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AARNet and JCU establish a dedicated high-speed link to enable rapid emergency response to cyclones

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Cyclone Nathan NASA Satellite image

Emergency responders in Far North Queensland now have access to AARNet for transferring data in the wake of cyclones and other disasters. A permanent dedicated high-speed emergency response link between James Cook University (JCU) Cairns campus and the AARNet backbone has now been established for ROAMES (Remote Observation Automated Modelling Economic Simulation), following a request for help when Cyclone Nathan threatened to make landfall in March this year.

ROAMES captures aerial photography and sensor images of Ergon Energy’s power line infrastructure to rapidly assess the health of power lines and cables, for maintenance and other purposes, such as when a disaster strikes.

Late on Thursday 19 March 2015, with Cyclone Nathan threatening to cross the Queensland coast near Cooktown and have a major impact on the electricity network, ROAMES contacted Professor Ian Atkinson, JCUs eResearch Director, to request access to the University’s high-speed network for rapid emergency response purposes.

ROAMES planned to fly over the affected area as soon as the cyclone passed and do a series of fast surveys of the power lines to determine repair requirements and then schedule the optimal response.

In order to do this, the 2 Terabytes of data ROAMES gathers per flight had to be shipped to Amazon Web Services (AWS) in Sydney for processing in less than 2 hours after the ROAMES survey flight landed at Cairns airport.

As JCU’s Cairns campus had the only high-speed network in north Queensland with the capabilities, ROAMES asked to use the AARNet network and for JCU to transfer the data. AARNet, JCU and QCIF (Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation) then joined forces to quickly provide ROAMES with the high-bandwidth solution they needed for transporting data to AWS.

“This was a chance to demonstrate the capabilities of JCU’s ICT infrastructure and to do something real and positive for the community that was about to be impacted by Cyclone Nathan. It was also a chance to demonstrate our ability to be responsive and nimble and to promote research networks in a tangible way to people in the north,” said Prof. Atkinson.

He said calls were made to the troops at JCU ICT, AARNet and QCIF on early Friday morning and a virtual war room was quickly set up.

“What went on then was a lesson in collaboration, problem breakdown, testing and reworking within the limitations of our hardware and the need to keep general network services running to JCU,” he said.

The team installed a ROAMES kit in the JCU server room in Cairns in less than 40 minutes and within 4 hours a workable solution for transferring the data over AARNet from Cairns to AWS in Sydney was established.

Fortunately, Cyclone Nathan changed direction, damage was minimal and ROAMES did not need to fly. However, with the subsequent establishment of a permanent dedicated emergency-response link, the outcome of this collaboration is that the complex and important disaster response capabilities for the community in the North have been vastly improved by access to research infrastructure and resources across the country.

 

 


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