What strikes me as particularly clear is that anyone with a basic knowledge of primary school maths and the wit to apply it could have predicted these limitations and yet it was never tested.
But here’s what the Minister has to say:
“The national Emergency Alert telephone warnings system was used by the ACT to issue to warnings during the Mitchell chemical fire on 16 September. The report, which I have released today, has found there are some limitations when using Emergency Alert,” Mr Corbell said.
“The first message at 1:38am was targeted to Mitchell to advise of fire and subsequent implementation of an exclusion zone around the suburb. The second message at 3:19am was intended to be sent to people within a 10 kilometre zone of the fire identified as within a shelter zone.
“Unfortunately, the second Emergency Alert message did not reach a number of people within the intended area. This is because it would have taken six to seven hours for the system to deliver the message to all phones within the zone.
“The ACT ESA has advised that Emergency Alert will be best used in the future for sending targeted messages to small areas rather than for large scale use as was done on 16 September where time is a critical factor.”
Mr Corbell said that he would be writing to the Federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, to raise the issue of the system’s limitations and will also raise the issue at the Standing Council on Police and Emergency Management in November.
The report has made five recommendations around additional training, review of procedures including quality assurance processes, better utilisation of system functionalities within limitations and provide written advice to the system administrators and national governance bodies about the ACT experience with recommended enhancements.
[Photo by Thisisaname]
UPDATE: Senator Humphries has taken this up as a rod to beat the Federales:
“It’s just not good enough,” Senator Humphries said today.
“If the fire had indeed been toxic, this failure could have resulted in illness or death on a large scale.
“A national emergency warning system cannot be based on trial and error. This system deals with matters of life and death.
“It’s simply unbelievable that the ACT Emergency Services Minister was told after the emergency that the system would have taken up to 7 hours to contact everyone affected. I’m incredulous that this limitation of the system has never been raised with state and territory emergency agencies.
“The Federal Government has spent $26 million developing what we now know to be a system with severe limitations.
“Only a month ago the Attorney-General Robert McClelland issued a media release saying ‘Australia’s emergency alert system working well’.
“I urge the Attorney-General to explain why the system failed so catastrophically when called upon in an emergency,” Senator Humphries concluded.
Meanwhile local Liberal Brendan Smyth is having a fair whack:
“The ACT’s emergency management system is in disarray,” Mr Smyth said.
“Emergency alerts did not even reach the necessary ten per cent of Canberra’s population during what could have been a potentially life-threatening situation.
“The alerts system was untested, and Simon Corbell admitted he did not confirm its technical capabilities.
“This is an unacceptable oversight that should have been dealt with long before this emergency. Emergency management cannot be a process of trial and error.
“Instead of taking full responsibility for this failure, Simon Corbell suggested Canberrans should have listened to local radio instead of relying on the emergency alerts. This is completely unrealistic and irresponsible, given the fire occurred at around midnight.
“Simon Corbell clearly doesn’t take his role in protecting Canberrans from potentially dangerous situations seriously.