Australia–– MORE than 800 South Australia households and businesses could receive no bushfire warning through their emergency radio because of coverage blackspots.
ABC Local and community radio coverage data compiled by News Ltd reveals 17 suburbs or small towns and 811 of the state’s households and businesses will remain in weak or dead transmission zones this fire season.
ABC radio is the primary platform for emergency broadcasting.
The problem is being exacerbated by an apparent lack of communication between official bodies causing vulnerable communities to left in radio silence.
Although an analysis of reception areas identifies black spots for residence of Big Bend, Greenway, Marks Landing, Nildottie, Punyelroo, Sunnydale and Swan Reach, a spokesperson for the Country Fire Service is unconcerned about radio black spots.
“We rely on an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the ABC to use their network in getting emergency messages to the community,” he said.
The spokesperson said contingencies are used by the ABC to ensure there is appropriate coverage, including using portable satellite dishes.
However situations such as terrain, weather and fire impacting on radio coverage were out of their control.
And the responsibility to identify and improve blackspots were an ABC or national issue, he said.
However, an ACMA spokesman said they were “unaware” of any requirements to improve the current coverage while ABC Local radio said the operation of transmission sites and improving broadcast range was not their responsibility.
The blackspots are even worse than the data suggests, according to those on the ground within regional Australia.
Despite being classified in a clear coverage range, Black Saturday survivor Sue Hall said her transmission remains abysmal.
Mrs Hall lives in Yea, just 80kms north of Melbourne, and was forced to sit in her car to hear ABC radio updates while spot fires raged around her during the horrific 2009 fires which killed 173 people.
Almost four years later, she says nothing has changed.
“It is not safe, the last place you want to be in a fire is outside sitting in your car,” she said. “It is a concern, the community is concerned because there are blackspots when you are driving around. I have to drive to the top of a hill to get mobile phone coverage.”
The News Ltd analysis shows 227,651 businesses and households throughout Australia remain outside the optimal coverage range.
And it is not just remote townships which will be potentially left in the dark. Almost 80 communities, classified by Geoscience Australia as built up areas, are found outside the optimal areas.
These include Binalong and Marulan in New South Wales, Boulia and Condamine in Queensland, Currie in Tasmania, Rawson in Victoria and Bremer Bay and Katanning in Western Australia.
In the midst of last fire season a senate inquiry highlighted the important of emergency warning broadcasts by local radio.
The CFA in Victoria admits it is still battling to find a solution to blackspot coverage, more than two years after a Royal Commission into Black Saturday found their internal communications strategy lacking.
The government is pinning its hopes on digital coverage through a satellite platform, although the signal can easily be interfered with or prevented due to weather, terrain and households appliances.
Meteorologists predict we will experience the hottest summer in at least three years, with temperatures above average and a heightened risk of bushfires.
ABC local radio coverage and community radio coverage (source ACMA)