Bushfire tweets may help warn of danger

FIRE and emergency authorities may soon use sites like Instagram and Facebook to warn people about bushfires, an information systems expert says.

Katina Michael, associate professor at the school of information systems and technology at the University of Wollongong, says people are increasingly using micro-blogging sites, like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, to record bushfires.

``These unofficial channels are extremely useful during a crisis situation,'' she told an Australian Science Media Centre briefing yesterday.

``In the future we might even have emergency service organisations tapping into this social media capability . . . and using this user-generated content to respond to disasters more effectively.''

Prof Michael said location-based SMS alerts are also being employed to keep people updated in disaster areas.

``That's a real innovation to the Australian capabilities which I think is among the first in the world to actually venture into that kind of mandated approach.

``This also allows people who are visiting a location, who may be working in a location . . . or who may be enjoying recreation activities in a location to be warned about a hazard.''

Meanwhile, careless behaviour on days of high fire danger can be just as deadly as arson, police have warned, as Victoria heads for another dry spell.

Assistant Commissioner

Stephen Fontana has called on Victorians to ensure they're not doing anything that could spark a blaze as the weather heats up again tomorrow.

``What is of real concern is that when we look at a large number of fires they've been started through the careless activity of others,'' Mr Fontana said yesterday.

``Things like using slashers, cutting hot grass on extremely hot days, causing sparks, driving vehicles in long grass.''

He said some people had thrown cigarette butts out their windows and caused fires, while others were using machines like angle-grinders that create sparks.

Police fear new fires may start tomorrow as firefighters continue backburning the 62,000 ha central Gippsland blaze.

Citation: January 23, 2013, "Bushfire tweets may help warn of danger", The Cairns Post, p. 17.