A new iPad application using cloud based computing is being used by a Victorian regional council to help landowners build safer and more fire resistant homes and shave months off planning approval processes for new residential construction.

Developed by the Alpine Shire Council and launched by state planning minister Mathew Guy on May 15, the app captures GPS data from proposed housing sites and comes back with information which helps landowners understand the bushfire risk level of dwellings at different locations on the property. The app also helps determine the best position from a bushfire perspective on which to put the planned house.

Alpine Shire Council Manger of Development Services and Amenities Nick Vlahandreas said the app works by having council planners go onsite with landowners during the pre-application stage. The landowners show the planner the preferred development site and, with the press of a button, the app sends the site’s GPS coordinates from the iPad up into the cloud, where these coordinates are combined with other information such as a digital elevation model and vegetation class in the surrounding area.

Using all this information, the system returns a bushfire attack level (BAL) – a rating used in Australia to determine the type of construction needed to meet bushfire protection requirements, and the amount of defendable space needed to achieve a certain BAL.

Vlahandreas says the system helps the council educate landowners about bushfire risk and evaluate alternative layouts and positioning for the building in an interactive and efficient manner.

bushfire risk level ipad app testing

Bushfire Risk Level iPad App in Testing.

“Inevitably the landowner will take us up to the highest point of the land as close to the vegetation as possible,” he says, adding that such sites are typically the highest risk area for bushfires on the property.

“What we are able to do is educate the landowner onsite and demonstrate to them what the risk is and then we can start assessing [with the landowner] some alternative house sites for them.”

Using the new app, called BAL Plan, Vlahandreas says processes which would normally take months as homeowners and the Council went back and forth looking at different siting options could be achieved in as little as 30 minutes, depending on the size of the property.

Better yet, planners can provide landowners with as many assessments of different sites on the property as needed – with the calculations for each individual site taking as little as 20 seconds to complete.

“At the end of the day, once they’ve selected a site that the planner is happy with, the landowner is happy with and we’ve achieved a pretty low BAL rating with enough defendable space around the house, we are then able to produce four plans for them using the app that we can email to them on the spot,” Vlahandreas says. “The landowner can then use these plans as part of their application for a planning permit for the proposed development.”

Victorian 2009 Bushfire

Victorian 2009 Bushfires – Steels Creek.

Calling the technology a world first, Guy says the app is a straightforward solution which will help identify and mitigate bushfire risk in local housing construction.

He says the devastation of the 2009 bushfires which killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes underscored the need for effective planning measures in areas of high bushfire risk.

“Land use planning, which takes into account natural hazard risks, is the single most important mitigation measure in preventing future disaster losses in areas of new development,” Guy says.

Vlahandreas says the Council has received strong interest in the technology from other councils around Australia and also internationally.

He says the concept and back-end technology were developed in-house but the Council used an external developer to come up with the interface.