Australia’s Federal Minister for Emergency Management, Robert McClelland, and Acting Victorian Premier Peter Ryan have unveiled an ambitious new revamp of the country’s national Emergency Alert telephone warning system. This revamp incorporates a “world-first” mobile emergency alert service, to be fully operational by November 2012, while tapping into carrier-class mobile communications networks.
The location-based mobile emergency alert service will send warnings to mobile phones that are physically in an emergency zone when a disaster strikes. Australia’s emergency warnings are currently limited to using a residential address associated with individual subscribers, as a result relying on outdated emergency notifications like radio warnings.
The upgraded mobile emergency alert will use location-based mobile communications services to send anywhere, anytime warnings directly to mobile phones using SMS. Minister McClelland says Victoria will lead the way by developing technology for a national location-based telephone emergency warning system. Acting Victorian Premier Peter Ryan says this new technology has no national or international precedent. The mobile emergency alert service, when fully operational, will subscribe to mobile communications networks through carrier arrangements.
This emergency alert upgrade adds another layer of safety to existing warnings across cities, towns and regional areas. This location-based warning system will use SMS as one feature of Australia’s emergency management services, enabling affected communities to get alerts in real-time, regardless of their location.
The new service will be complemented by traditional radio and emergency services website updates. In December last year, McClelland canvassed community feedback on its emergency messaging systems, including a Common Alerting Protocol.
This protocol would enable emergency messages to be sent out simultaneously over different warning systems including radio, television, smartphones, email and social media. Minister McClelland also launched a DisasterWatch app for iPhone and Android smartphones last year.
DisasterWatch offers communities up-to-the-minute public information about disaster via direct feeds from official state, territory and national sources. This week’s Commonwealth and Victorian Government mobile communications initiative comes in the wake of the Victorian bushfires in late 2009. More than 173 people died during these bushfires, leading to a Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission inquiry.
This inquiry recommended streamlining Australia’s emergency alert capabilities, while reaching out more quickly to widely dispersed communities. Telstra has been awarded a contract for the latest Commonwealth and Victorian government emergency alert upgrade – with negotiations underway with other carriers.