Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

1293rd OGM and Open Lecture

Emerita Professor Mary O'Kane“Big, bad fires in NSW”

Emerita Professor Mary O’Kane AC FRSN FTSE Hon FIEAust

Chair, NSW Independent Planning Commission

Date: Wednesday, 5 May 2021, 6.30pm AEST 
Venue: Zoom Webinar
Video presentation: YouTube video

Summary:  As noted in the NSW Bushfire Inquiry, “The 2019-20 bush fire season was extreme, and extremely unusual. It showed us bush fires through forested regions on a scale that we have not seen in Australia in recorded history, and fire behaviour that took even experienced firefighters by surprise. The total tally of fire-generated thunderstorms in south-eastern Australia since the early 1980s increased from 60 at the end of 2018-19 to almost 90 at the end of the 2019-20 bush fire season – an increase of almost 50% in one bush fire season. Fire-generated thunderstorms are extremely dangerous phenomena that produce extreme winds, lightning, tornadoes and black hail.  The season showed us what damage megafires can do, and how dangerous they can be for communities and firefighters. And it is clear that we should expect fire seasons like 2019-20, or potentially worse, to happen again.”

This talk will examine the nature of the 2019-20 bushfires, why they were so extreme, and why they are likely to happen again.

Mary O’Kane is Chair of the NSW Independent Planning Commission, a company director, and Executive Chairman of O’Kane Associates, a company advising governments and the private sector on innovation, research, education and development. She was NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer from 2008-2018; Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide from 1996-2001 and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at Adelaide from 1994-1996. Before that, she was Dean of Information Sciences and Engineering at the University of Canberra.

Mary has served on several boards and committees in the public and private sectors, especially related to energy, engineering, ICT and research. She is currently Chair of the boards of Aurora Energy Pty Ltd and Sydney Health Partners. She also carries out reviews in a wide range of fields in many countries. She recently was one of the two leaders of NSW Bushfire Inquiry.

Professor O’Kane is a Companion of  the Order of Australia, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, an Honorary Fellow of Engineers Australia, a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW and the recipient of the 2020 Royal Society of NSW Medal.  

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