As the devastation of the bushfires continues to impact the country, UNSW recognises its staff who have contributed to the cause.
Academic and professional staff of UNSW have played a pivotal role in the ongoing bushfire crisis engulfing the country, with many lending their expertise to government bodies and media, while others have volunteered on the frontlines and in support of the fight to protect communities.
“I have been proud to see so many from the UNSW community lending their expertise to the public discourse on the fires and related topics, such as health, engineering, the financial impact and, of course, the environmental impact,” said President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs in his message to staff today.
“The positives we can take from the disaster are the stories of people coming together to help. Thank you to all UNSW staff and students who volunteered their time to help their communities.”
Federal and state government advice
UNSW, along with other Group of Eight universities, has been in communication with federal and state governments to suggest immediate and longer-term ways in which assistance can be provided to limit the impact of the fires on communities in Australia.
UNSW has developed a document of the direct expertise that the University can offer in response to the bushfire crisis, which has been shared with the Commonwealth Minister for Education, The Hon. Dan Tehan, and the Office of the NSW Premier. This document outlines immediate responses to support communities, post-crisis support for communities and medium and longer term considerations.
"We have allowed government to draw on UNSW’s expertise as they formulate their own bushfire recovery strategies,” said Mr Robin Schuck, Head of Government Relations.
As well as the UNSW Bushfire Response: Expertise document, UNSW has established the UNSW Bushfire Experts site, a hub of academic experts who are available to advise governments, provide comment to the media and discuss research collaborations with colleagues across Australia. The impressive directory includes knowledge from fields including health, climate science, water, wildlife, economics and law.
Efforts on the frontlines
As UNSW’s experts provide insight into the challenges of responding to the bushfire crisis, there are stories from across the University of how both academic and professional staff have volunteered their time to assist in a variety of ways.
James Rogers, Director of Solution Design from UNSW IT, recently recognised the efforts of committed IT staff members who have been supporting our communities during the bushfires.
“During the shutdown period Mark Griffith, Director of Customer Service (who is also a volunteer Senior Deputy Captain in the Kulnura Brigade) asked if UNSW IT could help the Central Coast District Rural Fire Service solve an issue with a Rural Fire Service System. Victoria McGloin, Ben Hatton, Ahmad Hamzy, Eddie Chi and Mandy Schippers swung into action and developed and tested a new solution for the Fire Service,” he said on Yammer.
“The system in question tracks the location of senior volunteers (group officers) to provide information on who is the nearest to a major incident. The updated solution is now up and running, tracking and aiding in the dispatch of the Central Coast Group Officers with real-time location data”, said Mr Rogers.
Professor Jason Sharples from UNSW Canberra, an active member of the NSW Rural Fire Service and one of UNSW’s leading experts on bushfire behaviour, recounted his experience in the NSW Rural Fire Service’s State Operations Centre in November while working on the Gospers Mountain “mega fire”, which has now been contained.
“On that day our main concern was whether [the fire] would cross the Putty Road – which links the northwest of Sydney to the Hunter,” said Professor Sharples.
“It did and has since gone on to merge with other fires to form the biggest single burned area of any fire. I also worked on other fires, mainly assessing the potential for them to develop into violent pyro convective events, such as pyro cumulonimbus (fire-induced storms).”
UNSW will continue broader efforts as a global leader in research and education on climate science and take steps to ensure that the University becomes carbon neutral as rapidly as possible.