED type sign was the preferred option. Improvements recommended included increasing the size, linking the system directly to the CFA website and increasing the font size used.
A related pilot was conducted to evaluate the use of Variable Message Signs. The signs were located in summer tourist locations with community safety messages displayed daily reflective of the risk on the day. The signs were used extensively by SES during the 2010-11 floods. At the conclusion of the trial, evaluation conducted was supportive of the use of road signage as an additional form of providing information to the travelling public. The travelling public are a segment of the community at high risk from fire that have been difficult to reach in an effective manner. The agreed plan was to incorporate the LED message panel into AFDR signs.
Locations for the additional 50 signs were chosen in consultation with District Operations Managers, with each District requested to nominate three priority locations. The criteria for selection was high traffic roads leading into the state, out of the greater Melbourne area, tourist or high risk locations The installation within that location completed by Vicroads after considering local road safety issues.
The seven pilot LED signs are still in operation and six of the needle signs are being replaced. Site issues required signs at Warrandyte not be replaced and local advice preferred the Rosebud sign be relocated to Sorrento.
The LED Automated Fire Danger Rating signs have the following features:
- A remotely activated variable LED message display
- Automatic regulation of the display colours to accommodate changing light and weather conditions
- Automatic update from the CFA webserver every 20 minutes
- A ‘watch dog’ facility which can re-boot the system in the case of communication loss
- Automated alerting of sign tampering, unauthorised opening, theft or low voltage
- The ability to use the LED message panel to provide emergency incident information to the travelling public
- Capacity to include other emerging technologies as they are developed.