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NSW to fund robots, space technology for bushfire preparedness

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The NSW government will spend an extra $268.2 million over four years to battle bushfire, funding drones, two black hawk helicopters, strategic fire trails and upgrades to emergency equipment.

The new funding takes the total amount pledged in response to the NSW Bushfire Inquiry’s 76 recommendations to more than $460 million, in partnership with the Federal Government.

“This commitment will bolster the future of our fire agencies and preparedness of communities, many of whom of have personally witnessed the devastating effects of fire,” Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said.

“This investment will go towards reducing the impact of bushfires and responding in the most effective way possible,” he said. “NSW is unfortunately one of the world's bushfire hotspots, so it makes sense that we should package our hard-won know-how and take it to the world.”

The package includes $51 million to support firefighting tanker replacement and safety retrofits, $17.2 million to operationalise two black hawk helicopters to replace existing craft, and $10.6 million to implement a new National Fire Danger Ratings System.

It will spend $28 million to fund research into emerging technology, with a new “Bushfire Response R&D Mission” to receive $7 million a year for the next four years in order to develop use of real-time data from space and air assets, ensuring ground decisions are backed by computerised tools. It will promote equipment such as robots to aid responders.

“Technologies from NSW companies which prove themselves will attract interest from global markets,” NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte said.

The funding will help establish a Bushfire Technology Network, engage NSW small business to develop and commercialise bushfire technologies and ensure that new technologies are tested by frontline NSW bushfire services.

Chair of the Advisory Council David Gonski AC welcomed the funding and says the impact of COVID-19 on economic growth made commercialising technologies and “solving one of our state’s greatest challenges” more urgent, while Mr Perrottet says the focus on new technology to enhance planning, preparation and response will boost jobs in new industries.

The $268 million package includes:

  • $37.6 million for additional mitigation crews
  • $34.4 million to accelerate the state-wide strategic fire trails
  • $22.7 million for a personal protective clothing replacement program
  • $20 million to upgrade dispatch systems
  • $6.7 million to enhance training and accreditation of heavy plant machinery operators
  • $5 million for additional firefighting drones