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Community Services

Goal: Community Services delivers world class and customer focused weather, water, climate forecasts and ocean analyses to achieve the greatest impact for customers and contribute to zero lives lost through natural hazards and $2 billion of added social and economic value to the Australian community.

The Community Services Group (CSG) is responsible for providing high-quality, integrated and resilient forecast and warning services to the Australian community based on a deep understanding of the decision-making and operational needs of its customers. The Group focuses on the delivery of relevant, high-impact weather, water, climate and ocean services to the general public and emergency services and supports the delivery of specialist services to the Bureau’s priority industry and government customers.

The Group’s services span the breadth of Australia, its territories and oceans and are delivered in a tiered approach with national context typically derived centrally and tailored locally.

For 2020–21, the Group consisted of three programs with the following responsibilities:

Program

Responsibilities

National Production Services

Integrated national operations, setting the forecast policy and preparing the Australian Digital Forecast Database

Coordination of the mobilisation of CSG resources

Environmental Prediction Services

Services for flood, thunderstorms, severe weather, fire, cyclones, tsunami, marine and Antarctic weather, oceans, tides and drought

Multi-hazard warning system

National services to the general public including climate services, oceans services and water forecast services

National policy, planning and quality management for weather, climate, oceans and marine services

Understanding community needs

Decision Support Services

Emergency Management sector liaison

Engagement with the Australian community

Marketing and campaigns

Public education

Social media and video

Media and graphic design

Customer service centre

Throughout 2020–21, the Community Services Group focused on the delivery of three outcomes that support the delivery of the Bureau’s Strategy and purpose. The Group’s achievement in delivering each of these outcomes is discussed below.

Outcome 1: A systematic and enduring capability to deeply understand and respond to our customers’ needs

Achieving the outcome

On-the-spot liaison for crisis coordination

An integral part of the Bureau’s response to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements was the provision of enhanced briefing and liaison services to Emergency Management Australia (EMA), via a team outposted to the Australian Government Crisis Coordination Centre (CCC). The team – Hazard Preparedness and Response National Operations – became operational in mid-March, in time to support the significant east coast flooding in April and provided over 50 in-person and written briefings to the CCC and the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Committee. The team also provided briefings during tropical cyclone Seroja in April and the devastating storms in Victoria in June.

Strengthening national emergency management through the Hazards Services Forum

The Bureau’s Hazards Services Forum, co-chaired by the Bureau and Emergency Management Australia, met in July and May. Comprised of representatives from national, State and Territory emergency services, the forum consistently demonstrates the close productive working relationship between the Bureau and its partners in this critical sector. A highlight of the forum this year was the deep collaboration demonstrated between participants in discussing the future state of the Bureau’s fire weather services, the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, and the devastating 2021 fires in the Perth region. The forum praised the Bureau’s decision support services provided throughout the major east coast flooding of 2021.

Collaborating for a safer cyclone season

The Australian Tropical Cyclone Advisory Group (ATCAG) met in June, with emergency services and partner agency representatives from Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales, as well as the ABC’s emergency broadcasting team, Geoscience Australia and the Bureau, coming together to share, collaborate and strengthen Australia’s tropical cyclone services.

The ATCAG formally agreed to stand-up two dedicated task teams, the first to provide a pathway to implement the Australian Warning System for tropical cyclones, and the second to specifically inform the Bureau’s incremental uplift of existing emergency management storm tide services and the longer-term transition towards a nationally consistent coastal hazard offering.

Highlighting our work with emergency management partners

The Bureau regularly contributes to the Australia-New Zealand Emergency Management Committee (ANZEMC) newsletter – On the Radar – on current projects or other achievements for the Bureau. This enduring collaboration highlights the significant relationships we have with our national and jurisdictional emergency management partners and provides a great opportunity for the Bureau to share its current priorities with stakeholders. The past year has seen articles about the Bureau’s work all over the country, including its work to demonstrate the dangers of driving through flood waters with the Victorian State Emergency Service (SES), to short films showcasing important severe weather safety messages for Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

Highlights and significant events

Leveraging flood learnings in New South Wales

Led by the New South Wales State Emergency Service, a team of Bureau community engagement, flood and severe weather specialists attended a series of community meetings across the State’s Mid North Coast region in May and June. Further meetings will be held in 2021–22.

The region was hit particularly hard during the flood emergency in March, and while many parts of the response to the event worked well, there are always areas for improvement. The team spent hours in community halls, asking attendees what did and did not work for them during the event, and what the Bureau can do better in the future.

The community meetings were a hugely valuable opportunity to use direct feedback to shape the Bureau’s future service delivery. The teams listened, considered, and delved deeply into the issues raised. Numerous hours were spent in quiet conversations, chatting with survivors, and gaining insight into what they went through, and how they perceived the Bureau’s response. Common areas of discussion included how the Bureau can improve its forecasts and how the community interpret and use warning services, sometimes when their lives depend on it. The insights gathered from the meetings are being used to improve the Bureau’s operational approach across multiple areas including hydrology, forecasting and communications.

The impact of flooding in Wauchope where the Bureau met with locals to look for opportunities to improve its flood warnings.
The impact of flooding in Wauchope where the Bureau met with locals to look for opportunities to improve its flood warnings.

Next steps

Key activities to be delivered in 2021–22 to help achieve Outcome 1 include:

  • finalising the establishment of the Community Engagement team to deliver national, regional and local communication, data services and community engagement activities
  • uplifting customer and community engagement skills across the Group
  • strengthening the use of consultative forums, including evaluating the Hazards Services Forum structure as part of the broader review of the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Provision of Bureau of Meteorology Hazard Services to the States and Territories.

Outcome 2: The delivery of high-impact products and services that are accessible and relevant

Achieving the outcome

Establishing an improved Fire Danger Rating System for Australia

In 2020–21, the Bureau continued its work with key partners and stakeholders across the nation to establish an improved Australian Fire Danger Rating System (AFDRS). The AFDRS project is implementing a national system to better describe the overall fire danger and risk to firefighters, land managers, governments, utilities, businesses and the community. The Bureau initiated the development of products and services based on the new system, informed by extensive and continuing consultation with key partners and stakeholders. The services, ranging from forecasts for current fires to multi-week and seasonal forecasts, will help emergency services and the public prepare and respond to the increasing risk of bushfires in Australia.

Developing improved heatwave services

Heatwave is one of Australia’s most dangerous natural hazards – historically, Australian fatalities due to heatwave are higher than any other natural event. In 2020–21, the Bureau worked to develop new heatwave products that better help to reduce the risk from heatwaves and protect Australian communities. The Bureau undertook extensive consultation with health and emergency services stakeholders from Commonwealth, State and local government agencies, as well as not-for-profit groups such as the Red Cross, to ensure new products meet their needs. The Bureau will use the insights gathered from these consultations to implement new forecast and warning products for release later in 2021.

Infographic showing the number of weather and ocean warnings issued by the Bureau each year. In 2020-21 more than 19 000 weather and ocean warnings issued.

Public warning services for the future

In June, the Bureau established the Future Warnings Framework and committed to:

  • adopting the Total Warning System, a holistic end-to-end process for predicting, interpreting, designing messages, communicating and responding to a natural hazard, including a review of the process when the threat has passed
  • implementing best-practice warnings
  • developing scaled warning systems to support the implementation of the Australian Warning System; a new nationally consistent three-level warning system for hazards like bushfire, flood, tropical cyclone, extreme heat and severe weather
  • transitioning to impact-based warnings that communicate what the impact of a hazard (or multiple hazards) might be to an individual or community at risk.

The Bureau developed the Future Warning Services Roadmap 2021–2026 to progressively consolidate and enhance its warning services, while building the foundation for a future redesign. The Bureau continues to work closely with its emergency services partners to support the adoption of the Australian Warning System for heatwaves, tropical cyclones, severe weather and riverine flooding.

Infographic showing the number of flood warnings issued by the Bureau each year. In 2020-21 more than 3100 flood warnings were issued.

Supporting the community during significant flooding

Bureau staff provided extensive support to the community and partner and emergency services agencies during March and April in response to the most significant flooding event in decades. Flooding stretched from southern Queensland along almost the entire coast of New South Wales and affected many inland catchments. Minor to major flooding occurred across 49 river systems (25 coastal and 24 inland), with major flooding across 17 river systems at 41 locations, and record flooding observed across several locations along the New South Wales Mid North Coast. Approximately 81 000 people were affected by inundation or isolation and around 1500 residential properties were severely damaged. A total of 18 Flood Watches and more than 900 Flood warnings were issued, including 252 Major Flood Warnings, between mid-March and the end of April.

An Australian Army MRH-90 Taipan helicopter from the 5th Aviation Regiment during Operation NSW FLOOD ASSIST 2021, conducts reconnaissance of the Hawkesbury River in New South Wales (Department of Defence).
An Australian Army MRH-90 Taipan helicopter from the 5th Aviation Regiment during Operation NSW FLOOD ASSIST 2021, conducts reconnaissance of the Hawkesbury River in New South Wales (Department of Defence).

Daily media conferences were held during the flooding, with initial conferences ahead of the flooding to enable the community time to prepare. A total of 16 media conferences were held, many of these jointly with emergency services and State Premiers. The Bureau also provided 24-hour support that enabled rolling ABC emergency broadcasting operations over multiple days. The continual communication allowed the community to prepare and act as the emergency unfolded.

The delivery of Bureau’s safety, warning, forecast and observation messages were further amplified through the BOM Weather app and the continuous and targeted use of social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. A total of 475 posts were made across the national, New South Wales and Queensland Twitter and Facebook accounts during the event.

Improving our rainfall forecasts

The Bureau’s monthly rainfall analysis was improved in September with the introduction of the Australian Gridded Climate Dataset (AGCD) into operations. AGCD provides a higher resolution and more accurate estimate of monthly rainfall across the country, improving on the accuracy of its predecessor the Australian Water Availability Project (AWAP) dataset by over 13.5 per cent. AGCD facilitates better reporting of Australia’s climate, including the impact of extreme events such as droughts and floods, and enhances Australia’s climate and weather research and climate modelling capabilities.

Providing the latest information on the state of Australia’s climate

The nation’s sixth State of the Climate report was released in November, drawing on the latest climate research in Australia. The report is published every two years and is developed as a collaboration between the Bureau and CSIRO as part of their role in monitoring, analysing and communicating observed and future changes in Australia’s climate.

In the latest report, observations, reconstructions and climate modelling paint a consistent picture of ongoing, long-term climate change interacting with underlying natural variability. Associated changes in weather and climate extremes – such as extreme heat, heavy rainfall and coastal inundation, fire weather and drought – have a large impact on the health and well-being of Australia’s communities and ecosystems.

Up-to-date information on Australia’s past, present and future climate allows more informed environmental, economic and social decision-making across Australia, including by all levels of government, industries and communities. The report provides an important resource as Australia seeks to reduce its global greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the changing nature of climate risk now and in the decades ahead.

Highlights and significant events

Supporting critical operations in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean

The Bureau provided vital weather and ice information to support three significant operations in the Australian Antarctic Division’s 2020–21 summer program.

In December, an expeditioner was medically evacuated from Antarctica’s Davis Station in a complex international logistical operation. The evacuation involved aircraft from the Chinese, United States and Australian Antarctic programs, required a ski landing area to be built, and the timing of aircraft movements to be carefully managed to get the patient safely to Australia. The Bureau forecasting team across Davis, Casey and Hobart provided high-leve expertise and identified appropriate weather windows for safe aviation operations which were critical to the operation’s success.

In March, sea ice prevented the MPV Everest from reaching Mawson to re-supply the station. Instead, two helicopters flew 166 km (90 nm) from ship to shore to transfer personnel and cargo in a high-risk, weather-critical operation. Bureau staff provided information about sea ice conditions to inform the movements of the MPV Everest, and weather forecasting was critical to safe aviation operations.

During the return voyage of the MPV Everest in April, a fire destroyed the ship’s port side engine. Fortunately, the fire was contained, and no-one was injured. Forecast data indicated the approach of a significant weather event, with potential wave heights of around 15 metres. Forecasters on board were critical in planning the ship’s route through the Southern Ocean and minimising its exposure to the peak waves. The MPV Everest arrived safely in Fremantle in with 72 Antarctic expeditioners, including six Bureau colleagues.

AUSWAVE-G model data of significant wave height, indicating the MPV Everest’s position in blue as the peak wave packet passed to the south.
AUSWAVE-G model data of significant wave height, indicating the MPV Everest’s position in blue as the peak wave packet passed to the south.

Supporting emergency management decisions at Daly River (Nauiyu)

In February, despite a break in the monsoon, a trough and weak tropical low moved across the Top End, with heavy rain resulting in widespread flooding across the Katherine region. Daly River (Nauiyu) is a remote Indigenous Australian community of about 450 people, located 230 km south of Darwin, that frequently experiences flooding events. Due to the size of the community and the often protracted nature of these events, the entire community is usually evacuated to Darwin, at a great
financial and social cost.

Early in the extreme weather event, the Bureau’s Decision Support Services team in Darwin provided flood forecasting that indicated the Daly River would reach moderate but not major flood levels. The accuracy of the Bureau’s flood predictions, and the communication of the forecast flood peak and its duration in Nauiyu were critical in supporting emergency services in their decision not to evacuate the community.

2021 Daly River floods – Five Mile Gates (Supplied by Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services).
2021 Daly River floods – Five Mile Gates (Supplied by Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services).

Tropical cyclone season summary

There were eight tropical cyclones in the Australian region during the 2020–21 tropical cyclone season, below the long-term average of 11 per year. Three cyclones – Marian, Niran and Seroja – reached Category 3 intensity (severe tropical cyclone) while in the Australian Region, and two crossed the coast as tropical cyclones (Imogen and Seroja). Three cyclones occurred in the Coral Sea (Niran, Kimi and Lucas), one in the Gulf of Carpentaria (Imogen) and the remaining four (Joshua, Marian, Seroja and Odette) off Western Australia.

Tropical cyclone tracks for the 2020–21 season.
Tropical cyclone tracks for the 2020–21 season.

Seroja was the most significant event for the season, crossing near the Western Australian mid-west coastal town of Kalbarri. Seroja caused severe impacts for the community, with around 70 per cent of buildings in Kalbarri and the nearby town of Northampton having sustained significant damage, with many structures destroyed. Accurate early warnings contributed to community preparedness, and despite the extensive damage, there were no fatalities.

Next steps

Key activities to be delivered in 2021–22 to help achieve Outcome 2 include:

  • trialling and transitioning to operations new forecast and warning products and services through the Public Services Transformation Program and implementing the Future Warning Services Roadmap 2021–2026
  • transitioning thunderstorm, fire and flood operations to national specialist teams
  • developing foundational data for the Preparing Australia Program as part of the Australian Climate Service.

Outcome 3: Resilient national operations built on world-leading tools and systems and deep domain specialisation.

Achieving the outcome

Taking the first step towards national operations

In October, the Bureau achieved an important milestone in its transformation towards more integrated and nationally consistent service provision when routine overnight forecasting operations were successfully transferred from the Northern Territory Office to National Production operations located in Brisbane and Melbourne. This transition is designed to free up the capacity of our State and Territory staff to provide local, tailored support to emergency management partners and the community.

The same approach was applied to transfer overnight forecasting operations in New South Wales and South Australia in December. Queensland will be transferred in July 2021, Western Australia in September 2021, and Tasmania and Victoria in December 2021.

Infographic showing the number of public forecasts issued by the Bureau each year. In 2020-21 almost 700 000 public forecasts were issued.

Extreme weather in New South Wales in November provided the first test of new ways of working, as extreme heatwave and bushfire conditions impacted New South Wales and Greater Sydney. The State’s Hazard Preparedness teams surged into around-the-clock operations to provide overnight support to National Production. This brought together the expertise of several teams to provide critical forecasts to support the State’s emergency services including the Rural Fire Service and New South Wales Health.

Establishing national forecast consistency

The Bureau’s primary weather forecast production system – the Graphical Forecast Editor (GFE) – was initially developed at a regional scale for each State and Territory. As part of the Resilient National Operations stream of the Bureau’s Public Services Transformation Program, GFE is being transformed to deliver all forecast weather elements nationally.

With a grid resolution of 6 km, the first National GFE was delivered into operations in April enabling the generation and publication of nationwide forecast products, with seamless integration across State and Territory borders, and Australian time zones. The implementation of National GFE is a major operational uplift and means that any forecast, for any location, can now be issued from any Bureau office. The National GFE system will move to a 3 km resolution later in 2021.

As part of the implementation, the GFE team focused on the migration and uplift of ‘Smart Tools’ and processes which utilise automated guidance and procedures, interrogate multiple sources of numerical prediction data, and facilitate detailed editing of high-impact forecast and warning grids. Thorough testing approaches and modern software development using agile practices have been critical to the success of the project.

National GFE is currently used as the basis to deliver all forecast elements nationally for days 2-7. South Australia for day 0-1 forecast and warnings. All regions are expected to transition all forecast and warning production to the national system by late 2021.

Joel Martin and James Harding – two new graduate meteorologists who work in the National Production team – are part of the first wave of meteorologists who have worked solely in the national system.
Joel Martin and James Harding – two new graduate meteorologists who work in the National Production team – are part of the first wave of meteorologists who have worked solely in the national system.

Responding to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements was established in February 2020 in response to the extreme bushfire season of 2019–20 which resulted in devastating loss of life, property and wildlife, and environmental destruction across the nation.

Following the release of the Final Report of the Royal Commission in October 2020, the Government Response to the Final Report of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements was released in November, providing a national approach to national disasters.

Of the 80 recommendations from the Royal Commission, 29 relate to the Bureau and require direct effort, collaboration with partner agencies, or support from other national programs. The Bureau formally reports progress against the recommendations directly to the Australian Government every quarter, and requires a collaborative approach drawing on subject matter expertise from across the Bureau.

The Bureau will continue to play a critical supporting and enabling role in addressing the recommendations and will provide wide-ranging technical expertise in areas such as data management, hydro-meteorological hazards, and specialist decision support to industry, national security, and emergency management.

Public Services Transformation Program – strengthening our services

As part of its commitment to provide an outstanding service for the Australian community, the Bureau continued to deliver the Public Services Transformation (PST) Program. PST, due for completion in 2022, is transforming how the Bureau utilises processes and technology to ensure fewer of the organisation’s experts are entrained by routine tasks, allowing them to more effectively engage directly with the public and emergency management partners to deliver maximum impact and value to customers.

In 2020–21, the program:

  • implemented foundational national production, environmental prediction and decision support services functions
  • developed core forecasting and modelling capabilities for critical severe weather and climate services
  • continued to expand the Bureau’s customer relationship management (CRM) system capability, enabling a single knowledge repository for customers, partners and stakeholders
  • engaged the whole Bureau in foundational customer engagement training.

Highlights and significant events

Providing a strategic advantage to emergency managers through Bureau scenarios

Between September and December, the Bureau provided detailed medium- and long-range weather and climate information as part of the Annual Preparedness Briefings program hosted by Emergency Management Australia (EMA). Along with senior representatives from national, State and Territory emergency management agencies, briefings were expanded to include representatives from the Australian Defence Force, the energy and business sector, and not-for-profit and community service agencies.

The briefings included several severe weather event scenarios based upon the recent conditions, existing and forecast climate drivers, and the spring and summer climate outlook for 2020–21. The Bureau worked closely with senior EMA staff to develop a cascading and compounding set of scenarios that would stress test national and State and Territory resources, and that would encourage emergency management decision makers to consider how they would handle a major event without support from neighbouring jurisdictions or the Commonwealth.

The scenario exercise had two elements: visual representations of the unfolding hypothetical events from September to February, and a narrative to describe the possible impacts of major events.

The utility of the scenario exercise was widely acknowledged by multiple audiences and its reach was far greater than expected, being presented by EMA to National Security Cabinet, utilised by Defence, and contributing to the foundational work of the new Australian Climate Service. The Australian Climate Service will expand the Bureau’s scenario-building capability for the next severe weather season, and seasons in the decades to century ahead.

A graphic of the hypothetical scenarios provided at the briefing event.
A graphic of the hypothetical scenarios provided at the briefing event.

Next steps

Key activities to be delivered in 2021–22 to help achieve Outcome 3 include:

  • delivering nationally consistent operations, including seamlessly linking functions and capability across programs to meet customer needs
  • supporting the delivery of the PST Operations Transition Plan, including the establishment of national operational teams for all Environmental Prediction Services Program specialist areas: severe weather, climate, marine and Antarctic, and water
  • implementing the Bureau’s response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, reporting regularly as required.