Victorians under threat from bushfires and other dangers to be alerted by text or call

Victorians under threat from bushfires and other dangers to be alerted by text or call

4 December 2009

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Australia — Victorians under direct threat from bushfires and other major emergencies will now be alerted to the danger by text message or an automated call to a landline phone.

But a technology gap means the message will only get sent to users with a billing address located within the danger zone.

It means people who are caught in an area – but have their phones listed to addresses elsewhere – won’t get the warning.

Nevertheless, Attorney-General Robert McClelland and Emergency Services Minister Bob Cameron said today  the system would help save lives.

“This is an additional warning mechanism available for use 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the case of an emergency,” Mr Cameron said.

“It can swiftly reach a large number of people in a targeted manner.”

The national telephone emergency alert system has been operational since Tuesday  after less than a year of planning.

The system is able to send voice recordings to landline phones and texts messages to mobiles alerting users of major emergencies in their areas.

Emergency alert operators are able to zoom in on a hotspot online and with a click of a mouse, send out the alerts to every mobile and landline with a billing address within the defined area.

It can deliver up to 1000 voice messages a minute to landlines and 300 texts a second to mobiles.

The Federal Government is financing research to determine how warnings can instead be delivered to phones based on where they actually are.

And Mr McClelland said the system could eventually be rolled out for police use to alert people during security emergencies such as shootings or abductions.

“These are complicated issues but certainly unquestionably within the thought processes of Government and law enforcement agencies as to how these things might be developed,” Mr McClelland said.

“There is a potential for similar use, it has been referred to for instance, something such as the Port Arthur massacre, to provide warnings to a region but again in the context that we are not giving information to the perpetrator of that offence is the challenge but these things are certainly within contemplation.”

Mr McClelland admitted expanding the service to assist police was a long way off but didn’t rule it out.

“The focus has been on emergency management, there are a number of issues in terms of law enforcement,” he said.

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