Australia — The Royal Commission into Black Saturday has been told a single fire information website is one of the changes that can be put in place in time for Victoria’s next fire season.
In his final submissions before the commissioners retire to formulate their interim report, counsel assisting the commission, Jack Rush QC has urged them to recommend the urgent establishment of one website for fire information by this summer.
Currently, both the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the Department of Sustainability (DSE) have separate websites that carry similar warnings.
“A thirty to forty minute delay in relation to the uptake onto the website of, for example, of urgent threat messages is not an acceptable position in this day and age,” Mr Rush said.
“It is of critical importance that that information is put to the community as quickly as possible.”
He told the hearing, that the public warnings that were issued did not represent best practice and were often contradictory and insufficiently detailed.
Mr Rush proposes the standard emergency warning signal (SEWS) be reactivated in Victoria to alert people to bushfire threats.
“The SEWS message has a valuable place in relation to warnings. It is an official emergency announcement. It could highlight urgent threat messages.”
He also stresses the need for a national telephone-based warning system that should be in place in time for the upcoming fire season.
“And that if by September 2009 the introduction appears unlikely that the state of Victoria approach the Commonwealth to ensure as far as they can that it is put in place for the bushfire season 2009, 2010,” he said.
He says the Country Fire Authority should support communities that want to use local sirens.
“The evidence before the Royal Commission we submit indicates that sirens… are an effective warning mechanism in relation to fire.”
He also recommends the Weather Bureau should routinely publish the forest fire danger index, a measure usually only circulated within the ranks of emergency services.
The Commission is due to hand down its interim report in August.