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ACT arsed up the use of emergency alerts during the Mitchell fire

By johnboy - 22 November 2011 25

mitchell fire

Senator Humphries is letting us know that he’s had the answers back to the Questions On Notice he asked the Attorney-General on why the Emergency Alert system failed during the Mitchell Fire emergency.

In response to questions on notice asked by Senator Humphries, the Attorney-General has put it in terms clear as day:

    The Emergency Alert technology did not fail; the system was not used in accordance with the Recommended Use Guidelines.

The response also says that the ACT Government operators clearly exceeded the design of the system:

    The campaign expired in 30 minutes because the ACT operator did not extend the validity time for the operation of the campaign, in accordance with the landline call volume and system design parameters. The failure to do so meant that there was only sufficient time for a third of the landlines to be dialled.

    The 86,801 landlines in the warning polygon drawn by the ACT operator exceeded Emergency Alert’s recommended limit of 50,000 calls for a single campaign (as per the Recommended Use Guide) by approximately 73%.

The response also notes that the ACT did not attend training workshops run by the Victorian operators of the system in 2010 and 2011.

[Photo by Thisisaname]

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25 Responses to
ACT arsed up the use of emergency alerts during the Mitchell fire
sepi 1:06 pm 23 Nov 11

An emergency system that will only be used once in a blue moon by someone under stress during an emergency should not be this difficult to operate.

BimboGeek 12:58 pm 23 Nov 11

I could handle a siren. No point expecting me to wake up because an sms went ping! But a huge frikkin siren, that will get my attention! If my suburb was being evacuated, I’d be happy to know there was a siren to get my attention. Of course it would need to be backed up with reliable and prompt information delivery which definitely didn’t happen.

As it was, my suburb was locked down, I wasn’t supposed to go home, and I found out about it on Facebook. Then when it was ok to have some people over, I found out by calling the government and asking them if I could go ahead with my plans. Even the news was sparse on details.

jimbocool 12:52 pm 23 Nov 11

There is a simple, cheap and effective system developed here in Canberra called Yellowbird Alert – http://www.yellowbirdalert.com/- it’s like a siren and radio rolled in to one. The idea is to have one in each home (a bit like a smoke detector) and when there’s an emergency the ESA switches it on remotely, it emits a siren and then broadcasts information. The beauty is it uses old fashioned radio waves – transmission doesn’t require mobile phone towers or much power, or auto diallers, or computers or other things that can go wrong.

I worry that the phone based emergency alert system (which during the Mitchell fire cleverly dialled my work number but not my home number, when it was my home that was in the exclusion zone) is too complicated, hence operator error and too dependent on power and phone infrastructure. If phone towers, power lines and phone lines are destroyed in the emergency (as happended with the 2003 fires) how a phone based system going to work?

Disinformation 12:48 pm 23 Nov 11

Deref said :

Mumbucks said :

It begs the question…

No it doesn’t. I don’t think you know what that expression means.

+1 to the other majority of the population who don’t know what it means…

Thumper 12:05 pm 23 Nov 11

Skidbladnir said :

Thumper said :

Sirens.
Seriously it is that easy.

Canberra needs more civil defense sirens. Thunderbeams or Thunderbolts as preference.

Chickens in choppers?

Skidbladnir 11:38 am 23 Nov 11

Thumper said :

Sirens.
Seriously it is that easy.

Canberra needs more civil defense sirens. Thunderbeams or Thunderbolts as preference.

Thumper 10:53 am 23 Nov 11

Sirens.

Seriously it is that easy.

Waiting For Godot 10:49 am 23 Nov 11

Labor/Greens politics rules again. The ACT government didn’t send people to the training course in Victoria because it was organised by a Liberal government. So the left is so blinkered and prejudiced they are willing to put lives at risk to maintain their ideological purity.

Yogi 10:38 am 23 Nov 11

Why do we need such an expensive and complicated system to impart a mass message? Not everyone has. a landline, a mobile phone and a large number of people have their mobile tuned off overnight. A percentage won’t have their phone within earshot overnight or may be heavy sleepers.
Whats wrong with strategically placed warning devices [sirens?] sounding and the populace being educated to turn on their radio for up to date and relevant information? Radio’s are found in clock/radio’s, home entertainment systems, mp3 players, cars ….. the list goes on. Where has the KISS principal gone, is it too easy? Whycreate complexity something can be done simply? As far as I’m comcerned it is another example of our tax dollars being spent on technology that is un necessary.

Deref 10:26 am 23 Nov 11

Mumbucks said :

It begs the question…

No it doesn’t. I don’t think you know what that expression means.

Innovation 10:23 am 23 Nov 11

I agree that the ACT Government clearly messed up this alert. In an emergency, no error is afforable but to make several errors is inexcusable. I think that they are also blaming the Federal Government for:

– the poor quality data that they accessed for the emergency alert (ie all the old 018, 019 and 062 numbers that were dialled). Surely if the ACT Government had tested the system properly they would have identified the large volume of these out of date numbers and asked the Federal Government to clean up their database.

– the fact that the warning system didn’t contain a warning flag that the ACT Government was asking the system to do the impossible in 30 minutes. Why didn’t the ACT Government do simulations off line that deliberately put the warning system under stress and which then might have identified that there wass no warning flag for impossible tasks?

As for the Federal Government, as far as I can tell, the emergency warning data is extracted from the Integrated Public Number Database (IPND). This data is based on info reported to it by your phone company (ie Carriage Service Providers). You cannot rely on the data in Sensis as this information does not come via the IPND and is often different to what is held in the IPND. There does not seem to be any way for individuals to find out what is in the IPND (or the accuracy of that data) other than, if you ask for it, to rely on the information given to you by your phone company or ACMA. Until the IPND data is cleaned up and individuals are given some mechanism for checking the accuracy of their details in the IPND there does not seem to be any way to guarantee the IPND could be relied on to assist you in an emergency.

Bluey 10:15 am 23 Nov 11

shirty_bear said :

I’ve got a dollar says the training workshops run by the Victorian operators were held in Victoria.
ACTGovco send people interstate for training? Pfffft. The middle manager responsible would far sooner gamble against the system ever being actually required than attempt to win that argument.

Having been an ACTGOV public servant can vouch for this. its borderline impossible to get on a training course if its not within ACT borders and <$500 to attend. The red tape and beauracracy is maddening.

shirty_bear 9:55 am 23 Nov 11

I’ve got a dollar says the training workshops run by the Victorian operators were held in Victoria.
ACTGovco send people interstate for training? Pfffft. The middle manager responsible would far sooner gamble against the system ever being actually required than attempt to win that argument.

Gungahlin Al 9:28 am 23 Nov 11

Seriously? So to dial just the nominated suburbs (a pretty small chunk of Canberra really) would have taken the system 90 minutes?

That’s a serious life-and-death time delay in a situation like the 2003 fires. Or how could it possibly cope if there was another wave of bushfires sweep into the northern suburbs of Sydney like a few years ago? The fires would be all over before the system finished dialling everyone!

So I’d suggest that while the ACT operators may not have done everything they needed too, and that’s in need of remedial action, the bigger problem is that the system is wanting – in a big way.

And credit to Gary Humphries for doing something constructive for once in putting these questions.

Mumbucks 9:16 pm 22 Nov 11

Oh dear! Heads will roll over this one ! No one attended the training course!tut tut!
It begs the question did they read the training guide? or did they not receive it due to non attendance?
E for effort and F for lack of attendance.

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