On February 3, 2011, Cyclone Yasi struck Queensland on Australia’s northeast coast as a Category 5 storm with winds as high as 180 miles per hour – stronger than the winds from Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans, Louisiana in 2005. More than 170,000 people lost power, schools and airports were closed, and military units were used to airlift hospital patients over 900 miles to the south. Soon after Cyclone Yasi moved through the Northern Territory, a second cyclone, Carlos, formed directly over Darwin and struck on February 16, 2011. Unlike traditional cyclones that form up by gaining intensity over the sea, Cyclone Carlos formed up over land directly on top of the city of Darwin and moved at just over three miles per hour. It was described by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology as a 1 in 500 year event.
“We had over 27.5 inches of rain in just 24 hours, which caused substantial flooding and damage,” said Phil Hanson, Superintendent, Emergency Operations Division, Northern Territory Police. Only six months before the storm hit, Hanson managed the implementation of WebEOC crisis information management software in his division and throughout all emergency service agencies within the Northern Territory.
WebEOC was integral to the successful management of the disaster. During the initial response right through the recovery stage, there were more than 450 users logged in from 20 different agencies, including Police; Fire and Rescue; Health; Department of the Chief Minister; Department of Construction and Infrastructure; Department of Power and Water; Darwin City Council; Red Cross; Environmental Health; Public Utilities; the Bureau of Meteorology and others.
Moving beyond the basic functionality of WebEOC, WebEOC boards were linked to e-mails, allowing for the rapid dissemination of information, and linked numerous boards to their GIS system.
“We were recording information from the public via a 1-800 public help line into the tasking log which was pushed directly into the WebEOC map display,” Hanson explained. “We had over 800 tasks displayed on the map, with individual event icons that changed colour according to the status of the task. We included the capacity to task multiple agencies to a single task, such as a tree down on power lines. We were also able to bring up KML data files on the map to show priority roads, critical areas etc. and then prioritise tasks according to predetermined levels of response.”
Because of the vast area affected by the cyclones, they also used live GIS coordinates from helicopters which fed directly into WebEOC to plot flood levels and assist with the evacuations of civilians. Once the WebEOC boards were linked to the map display, they were able to view the whole Northern Territory power grid and then compare it to the flood level and locations where people were vulnerable. "It enabled us to be proactive in our response and evacuate people who were in danger,” Mr. Hanson said.
As a result of their success, the Emergency Operations Division of the Northern Territory Police is working with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) to feed live data directly into WebEOC. As soon as the forecasters at BOM view a severe weather pattern they immediately activate a WebEOC incident and an e-mail/SMS is sent to all emergency response and local government agencies for an activation of resources. WebEOC has been linked to a press and media distribution group who will receive the initial notification and updates directly from WebEOC, which has saved over 30 minutes in notification time. These actions are extremely important when they have to warn the public about an approaching severe weather event.