Entry received from: Christchurch City Council
Category: The Datacom Award for Digital Local Government

The devastating Port Hills fire of 2017 was the catalyst for an innovative, collaborative Christchurch project that offers early detection of fire activity, sending warnings to authorities in real-time and protecting wildlife, facilities and people.

After the Port Hills fire, the Smart Christchurch unit of Christchurch City Council (CCC) embarked on a journey to identify a solution that would provide early detection of fire activity and send a notification to Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) and other key stakeholders.

During the discovery phase, Smart Christchurch researched whether there were existing solutions in the market. An existing solution was in place and operational at La Trobe Valley, Victoria, in Australia. However, that solution had never been implemented in New Zealand, so a trial would need to be conducted to ensure it would work in a New Zealand context.

The selected location for this trial was the Waitākiri/Bottle Lake Forest Park, a public space where a forestry company operates a commercial forest alongside a busy and popular recreational space managed by CCC. The site had elements that could induce a heightened level of risk, notably a refuse site in close proximity to the plantation. A fire in this location would threaten the plant and wildlife, as well as human life as this area is frequented by thousands of visitors per year and surrounded by suburban housing developments. 

To detect early signs of fire at this location, five pole-mounted environmental sensor units have been developed and installed through the collaborative efforts of CCC (Smart Christchurch, Parks and Resource Recovery), Spark, an Australian technology firm (Attentis), Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) and Rayonier Matariki Forests.

The information gathered by the sensors is transmitted in real-time to Council staff and Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) personnel who can proactively intervene if the data indicates the risk of fire, early stages of fire or other dangers. Some of the information is also accessible to the public on a mobile app and online portal. The installations are self-powered, unobtrusive, with small footprints, requiring no cabling or trenching.

Early detection of fire is of high significance to prevent huge damage to environment, infrastructure, property as well as saving lives. The solution chosen is replicable across New Zealand and delivers significant benefits to the community.

Thank you to our category sponsor