Australia — The federal government is to provide $15 million towards a national telephone emergency warning scheme.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the recent Victorian bushfires, which claimed the lives of 173 people, had been the single largest natural disaster in the nation’s history.
“What we have agreed today is to develop a national telephone emergency warning system,” he told reporters following the Council of Australian Government meeting in Hobart on Thursday.
“The commonwealth will invest up to $15 million to assist the states and territories to establish this national system.”
Mr Rudd said the system would be developed following an open tender process and operated by state and territory authorities.
He said this represented consistent and coordinated action.
“This will not be a foolproof system for the future but it does represent an important step forward in providing the best possible emergency warning system in the case of future natural disasters,” he said.
The system will help warn the public in the event of a major emergency, adding to a range of measures including television and radio alerts, public address systems, doorknocking, sirens, signage and the internet.
Under this system, emergency warning alerts will be sent by recorded voice and text to landline and mobile phones based on an owner’s billing address.
“Technological gaps currently limit the system to sending alerts to mobile phones based on the billing address, rather than where the handset is at the time of the emergency,” Mr Rudd and Attorney-General Robert McClelland said in a joint statement.
“COAG has agreed to undertake collaborative research with industry on ways to deliver warning messages to mobile phones based on the handset’s physical location.”
Victorian Treasurer John Lenders was pleased with the decision taken at Thursday’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting.
“I’m happy that COAG agreed to an early warning system,” Mr Lenders told reporters after the meeting in Hobart.
“We are confident that we will have it in place for the next bushfire season. It’s just what we (the Victorian government) wanted.
“Getting a national system in place first up is critical.”
The Victorian government has been under pressure to introduce a scheme, but had repeatedly said it wanted a nationwide system.
Mr Lenders also thanked his counterparts for their help and support during the bushfires that ravaged Victoria in February.