Australia — The best feature of a new emergency warning system conceived during the catastrophic Canberra bushfires in 2003 is its simplicity.
A signal automatically switches on AM/FM radios.
The Insurance Council of Australia has awarded inventor, Canberra obstetrician Dr Stephen Robson, its annual national community resilience award, worth $50,000.
Emergency services and Pacific nations have embraced the invention named YellowBird. But so far the Federal Government is not interested in testing the low-cost option, instead relying on a new text messaging system for mobile phones.
Dr Robson and his wife Stacey spent their first weekend in Canberra in their Garran home without power, watching flames on Mount Stromlo during the January firestorm.
He didn’t know whether to continue relying on his car radio for warnings or go to bed.
”What if your radio could come on in an emergency,” he thought to himself, toying with the idea, then redoubling his efforts to create such a device when the Boxing Day Tsunami struck in 2004.
Doing a post-graduate degree in public health, he combed through reports from Thailand, India and Sri Lanka which had warnings for hours before the tsunami but had no cheap, reliable means of passing them on to people.
”I rolled up my sleeves and learned about electronics and it turned out to be incredibly simple,” he said.
YellowBird is a simple modification to standard AM/FM radio circuitry which allows a tone, broadcast during radio transmissions to switch on the radio to receive emergency warnings.
When a radio is activated a loud siren and flashing lights precede the emergency warning message.
Emergency services in NSW and the ACT told him it would be even better if the system could trigger radios in certain areas. This was easily solved with computer chip technology and latitude and longitude readings.
”It’s really cheap, it’s really easy,” Dr Robson said.