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August 05, 2013 -- Cutting-edge mapping technology can help combat a key cause of the dangerous bushfires and blackouts that plague the nation each year, according to a leading Geographic Information System (GIS) expert.

Powerlines severed by falling branches during extreme weather have been linked to several bushfires in recent years.

Last summer, fears that dangerous heat and high winds would sever powerlines and cause bushfires led to electricity cuts in large parts of South Australia, while thunderstorms and scorching temperatures caused similar concerns in Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia.

Speaking from a national conference in Brisbane today, Esri Australia GIS in Utilities expert Danny Haipola called for a rethink on vegetation management strategies before the next danger season.

“Trees around powerlines can lead to increased risk of electricity cuts and bushfires,” Mr Haipola said from the 2013 Geospatial Information and Technology Association Conference.

“We need to continue to develop better strategies to comprehensively identify and complete maintenance work to reduce these dangers and meet compliance standards.

“GIS technology can be used to develop high-tech vegetation monitoring and management systems, which layer weather and vegetation data over detailed maps of electricity networks.

“This enables utilities to map large amounts of information about the condition and location of vegetation around powerlines, which in turn results in better reporting and greater transparency about the risk to the network.”

Mr Haipola said the mapping systems feature interactive, user-friendly digital dashboards showing a utility’s assets and areas of operation.

“The inherently spatial relationship between vegetation and electricity assets means GIS technology is the perfect fit for the task of vegetation management,” Mr Haipola said.

“The technology enables utilities to overlay information relating to certain locations – such as vegetation types, population density and historical weather or fire data – and integrate it with network data.

“This provides a level of insight and situational awareness that was previously unavailable.“ For example, while a current vegetation management cycle might show trees near powerlines that should be cut back every three years, other uncontrollable external factors may impact the need for maintenance, such as drought or flood.

“GIS technology enables utilities to analyse these scenarios and delay or bring forward the cycle, which results in a safer environment and reduces over or under-servicing – delivering more efficient resource use.

“It’s a best practice asset management model that can be developed and customised to suit any utility.”