OpinionFire & Flood Resilience10 May 2021

The national data sharing agreement will help to bring together rich data sets on disaster resilience

An integrated data sharing ecosystem will aid the development of disaster resilience capabilities.

This timed-exposure image shows firefighters hosing down trees as they battle against bushfires around the town of Nowra in the Australian state of New South Wales on December 31, 2019. Photo Credit: Saeed Khan / AFP via Getty Images.

On Friday 9 April 2021, the government agreed that jurisdictions within Australia will work together to develop an intergovernmental data sharing agreement which will be considered at a future National Cabinet Meeting.

The intent of the agreement is to capitalise on the value of public data to achieve better outcomes for Australians, including in emergency services and services across all tiers of government.

The value data holds in early warning systems – and emergency response efforts – has grown exponentially, since first put to use. Thanks to advancements in technology, data is now widely recognised as a critical piece of our resilience jigsaw.

But data’s potential is far greater than the current system allows for. Held by multiple custodians – states and private companies – much of the data Australia could use to aid its disaster resilience is shielded from public view, creating a patchy and incomplete record.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

In an emergency response, the data ecosystem falls short of giving authorities high-resolution situational awareness. Crews often have to weave together datasets from multiple sources and technologies – many of which aren’t integrated – delaying their response efforts.

In a resilience context, this fragmentation in the data ecosystem is equally limiting. Information from insurers, utility companies, and local councils is often restricted, making it hard to understand the true impact of prior events. This can mean the information that is available to inform investment in resilience activities can be missing or incomplete.

Meanwhile, a lack of standardisation between datasets means they can’t easily be easily aggregated for analytical purposes. As a result, data taken from multiple sources often has a high latency – which means there is a delay in the data being refreshed or becoming available, sometimes taking three or more years after a natural event to be ready for mainstream usage.

A roadblock

“A lot of the information Australia needs to inform its resilience capabilities is sensitive, and the custodians that hold it can be risk averse,” said Minderoo Foundation’s Data Ecosystem Lead, John Sukkar.

“Agencies holding data need to meet their obligations for their social license to operate before they can share it – and won’t do so if there is a risk of backlash.

“Moreover, data can’t just be shared carte blanche – it needs to be in a role-based fashion, whereby, those who need access, get access.”

While the National Data Sharing Agreement aims to break down these siloes, Australia needs a solution faster.

“Resilience capabilities need to be built today – and free-flowing data between state and federal jurisdictions will enable that,” said Mr Sukkar.

Developments already under way in enabling more data sharing

Alongside the efforts of the National Data Commission, work has already been done to facilitate data sharing across jurisdictions.

The Resilience Data Collective has formed an advisory board which consists of experts who work with data from public, private and research sector organisations.

The Collective will identify, map and connect members to create data driven insights and bring together platforms and an evidence base to inform investment in resilience projects.

For example, the Emergency Management Spatial Information Network Australia (EMSINA) is currently building a platform to begin data collection across the ecosystem; and the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) is building bushfire data intelligence infrastructure.

All of the information we need is floating in cyberspace, we need to link it so it becomes a public/private system.

The Resilience Data Collective is working towards ensuring that research and work happening across different sectors relating to disaster resilience, along with our own, is accessible via API so that data can be shared across public and private stakeholders, into applications, and across jurisdictions.

Minderoo Foundation
by Minderoo Foundation

Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, we are a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with key initiatives spanning from ocean research and ending slavery, to collaboration in cancer and community projects.

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