A glimpse into how technology and social media is playing a bigger role than ever!

As dozens of unpredictable bushfires break out in Australia’s extreme heat, military-style operations are in full swing at a “nerve centre” that harnesses state-of-the-art technology allied to the power of social media.

Already equipped with the world’s largest firefighting service, with more than 70,000 unpaid volunteers at its disposal, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) deploys information as a key resource in battling the elements.

Before the officials at the western Sydney headquarters of the RFS is a giant digital video wall, the largest in the southern hemisphere, displaying information about all fires burning in the state, including maps, number of firefighters at the front and weather forecasts.

All information -- including fire behaviour analysis, air resources, number of fire trucks available, streets and homes that might come under threat -- is plugged into an online system and is immediately available to all who need it.

The centre itself is disaster-proofed, with custom designs ensuring “if there is a major power outage or some sort of catastrophic event in NSW that electricity would still run in this building”, a spokeswoman said.

Apps that save lives

Combined with the expert analysis and information to track fires, the RFS uses social media to engage with those who need it most: people in the path of danger.

Using its website, a new smartphone app and social media sites, the RFS works on multiple fronts to get the message out, alerting citizens to the nearest blazes and providing timely updates.

“On Tuesday (when temperatures in Sydney hit 42 degrees Celsius or 108 F, and the fire rating in the state was catastrophic) we saw more than 80,000 people using our ‘Fires Near Me’ iPhone app per hour. That is a huge number,” she said.

The “Fires Near Me” app is designed to alert people to bush fire activity in real time, informing them of any bushfire within a 50 kilometre radius of their phone’s GPS location and providing data on its size and severity.

At RFS headquarters, where the operations room runs around the clock while bushfires are burning, a team constantly updates the service’s Facebook page, Twitter feeds and website.

At the same time, they are taking information from the public.AFP