As floods sweep over South-East Queensland for the second time in two years, Premier Campbell Newman took to the airwaves on 27 January advising citizens to “look at their flood maps” to decide whether they were at risk. To quote News Limited: “residents should check flood maps which would be released on council floods maps [for …
Not sure if the writer is thick or deliberately disingenuous, but the files available for download include 4 PDF maps (that, incidentally, scale quite well) AND an excel list of streets expected to flood.
re. "...AND an excel list of streets expected to flood."
It seems to be a foolish assumption that people can be expected to have Excel and know how to use it.
Open letter to the BCC
The following has been emailed to the Council via their Write to Council contact form. I encourage others to do the same.
We tried to get the listing of the flooded streets
There's one slight problem. It's in a secret proprietary format. Fat lot of good this is when I'm out on the bicycle, trying to get a list of possible routes I can take, and I just have a small mobile phone with me for web access with its crippled web browser and complete inability to read a .XLS.
And *NO* I will not juggle a laptop on the handlebars. My bike is heavily laden enough.
Check when I'm home? I'm sure everyone would love to … if they can. Last night there were about 30000 people without power. Guess how well the computer works. That's assuming the software they run can read the file in the first place. (Shock horror, there are computers that exist entirely without Microsoft products, and they don't have Apple logos on them either!)
For what it's worth, the flood maps aren't that helpful if you're stuck with a mobile device either: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/01/27/brisbane_flood_maps/
Add to this what happens when everyone who *does* have Internet access hits the BCC website. Last time the site went belly up. I note there's apparently some legal clause that says we're not to redistribute them. Perhaps you should re-think that policy on the grounds that your site has proven to not be absolutely 100% reliable in this circumstance, and that the silly policy likely prevents people even distributing paper copies to colleagues (legally, in practice they will anyway).
As a long-time resident in Brisbane, I hereby make the following recommendations:
→ Change the distribution policy to allow people to legally mirror and otherwise distribute the flood maps.
→ In addition to providing data in proprietary formats, post it on the website where EVERYONE can read it. (Even a "Save as HTML" out of Microsoft's pitiful spreadsheet software is better than nothing.)
→ Consider CSV, PDF/HTML as alternate formats; CSV for the raw data, PDF and/or HTML for presentation
While it might seem reasonable to just expect people to have certain software, remember, this is potentially an emergency situation where one may not have their usual tools at hand. Thus we need to make additional effort to ensure the data is available to *everyone* who needs it, and not just the lucky subset still able to use their suitably equipped computer.
Techno babblers - get real
Richard, Stuart - get real.
I was realy impressed by the content of the web site. Ten years ago no-one would expect the level of detail contained in the property by property advice telling you how much flood water to expect. Now you are complaining about not being able to see it when riding your pushbike.
What the hell are you doing riding around the streets anyway? Get home or get to a safe place.
A lot of the information on the Brisbane Council web site is in PDF. You may find it difficult, but I have no problem enlarging and scrolling about a PDF on my mobile.
You can search - the old fashioned way. Look for your suburb on http://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/community/community-safety/disasters-and-emergencies/BRFFS/index.htm (this was noted in your update). In each PDF look up your street - and then check your street number. Is that too difficult for you?
This level of detailed advice is amazing. I am really impressed.
Re: Techno babblers - get real
> I was realy impressed by the content of the web site. Ten years ago no-one would expect the level of detail contained in the property by property advice telling you how much flood water to expect. Now you are complaining about not being able to see it when riding your pushbike.
10 years ago there weren't that many houses. 10 years ago you could actually ring up the council and get a sensible response.
> What the hell are you doing riding around the streets anyway? Get home or get to a safe place.
Define "safe place". What would I be doing in a bike? Well tomorrow it will be getting to work. Something I kinda have to do. Or at least, I need to be able to make a decision on whether it is safe to do so.
Thus, I need to be able to see the information. Someone who is stuck in a dwelling without the use of their desktop may be in the very same peril I might be whilst out on the road.
> A lot of the information on the Brisbane Council web site is in PDF. You may find it difficult, but I have no problem enlarging and scrolling about a PDF on my mobile.
Whoopde doo... your phone does PDFs. Mine doesn't. I bought a phone to use as a phone. It can do basic HTML web browsing, anything more advanced I need to tether and use a more capable device. Sadly, I did investigate more capable devices, but they do not make one suitable for my needs, and I figure the better coverage I get with this one is worth more to me than being able to play Angry Birds.
> You can search - the old fashioned way. Look for your suburb on http://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/community/community-safety/disasters-and-emergencies/BRFFS/index.htm (this was noted in your update). In each PDF look up your street - and then check your street number. Is that too difficult for you?
It is if you're using a device, for whatever reason (admittedly mine is contrived, but it is not implausible that someone might need to access this information from a such a device) that can't do PDFs.
> This level of detailed advice is amazing. I am really impressed.
It is if you can get to it. What I'm saying, is there is a simple technical means that they can make parts of it available to everyone, and it isn't even technically difficult.
List of currently flooded streets? Plain text list, with the format:
SUBURB: Street Name between no's XX and YY; other notes here
where XX-YY might be relevant street numbers, or...
SUBURB: Street Name between AAAA St and YYYY St intersections; other notes here
Not rocket science, and easier to keep up to date than the maps. It can be done in a spreadsheet tool like Excel and generated with a simple File → Save As → CSV file. A suitable script can even pick this up and format it for web consumption. Even better, it can be used by others to create the click-able maps that the article here discussed.
As for the actual flood map information … the detail there is too much to show on a little screen, but by far my biggest gripe, is that they do not allow third-party distribution. During the 2011 floods, guess what happened to the BCC site? It did a belly flop. It went down and crashed like a drunken sumo. What does that mean? The data becomes inaccessible. To everyone.
People did manage to get the data off before this happened, and set up unofficial mirrors, but technically, that's illegal.
Put copyright notices on it, put a date and time when the data was released, and a URL stating where the official version is found, but it should be possible to distribute the file in whatever forms demand dictates, so that those who do need this information, can get it. This isn't the flipping top 40 music charts we're discussing here.
Re: Open letter to the BCC
I agree with your sentiments and I think you should send this letter (or a form of it) to the BCC. BUT - the tone is a bit off. Think about your audience here - it's probably some woefully underpaid dude who's been working for the Council for years and has honestly done his best to get something "online" with the overpaid advice of a consultant, meanwhile stretching the budget as much as possible to do so.
I would still make the points you made but just a bit more delicately :)
Missy M (Brisbane born and bred, now living in NYC - which did a similarly bad job communicating immediately after Hurricane Sandy. Fat lot of good tv announcements are with no power!)
had a look at brisbane.mobi and have to admit it sucked.
Home and leisure peeps wanting info on river levels in the UK can go here: http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/floods/riverlevels/default.aspx which is actually quite useful and even has a text version.
Perhaps some genuine feedback to BCC wouldn't go amiss here. Their flood mapping team is no doubt producing what it can with the tools it has. Licensing issues, prior procurement decisions and staffing limitations coupled with the extremely high bar Google has set for interactive mapping perhaps raises public expectations of output somewhat unfairly.
http://www.qldreconstruction.org.au/flood-check-map is an example of an interactive floodmap generated by the Queensland Government in response to the Flood Inquiry. There is still a big difference between the abilities it has and the expectations expressed in the article.
Uh ... maybe I'm missing something basic ...
If you are actually daft enough to live or maintain a business in a flood-plane, why would you be surprised if you actually get flooded? All you have to do is ask the old-timers if they ever had water past their toes during storms or spring melts before settling in ... if they did, simply don't rent, lease, purchase, much less build on, land in that location! Find another spot to settle down. How hard is it?
The stupidity of humans as a flock boggles my mind sometimes ...
Re: Uh ... maybe I'm missing something basic ...
Dunno about Australia, but I do know that in some parts of the UK there are areas which were never flood plains in the past but have become so in recent years. This has been mainly down to a mixture of new infreastructure (which can severely impact local drainage) and the building of flood defences in other areas e.g. upstream of the "new" flood risk areas.
So there are many poor bastards out there who live or maintain their businesses in areas that never flooded in the past and now do, but can't afford to sell up their now-devalued property and buy an equivalent one in another area.
@Corinne (was: Re: Uh ... maybe I'm missing something basic ...)
And you still vote the dumb-fucks in charge into power ... why, exactly?
(Yes, I rail at my fellow Yanks over the same basic issue ... )
Maps, schmaps, who stole my comms?
While the south east corner of Queensland was doing the usual headless chicken routine, the rest of the state was without internet, mobile and landline services. An area containing most of the largest cities outside of the capital were in a communication breakdown for 22 hours, and this is the middle of our nasty natural disaster season.
Even worse was that the media didn't report on this until 2pm when the failure occurred at 6pm the previous day. The only reason we found out then was that a journalist asked the state premier about it. The premier said "we didn't know about it until 6am this morning".
Words almost fail me.
And we had the same weather system hit us with flooding several days earlier.
As a resident of Brisbane, this article is just nonsense.
Granted, the maps may not be great for a curious person from England to check out streets...
But for a resident.. are you seriously telling me you need a search button to find your own house? Brisbane is a big place, hardly any of it is going to flood, less than 1% of the homes. The council can spend money on making perfect maps... or it can spend money on flood cleanup and prevention. Which would you prefer?
And the flood maps you are looking at aren't the real ones anyway, they are for the mythical 1 in a 100 year flood event, to be used when town planning. That's why they are buried down in the website, it is information that is hardly used. The 4 current emergency ones have been quickly hashed together from guesses about water flow, any sensible person should take them with a grain of salt anyway.
Admittedly the maps could be better, more interactive and with a more open license, but for purpose, they are more than fine.
One last thing, they are not designed to be some kind of aid to idiots on bicycles out in a cyclone.
If you want river levels go to the Bureau of Meterology, not to the council. The real time level readings are very good.
The Community Intelligence Map lets you mouse-over most of the river gauges to see what is happening.
Councils almost NEVER give flood data away, so I can't see them ever overlaying this on a google map to make it easy for people.
There are other problems as well
Floods schmuds. I have a tinny I can paddle away in.
At least you can be rest assured that other government agencies are on the ball. No power? Now you can track your outage online.
Not only is it a useful resource for the thousands of people like me who have no power (again and again) and need to know if it is going to be short or long term, it is comforting to know that every single one of us will have our power restored on the 1st of January 1970, right on 10.00am!
Really these so called flood maps are useless... what is this a gimmick???
Beautiful one day, underwater the next.
as a resident of Brisbane ...
in Jindalee that was hit quite hard by the floods a few years ago (although my house is well above any 100+years flood predictions), I think the maps for this years event were bloody hopeless. Is this a fault of the state government or local council? Well maybe but the last state government and local council were no better, admittedly because nothing like the floods then had been seen before - or predicted for that matter.
Seriously, no street search, maps covering huge areas, no mobile access - yes several hundred thousand houses were without power and around 100, 000 are still without power (29/01). In this day and age lots of people rely on mobile access, and several of my friends do not have any "landline" at all.
State governments need to provide information that is accessible to all, not just those like me that did not lose mains power supply.
The road closure information was ridiculous. How hard can it be to use Google map (or Sensys) and highlight the closed streets in a bright colour? Or several colours which indicate the reason for the closure (road under water, trees down, fallen powerline, idiots who went out and had an accident, etc...)?
No, what we get are large PDFs and a badly constructed spreadsheet. Oh, and a PDF of houses likely to flood in your suburb.
For heaven's sake... haven't these people heard of XML and XSLT?
XML and XSLT? Good god!
Okay, there's a point to those technologies, but let's face it. As others have pointed out, these are likely not highly technical people collating this data.
The spreadsheet, as poor as it might be (I don't know, I haven't looked as yet), could be just as easily dumped out in CSV which is readable by pretty much anyone. File → Save As → select "Text (CSV)" in the File Type box, doesn't take an IT guru. The save as web page option might even be usable.
XML? Now there's a "standard" if ever I saw one. What schema would you use? How do you generate it? How do you validate it? It's a tool, granted, but not one that can be easily utilised without a moderate amount of IT skill.
CSV is straight plain simple, HTML is usable for presentation, and the tools they're likely using should be able to generate either with minimal fuss.
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