Setting Communities Alight


  • Darby Bicheno


Tackling the issue of residents of bushfire risk communities rarely setting up adequate plans, if at all, directed my research towards directly engaging and empowering households with new technologies. The proposed system consists of three elements; an in-home display that acts as a smart smoke alarm & bushfire alert system, designed to encourage regular use through secondary features; a smartphone application that facilitates neighbourly and community wide fire readiness discussions, and a purpose built weather station that both provides localised weather information and acts as an information relay that feeds data and warnings to the in-home displays.

Key Features


Firefly is a smartphone application intended to centralise every facet of bushfire management information, while designed to be accessible to users of all skill levels. Through a largely pictographic layered interface the user has access to; detailed local weather information, bushfire planning information (normally accessed in print), fire warnings, local event calendars, emergency services, a forum, and most critically, a formalised adaptation of the antiquated ‘phone trees’ concept used widely by residents in emergencies. Digitising this system will massively reduce the chaos of telephone communication that occurs in emergency situations, by providing a purpose built messaging system.


Rather than rely on climate information from remotely located state sources, this low cost weather station provides localised data to residents, aiming to instil confidence that reported climate information like wind speed and direction is coming from a relevant source. It also acts as the data relay between the CFA and the in-home displays, working on the AX.25 packet radio protocol that transfers data over FM frequencies, which leaves little risk of signals being knocked out by heavy smoke. Coupled with solar power and duplications throughout a community, it provides fail safe communication with the in-home displays.


The in-home display’s primary function is to enable the CFA to send emergency warnings directly into the homes of subscribing residents, and to allow them to respond with a simple ‘stay’ or ‘go’ signal. Designed to be prominently displayed in the home, it also acts as a clock radio with weather updates. These functions are intended to instil confidence in users, preventing it from being considered a nuisance like current smoke alarms. By encouraging use outside of fire periods, the display acts as a subtle, constant reminder of the need to be prepared for the eventuality of bushfire.


Bushfires are indiscriminate in their actions, and so too must be any emergency services information sent out to residents. With this is in mind, both the in-home display and the phone application were designed to be not only simple to use, but easy to interpret for anyone of any age or background. The display’s corners pivot on mechanical switches, with visual soft-keys indicating function, allowing depth through a simple interface. For both devices a study of pictograms was performed to develop a series of symbols for not just fires and emergencies, but also map legends and weather iconography.


The legislated choice between ‘Staying or Going’ in Australia is one that many interpret as a catch-22. Coupling this with the CFA’s directive not to advise residents on their decisions, many avoid making their choices, and consequently their plans, before each fire season comes and goes. This leaves many without direction in the event of fire. A major focus of this project was to prompt activity from residents by developing a service and system that users could regularly engage with, which facilitates and encourages neighbourly and community wide conversation without interfering with legislative requirements placed on the CFA.

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