Close call inspires early warning device

Close call inspires early warning device

11 March 2010

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Australia —  An electronics engineer has been inspired by a close call of his own to develop an early warning bushfire system.

Last year, without any warning, fire came within metres of retiree Ray Datodi’s Yallingup home.

“I could hear some aircraft flying so I came out to have a look at the aircraft and I was surprised to see that they were waterbombers and I could see the flames licking off the top of the trees about 700 metres from the house.”

The new device uses satellite controlled radio frequency transmissions and GPS co-ordinates to activate individual alarm units.

In the event of a bushfire, the device sounds an alarm, flashes lights and displays critical fire information and advice on a screen inside the house.

It’s designed to give homeowners more time to escape.

The Captain of Dunsborough Fire and Rescue Jon Glasspool says he’s impressed with the system.

“Initially for the proof of concept that they’ve got, in terms of saving lives and an early warning system I think it’s a fantastic idea.”

Existing system

The State Government has only recently established its own State Alert warning system.

Designed by the Fire and Emergency Services Authority and Police, it allows authorities to send text and recorded messages to mobile phones, emails and landlines in the event of an emergency such as bushfire, cyclone or tsunami.

However, since it’s rollout the system has come under criticism.

Residents in Toodyay, where 38 homes were destroyed by December’s fire, complained they weren’t given sufficient warning of the threat and some say they only received the alerts after their properties were on fire.

In another incident, a resident in Brigadoon says she chose to leave her house when she learnt of a fire nearby.

“At that stage when we left we were told there was no need to leave,” she said.

She received a text message an hour later but by that stage the fire had destroyed her pool fence.

The Emergency Services Minister Rob Johnson defended the system, saying people should use their own judgement and not rely solely on phone messages.

“If you live next door to where the fire started, by the time you get a state alert warning signal the fire will be encompassing your property. If you live close to where the fire’s starting, get out of your property.”


Mr Datodi says his device isn’t designed to compete with existing fire warning systems, it would simply complement them.

“The use of radio frequency transmission offers an autonomous and fast alarm system that covers issues such as cellular telephone dead spots and loss of mains power resulting in failure of communication channels including television, fax and email.”

The Member for the South-West Barry House says he’s extremely impressed with the invention.

“Any system that can overcome the gaps in the telecommunications areas using radiowaves in a very cost effective and efficient manner has got to be considered.”

Mr Glasspool says it would work as an added tool for authorities.

“It would be just another tool in the FESA box that will help residents.”

Mr Datodi says the device has even attracted interest from authorities affected by last year’s devastating bushfires in Victoria.

“Fran Bailey who’s the MP for the Marysville area expressed a keen interest to have a look at this and of course Victoria is very sensitive to fire risk at the moment.”

Mr Datodi says his device is reasonably priced and simple to use.

“Householders can self install one or more alarms on their premises and portable units will allow people to travel with an alarm.”

He says one unit would cost approximately $350.

Ray Datodi is now headed to Canberra where he’s hoping to gain Federal funding for the device.

He says the extra money would mean the product could be rolled out by the end of the year.

“If we got immediate support and with the winter months ahead we could make quite some inroads during the winter months and hopefully have a reasonable production level for next fire season.”

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