Bushfire text message confusion in Adelaide Hills

Bushfire text message confusion in Adelaide Hills

09 March 2018

Published by http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/

AUSTRALIA – SOME Adelaide Hills residents did not receive a potentially life-saving text message warning them of a nearby grassfire last night just months after a specialised “Alert SA app” was scrapped because it was faulty.

Multiple Hills residents did not receive an automated text message warning them of the threat to their safety as an uncontrolled blaze burned near Kangaroo Creek Reservoir in the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges after a car sparked a grassfire at Paracombe.

Paracombe residents Mark and Sophie Wardle had to flee with their four children when the fire threatened their home.

The couple only received a text alert warning them about the fire at 10pm – 20 minutes after they left home and had reached Pooraka.

Mrs Wardle said a local Facebook group kept her up to date with information about the blaze.

“(The text alert) was delayed,” she said.

The bungle comes after the State Government was forced to scrap an app, specifically designed by Melbourne-based developers, that allowed the community to source up-to-date information about bushfire dangers.

The app cost taxpayers $284,000 per year and was launched in 2015 and crashed multiple times, including during a huge blaze at Sherwood in the state’s South-East in January.

Now, the government is seeking legal action over the app’s failure.

A CFS spokesman told The Advertiser the current emergency alert system is a “nationwide system and we are the custodians (to send out the message)”.

“It sends out a text message to people within the vicinity of the fire – they receive that message (and) it’s sent out by phone towers,” he said.

The spokesman said he did not know why certain mobile customers did not receive the message on Thursday but others did.

“If there’s a lot of smoke in the area (it) can interfere with phone towers,” he said.

“We do stress to people that they need to have more than our source of (bushfire) information and they can not rely on just their mobile phone.

“A battery radio is a more reliable transmission to get the message.”

Emergency Services Minister Chris Picton said the “Emergency Alert System” used to alert people during the treat of bushfire is “a national warnings system that the CFS utilise to send text messages and calls to a designated area during a fire”.

“(It) relies on the service provider and mobile phone coverage,” he said.

Mr Picton said the government “went out to market” in February for the development of a new website and mobile app to replace the Alert SA app.

“Responses will be considered by emergency services agencies utilising internal and external IT advice and will then provide advice to Government,” he said.

“For next bushfire season the new system will be controlled by the CFS and will focus on the three main emergency services agencies information.”

Mr Picton said the government was pursuing “legal avenues” to protect taxpayers following the failure of the old app system.

Premier Jay Weatherill said he understood why Hills residents would be frustrated with the glitchy alert system.

“It’s not good. That’s why we want to make sure we have our own state-based system,” he said.

“They do work in the vast majority of cases. There’s only a small number of cases where they don’t work but it should be 100 per cent.”

Opposition emergency services spokesman Stephan Knoll told ABC Radio an elected Liberal Government would ensure a new bushfire alert app was “ready for bushfire season this coming summer”.

“(We need) to make sure people have access to a more comprehensive level of information so they can keep themselves safe,” he said.

“We also need to have a review into who does and doesn’t receive text messages, especially because we don’t have this Alert SA app.”

This morning, a total of 34ha has so far burned and a watch and act warning is current for residents of Paracombe, Milbrook and Houghton and patches of scrub are still alight.

Water bombers and aircraft are working to contain the blaze and the CFS has warned residents to remain “vigilant”, with today’s expected top of 35C.


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