QLD floods spur interest in better flood mapping

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QLD floods spur interest in better flood mapping

Renewed calls for a national approach to spatial data.

Infrastructure Australia and Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten have revived industry hopes for a nationally coordinated effort to produce better flood maps.

Two years ago, the Federal Government identified a "highest priority" need for a nationally coordinated digital elevation model (DEM) to study the shifting weather patterns caused by climate change.

A DEM is a digital, three-dimensional model of the ground surface topography, constructed using remote sensing technologies such as photogrammetry, airborne radar and satellite imagery.

“An accurate picture of coastal elevation is critical to assessing risk from inundation as water will obviously move to lower lying areas first where accessible,” the Government said in a report  [pdf, page 40] on the risks climate change posed to the Australian coastline.

The Government acknowledged at the time that DEMs built in Australia over the past 15 years were built by the private sector, often with government funding, but using varied contractor models.

This resulted in a “fragmented and uncoordinated network of DEMs with varying accuracies and speci?cations”.

The Government hoped to have digital elevation model (DEM) data in place and “maximise its public good use”.

But industry observers have noted that little has come of this commitment.

The delays have frustrated the Insurance Council of Australia as well as the Spatial Business Industries Association.

“We’ve been talking with Government about flood-mapping data as far back as 2006,” said Karl Sullivan, general manager of risk at the Insurance Council of Australia.

“Nowhere in Government is anybody taking a holistic view about how much this adds to GDP potentially over time by fostering better modelling of the land we all walk around on.”

Sullivan said the creation of a robust high quality, high accuracy digital elevation model for the entire country was overdue.

“From that springs a range of other applications – for example flood modelling, which is something we are particularly interested in.”

The floods in Queensland appear to have prompted the Government into action.

Chief executive officer of Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA), David Hocking, said he was now being called in for “urgent talks” this week with the office of Bill Shorten, the Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation.

“We want Government to recognise that had this been done and the information made available, they could have managed the [Queensland Flood] situation better,” Hocking told iTnews.

He said Federal Government had to lead efforts to reduce duplication throughout Federal and State Government agencies and end the “silo mentality” that lay behind duplication and waste in spatial data intelligence.

“We are not talking a lot of money in terms of the other programs that have gone on,” Hocking said. “Possibly as little as $100 million will cover the coastal areas in one go.”

A previous log-jam, according to SIBA, was that Infrastructure Australia (IA) – the federal agency for funding such capital works - had ruled that spatial data investments did not fit its “criteria for infrastructure’.

If so, Infrastructure Australia has changed its position now.

Michael Deegan, IA’s National Infrastructure Coordinator informed iTnews this week that the organisation “has an interest in this area”.

“Should SIBA wish to revisit the case, we would welcome a submission that draws together a stronger economic case than we have received to date. We receive many submissions and the criteria are based largely on the national economic productivity improvements arising from the particular proposal. SIBA could consider this issue more closely in any new proposal.”

Hocking said he was delighted with IA’s position. While these events create a great deal of initial momentum, he expects a big effort ahead.

“History has shown nothing happens after the dust settles and the media leaves the flood sites – the whole issue completely disappears after the clean-ups.”

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