18 December 2009

Civil Defence Sirens for ACT?

| Sgt.Bungers
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Wouldn’t it be nice if the ACT GovCo spent some tax payer dollars on something useful… in my opinion, bizarre statues of obese naked men reading books on city walk, are not that useful.

The new mobile phone alert system has many flaws, the primary ones being someone who doesn’t have a mobile phone, or whose phone battery is flat, or simply off, someone who doesn’t speak english, or someone who cant read, someone who’s out of range, will not be immediately aware of an impending disaster if a text message is sent to their phone.

The question has to be asked, why has the fairly simple setup of mechanical civil defence/air raid/storm warning (call them what you will) sirens, activated by encrypted radio signals, apparently not been considered as part of a new system in the ACT? The US has thousands of such sirens which are used for tornado and storm warnings. The ACT would only need a handful to cover almost the whole population of the Territory. It’s difficult not to hear them, and when activated could simply mean, get to a radio/TV for more information about the impending disaster.

What are your thoughts?

An actual tornado warning in Chicago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0m1BN4ZmAQ

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Mordd and sepi are correct. Phone systems jam in emergencies with people trying to ring Auntie Flo to find out if she’s OK.

It should be a condition of a broadcast licence that emergency messages are read out as soon as they are received. No readout – close the station for a few days or a very substantial fine. If there is nobody in the studio because the program is run by a robot, tough luck to the broadcaster. They claim to provide a service, they might actually do it for a change.

I lived through the 1974 Brisbane floods. That emergency lasted a few days. If you listened to one of the commercial stations you would not have known the floods were on. As far as I recall the same thing happened in the Canberra fires, only 666 carried any updates.

In my limited experience the first thing to collapse in a disaster is the phone system. In the late 80s I was marginally involved in an underground coal mine disaster, 13 men killed in a dust explosion. I was sent gas samples for analysis, ran the analyses and tried to phone them through to the mine management. The phone network was jammed and we eventually had to Telex the results through. Fax was no good, it’s just a glorified phone.

Someone with a better knowledge of radio can correct me if I’m wrong here. Hot gases from fires are electrically conductive and partially absorb radio signals. As I understand it the effect is greater the higher the frequency. Since mobile phones work near the top of the ultra-high frequency band the effect is much stronger than at very high frequency. Even at VHF I understand hot fire gases blocked radio signals to fire appliances in the Canberra region. So those with a mobile phone and a fire between them and the phone repeater might not get the signal anyway.

Don’t depend on the phone system, specially not the mobile one.

Hey, I like that statues of ‘obese naked men reading books’! I’m glad that Canberra has a place for artwork, regardless of the Canberrans trying hard to live up to their boring, sterile and characterless image by saying its a waste of money. Its not. It gives a city soul. Travel around the world a bit and you will see that creating cheap crappy boxy building landscapes with no decorative artwork does NOT give a place soul.

I swear, its like Canberra is suicidal in its attempt to kill off anything that would make it more interesting.

Waste of money? Drop in the bucket compared to what we’re spending on the mobile phone warning system, which itself could get overloaded during a really massive emergency. Seriously cost is the one reason that makes no sense to say no to something like this, its extremely cheap to setup and costs f-all to maintain.

I agree with Grail – installing sirens would be a complete waste of money and this proposal seems to be an example of a solution looking for a problem. What threat does Canberra face where the combination of mobile phone alerts and emergency radio broadcasts wouldn’t be sufficient? Large numbers of sirens would need to be installed to be effective in a low density city such as Canberra, and the money required would be better spent on measures to prevent bushfires.

Mordd – I’m with you.

The whole point of the siren is: look outside and turn on the radio.

ChrisinTurner8:55 am 20 Dec 09

Hercsie said :

There is actually an air-raid siren on top of the old kingston power station – I last heard it tested in 1995.

The siren was probably on top of Kingston power house to ensure it has power when needed. In many emergency situations mains power can be lost. A battery radio and 666ABC is better.

They use them here in Germany for natural disasters (snow storms and fires) as well as for major motor vehicle or industrial accidents. Freaked me out the first time I heard it tho, as they sound like air raid sirens here! What it means, is that emergency service workers from outling towns, can be on the alert, should additional help be required in the town where the alert (siren) was raised. Would have maybe been a great idea in the Victorian fire scenario, had the fires not travelled so fast.

“We could put air-raid sirens up everywhere, but then they carry no information. We’re not expecting air raids, cyclones, tsunamis, tornadoes… you’d need to switch on the radio to get the message to start with.”

Uh, yeh thats kind of the point. The siren tells you *something* is happening that is definitely not good, and to immediately find out using whatever communication devices you have at hand to get more information. Thats kind of the point of the system. If you don’t hear the siren, and you don’t have your mobile with you, on, or have one at all, how do you know to go turn on the radio again? And please don’t say “you will see the smoke out your window” theres lots of situations in normal life where you are inside somewhere and would not notice. The funny thing is you are agreeing with the point of having a siren while at the same time trying to argue against the point of having I siren, am I the only one who sees the irony in your statement?

We could put air-raid sirens up everywhere, but then they carry no information. We’re not expecting air raids, cyclones, tsunamis, tornadoes… you’d need to switch on the radio to get the message to start with.

So all the sensible people will be listening to 666, while everyone else misses out because the commercial radio stations don’t take emergency warning messages seriously. What was it? About 45minute delay between receiving the fax and bothering to tell people about it on air?

So IMHO, just stick to the current system and just get the commerical station to take emergency warning seriously.

There is actually an air-raid siren on top of the old kingston power station – I last heard it tested in 1995.

oops, I meant 1100, not 0900. The town I grew up in had a siren you could hear for miles, but that was in Northern Ireland. The fire brigade used the siren to call firefighters in for jobs (before mobile phones and cordless phones), so it was an ominous sound, given it often meant a bomb had been reported or discovered and was about to go off, rather than had already gone off.

We test ours in Captains Flat Rural Fire Brigade every first Sunday of the month at 0900. However, many people say they still don’t hear it inside their houses, or have music or TV on or if running power tools or lawnmowers.

Interestingly the NSW RFS on Thursday night was telling people in the fire-affected areas to check the RFS website regularly. They clearly had little idea of the terrain. East of the Tinderries, there is no mobile reception, and I think no broadband internet, except satellite which I suspect would have been affected by the smoke.

No emergency warning system was ever going to reach those households, and with ltos of semi-legal “weekenders” while the local fire brigade probably knows where all the full-time residences are, I doubt if they would know where all the part-time ones are.


I definitely think old fashioned sirens are the way to go. Phones were all completely out of action during the 2003 fires – doesn’t anyone remember that? Mobile networks were overloaded and collapsed, and real phone lines were all down and no phones were working. I will never forget those chilling messages on the ABC radio like “message for John – Linda has the kids, if you see the burnt out car don’t worry, the neighbour got them out” etc.

I know phones went out after the fire had arrived, but it was still moving, and they were still declaring new disaster areas all the time. i can’t see that this mobile phone warning system would have worked at all.

Watching for smoke is all very well, but not much use at night. I know one person whose house burnt down while he was at the movies. Watching for smoke is only a useful plan if you actually know a fire is on it’s way.

Another person I know had a big Friday night, and was still in bed as the fires raged. The first she knew of it was a police car, siren and and loud- hailer, driving up her street shouting ‘evacuate’. She got out in her car, no shoes on, pyjamas on, and just her evening bag (with wallet and nothing else in it), but at least she got out. Without the loud warning she may well not have.

There is also the story of one of the Victorian small towns during last year’s fires, where an old rural fire service guy set off their fire claxon, against advice from head office, and saved most of the town.

Back to basics I say.

I grew up in a part of Sydney where every suburb has a bushfire brigade. If we were at home and heard the siren it was a signal to go outside and check the sky for smoke. Except Sunday mornings at 10am during the fire season when they used to test it.

I suggested this during the bushfire inquiry. I think it would be cheap and easy to install.

This system is an addition to all the other warnings that are used for such disasters. It’s better than nothing.

Just for the sake of double posting, if there was a system I’d like to see, it would be a IR sat/realtime update/twitter site available to all and fed by all. Sensis is slow and often shuts out the public during emergencies. I don’t want an alarm. The smoke will tell me something’s not right. I want to be able to ‘see’ where the fire is in relation to prevailing winds.

Thats rather spine-tingling listening to the siren in that youtube video, i see no reason why we coulnd’t have a system like this in australia, may as well have multiple layers of warnings, this plus text messages plus raiod/tv etc… would be fairly comprehensive all round warning system yeh.

An alert system has its merits, but further removes any motivation for people to act on their own initiative. Fires happen quickly, travel fast, and behave in unpredictable ways and people sitting at home expecting to be notified when things turn bad is, in my mind, a recipe for disaster. Education and preparation IMHO is the most important aspect of defence.


Seriously, though, you are quite correct. Whilst air raid-style sirens do have the disadvantage of not reaching the deaf, they are otherwise a more reliable system (fewer points at which they can break down, simpler and cheaper to maintain, etc). I don’t understand this obsession with using the latest, shiniest technology when there is an older, cheaper, more reliable option; doubly so when lives are at stake.

I wonder whether the klaxons associated with the ARP program are still in place…


That would give away our position away to the enemy!

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