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National information systems

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National information systems

60. Nationally consistent and comparable data and information, when made widely available, can deliver efficiencies, avoid duplication, improve understanding, and facilitate decision making. This includes both standards to promote harmonisation of collection, storage and analysis of data, and national systems to provide particular information services.
61. Currently, Australian, state, territory and local governments have a range of systems, tools and technologies to gather and share data, information and knowledge about natural disasters. This information differs in quality and consistency and much of it is not directly comparable between jurisdictions. As a result, there are gaps and inefficiencies in data collection, sharing, and the use of data in products and services.
62. A better understanding of risk would improve decisions that balance risk reduction against other priorities. For example, risk to the built environment is caused not only by natural conditions, but also by the legacy of decisions that may have been made decades ago about where and how to build. Today’s decision makers should have access to easily understandable information and data, and decision frameworks and tools, to support them to make decisions that will affect future risk.
63. Good information and data support decision making during and after a natural disaster. National situational awareness would benefit from a range of technologies, including remote sensing and data visualisation systems, and information from a variety of sources. Real-time decision making needs relevant real-time data.
64. Commonwealth organisations (such as the Bureau of Meteorology, Geoscience Australia, and the CSIRO) provide and continue to develop valuable products and services fulfilling one or more of these functions.

Products and services that could further benefit from a national approach include:

  • climate information and climate services;
  • platforms to store and distribute information, such as map-based tools that identify built and natural environments, systems and risks;
  • tools, including modelling, that assist people to take steps to manage the risks and the consequences for which they have responsibility, such as by taking out insurance;
  • systems to provide warnings, predictions and real-time monitoring and reporting during a disaster;
  • systems to assess the impact of disasters and collect and distribute information during the recovery phase; and
  • monitoring and evaluation of risk reduction, response and recovery actions, to help build a national picture of which approaches are most effective.
66. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, alongside community radio, is acknowledged as a trusted broadcaster of emergency messages and warnings. It is a role that the ABC has fulfilled over many years and in which it has an established reputation. ABC managers are embedded in some but not all emergency centres. To assist with the timely delivery of critical information to the public, we see a need for all state and territory emergency response organisations to consistently embed ABC managers within state and territory emergency management centres.

Air quality

67. During the 2019-2020 bushfires, smoke blanketed large parts of the nation. Poor air quality can have a negative impact on health outcomes. The air quality in some areas was very poor for days on end, and there was high public demand for clear information about air quality and health advice.
68. There is an opportunity to improve the air quality information and associated public health advice that is provided to the community. For example, near real-time information would assist members of the community to take preventative steps to reduce the negative health impacts of smoke.
69. Air quality is reported differently between states and territories, such that air quality might be reported as 'poor' on one side of a border, and 'hazardous' on the other. This undermines the utility of this information, and poses risks to vulnerable members of the community. In considering this issue, we note that steps were taken during the 2019-2020 bushfires to improve air quality information.
70. Helpfully, following a recommendation of the COAG Health Council, since February 2020 Australian, state and territory governments have been working towards national consistency in air quality standards.

National research and emerging technologies

71. There are opportunities to encourage the development and utilisation of technologies in the generation and use of information for, and in the response to, natural disasters. This should not just be through the development of new technology, but also through better use of existing technology (eg, satellites, airborne platforms, sensors, night capabilities, as well as improved modelling and simulation tools).
72. Australian, state and territory governments should fund and support the proposed research centre for natural hazard resilience and disaster risk reduction announced by the Australian Government on 23 July 2020. The centre is intended to deliver on national research priorities that address national knowledge gaps and research needs in respect of all natural hazards, acknowledging that the emergency management sector is not the only stakeholder in natural hazard resilience and disaster risk reduction.
73. The Australian, state and territory governments should establish effective pathways for interaction between government, government bodies, research institutions, the private sector and entrepreneurs to facilitate and utilise the development of expertise, tools and systems to improve preparedness for, response to, resilience and recovery from natural disasters.