Emergency warnings and community preparedness
The use of emergency warnings, as well as community preparedness for and
responsibility in times of emergency, were discussed during the course of the
The committee heard about current systems for warning the community
about emergencies, for example warnings broadcast via radio and television as
well as SMS and telephone alerts. Subsequently, the use of "informal sources"
such as social media to distribute emergency information was raised, as were warning
systems used overseas and devices designed specifically for the dissemination
of emergency alerts.
The dissemination of emergency warnings and information to people with a
disability, as well as emergency telecommunication arrangements for people with
a disability were highlighted by a consumer group as specific concerns.
The committee was also informed about the importance of community
preparedness and responsibility, and the role these play in determining how
effectively a community responds to and recovers from an emergency.
The use of emergency warnings in Australia, and the importance
Australians place on these, was raised by numerous submitters throughout the
For example, the Australian Psychological Society emphasised the
importance of well-crafted emergency warnings, and the trust the community
places in such warnings:
Regarding trust, along both the formal and informal channels
of communication, it is more likely for people to get an initial warning via an
informal channel, but often they will then move to a more formal channel to try
to verify some information—they will turn on the radio, the television or go to
a website. The more that there is what the research calls 'source certainty'
around a warning message the more likely it is to be taken up. In other words,
the more there is trust in that source of information the more likely it is
going to happen. I might add that it is not just trust in terms of the
interface between the warning disseminator and the public; it is also between
those who are behind the scenes and who are intended to be cooperating to
produce a well crafted warning message.
The dissemination of emergency warnings through traditional channels (radio,
television and telephone alerts) and increasingly via informal channels, for
example social media, is discussed below. Emergency alert systems used overseas,
devices designed specifically to deliver emergency alerts as well as emergency
warnings and telecommunications arrangements for people with a disability are
also discussed in the following sections.
Radio and television broadcasts
Emergency warnings are routinely broadcast by both public and commercial
radio and television stations in Australia.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) described radio and
television as 'very effective methods of communicating important information to
large groups of people before, during and after emergency situations'.
The committee was informed by the public broadcaster that:
There is no legislative requirement for the ABC to broadcast
warnings, nor is the Corporation provided with any funding to assist with
disaster coverage. However, there are strong audience expectations that the ABC
will provide such services. It is well-recognised that listening to ABC radio
services leaps during emergency periods, as there is very high community
recognition of the ABC’s role in providing timely and accurate information.
Research into emergency broadcasting has shown that listeners are inclined to
seek out trusted local personalities and stay with them for the duration of the
The importance of emergency warnings broadcast by local radio was emphasised
by the ABC: 'Local radio services are particularly effective, as broadcasters
have established relationships with local communities and detailed local
knowledge that may assist listeners'.
The ABC went on to describe its '60 local radio stations throughout regional
and metropolitan Australia' as the 'primary platform for emergency broadcasting'.
Similarly, Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) outlined the reach and
penetration of its '260 member stations' of which '220 are based in regional
and rural areas':
These stations strive to achieve community engagement through
a focus on local issues. Accordingly, the industry is very well placed to
understand the needs of local communities and to communicate effectively with
them during emergencies.
CRA cited several examples of the effectiveness of local commercial
radio stations during various recent natural disasters.
The committee was informed by CRA that the Commercial Radio Code of
Practice requires commercial radio stations to:
...in consultation with appropriate emergency and essential
service organizations, implement a set of internal procedures to enable the
timely and accurate broadcast of warnings and information supplied by such
organizations relating to an existing or threatened emergency.
All commercial radio stations are bound by this Code.
In addition to the code of conduct described by CRA, both the ABC and
CRA have entered in agreements with various state and territory ESOs to
establish the parameters of their relationships for the purposes of
broadcasting emergency warnings.
Consistent with a recommendation in the Council of Australian
Governments (COAG) 2005 National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management,
the ABC has memoranda of understanding (MOUs) or partnerships with ESOs in all
states and territories that 'commit the Corporation to use its best endeavours
to provide emergency warnings and working to help emergency service agencies'.
These MOUs are reviewed regularly.
CRA entered into an MOU with the Victorian government following the
Black Saturday fires in 2009. At present, CRA has 'entered into MoUs in New
South Wales, South Australia and Queensland, and an MoU is currently being
negotiated in Tasmania'.
Western Australia is the only state with which the commercial radio industry
does not have an MOU.
By way of example, CRA provided the committee with a copy of the MOU
with the Victorian government.
The MOU 'constitutes an arrangement between the Coordinator-in-Chief and
Commercial Radio Australia to facilitate the broadcasting of emergency information
and warnings during emergency events'
and includes (but is not limited to) the following provisions:
- co-operation and consultation between the parties;
the broadcast of emergency warnings in a timely manner and in a
form agreed by the relevant ESO;
- an undertaking by commercial broadcasters to break into
programming in order to broadcast an emergency warning;
- the use of the standard emergency warning signal (SEWS) as
requested by the relevant ESO;
the availability of commercial radio broadcasters to broadcast
emergency warnings 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year;
- the contact mechanism between commercial broadcasters and ESOs in
the event of an emergency;
the provision of emergency information and warnings by ESOs to
commercial broadcasters in a timely and accurate fashion; and
- in collaboration with one another, the identification of critical
infrastructure necessary for the broadcast of emergency information that could
require protection during emergency events.
Of the MOUs, Ms Joan Warner, Chief Executive Officer of CRA, stated:
We think the MOUs are working pretty well. We are pretty
pleased with them. We have had to be proactive and we are still working on WA
and Tasmania, but we think we will get there. Victoria has been the most
engaged. It had the royal commission and had a lot of criticism made of its
communications processes. The MOUs are very helpful to us and it is about
educating our local radio station personnel so they know, yes, we have a code
and "Here are a whole lot of processes that you now need to follow every
During the course of the inquiry, CRA made several recommendations
intended to increase awareness about the role of commercial radio broadcasters
in an emergency and to further improve relationships between the commercial
radio industry and ESOs. Ms Warner explained:
Our first one is that commercial radio's role be highlighted
in any publicity around emergencies or from emergency services—that we do not
hear ever again that the ABC is the official emergency services broadcaster,
when the ABC may be off air and you have got your local commercial station
broadcasting and most people are listening to that.
Our other suggestion, which we have made a few times in
dealing with state governments, is that there is a designated person who will
always take calls from whatever media, whether it is local commercial radio or
the ABC or Channel 7, and that that person—or two people—is always available.
Sometimes our members find that they will call and the person that they spoke
to two hours ago is not there...there needs to be a really clear communication
protocol and one or two identified spokespeople who will always give the latest
information to the media when they call, or who are willing to do a few grabs
and have them on a website so that people could go to a website and take the
latest grab from the emergency services commissioner, who did it one minute ago...The
other thing is that we would like to actually know who is coordinating a
disaster or an emergency. I think we flagged it in our submission that, in some
instances, some of our broadcasters were told to play the emergency warning—and
of course people really spring to action when they hear the siren—and then they
were contacted a little bit later by another department saying: 'What on earth
are you doing playing that warning? Don't play it.' I think sometimes it is
just knowing who is the peak body. Who do you talk to in the bushfires? Is it
the fire brigade and you do not pay any attention to anyone else? In a
terrorism situation, is it the Federal Police or is it the state police?
In addition to commercial radio, FreeTV Australia informed the committee
that free-to-air commercial television broadcasters had also played a role in
the dissemination of warnings and emergency information during recent natural
disasters such as the Victorian bushfires and Cyclone Yasi.
Ms Julie Flynn, Chief Executive Officer of FreeTV Australia outlined the
industry's code that requires free-to-air commercial television stations to
broadcast emergency warnings:
[The national processes for cooperation between emergency
management services and all media sectors] are backed up by a range of
regulatory requirements designed to ensure the timely and accurate broadcast of
emergency information to their licensee's local community, and all free-to-air
commercial broadcasters comply with these requirements at a minimum. There are
requirements in the industry's code of practice which ensure licensees have
adequate procedures in place to enable prompt and accurate broadcast of
emergency information. The code includes requirements to consult with emergency
and essential service organisations within their licensed area and to implement
internal procedures to enable the dissemination of emergency information. The
code also includes an appendix dealing specifically with the broadcast of
emergency information, providing further guidance to licensees on their
responsibilities and the need to develop and maintain effective lines of
communication with emergency service organisations.
FreeTV Australia shared CRA's concern regarding the availability and
maintenance of up-to-date contact details for both emergency personnel and
broadcasters that can be used during an emergency. Ms Flynn recommended a
One of the issues that I have discussed with the
Attorney-General's process is having an adequate list, a database—and we can do
that now—of who all these emergency services people are and who the contacts
are at the broadcaster. A database of that kind could be set up and
established—and I know for a fact that we went through all of this here in the
press gallery back in the early nineties when we had the first Gulf War. The
defence department was establishing contacts so that when something happened
there was a process and you could get in touch. You had a known person in the
newsroom; you had a known person at the defence department. The same applies
with emergency services.
What happens over time is that Joe Bloggs moves on and Mary
Jane comes in to replace him, at either end, and nobody knows that the change
has been made. The information is stored in someone's brain. That person moves
on and the information is lost. It may be written down somewhere. There may be
some sort of process, and there usually are manuals in newsrooms about these
things. But a database that the states contributed to, that the Commonwealth
contributed to and that broadcasters of all kinds contributed to I think would
solve a lot of the issues that you are concerned about. If you know that I am
sitting on the other end of the phone and that my telephone number is XYZ and
you can ring me 24/7, you are going to pick up the phone and ring me and I am
going to answer it.
Telephone and SMS warnings
Australia's emergency alert system, "Emergency Alert", was
launched in December 2009 and enables state and territory emergency service
organisations (ESOs) to issue telephone-based warnings to both landline and
The Commonwealth Government provided $15 million for the development of
Emergency Alert; participating states and territories (ACT, NSW, Northern
Territory, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland)
are responsible for the ongoing operational and usage costs associated with
Emergency Alert delivers warnings to telephones linked to properties in
an area identified as being at risk.
The location of the telephone to which the emergency warning is sent is
determined using the address associated with the account for that telephone, that
is, Emergency Alert does not determine the physical location of the handset.
Since Emergency Alert became operational it has been used 330 times and
issued approximately 7.12 million messages.
The system has been used in NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, the Northern
Territory and the ACT for a range of emergencies including storm, flood,
tsunami, bushfire, storm surge, chemical incident and missing person
Telstra currently provides the systems for Emergency Alert.
The Emergency Alert solution was designed in accordance with
the Solution Requirements specified by Victoria in consultation with the
participating States and Territories. Telstra provides a managed service and
continues to work closely with government agencies to ensure that Emergency
Alert is a fully robust system that meets the operational needs of the users.
The system is expected to be continually enhanced as the expertise of users and
their requirements increase.
The decision to issue an emergency alert, as well as the content of each
alert and the geographic area where an alert is sent, is determined by state
and territory ESOs.
Numerous other submitters were critical of Emergency Alert: the absence
of a capacity to determine the location of telephone handsets in the alert area,
as well as the need for certain telephone handsets (cordless landline
telephones and mobile telephones) to have access to power and be turned on in
order to receive an alert were of specific concern.
This led to discussion of location-based mobile telephone emergency alerts as
well as other systems and technologies used to issue emergency alerts.
Location-based mobile telephone
emergency warning capability
As discussed above, Emergency Alert does not have the capability to
issue warnings to telephone handsets (specifically mobile phones) on the basis
of the physical location of the handset at the time of an emergency, rather
than the customer’s registered service address.
On 16 September 2011 and during the course of the inquiry, Emergency
Alert was used in the ACT to alert residents in some northern Canberra suburbs
to a toxic chemical fire.
Many Canberrans in the affected area 'complained...they had not received the
early-morning warning to stay inside, despite living in nearby suburbs...Others
received a text message even though they were interstate or overseas'.
This demonstrated some of the difficulties associated with the lack of a
location-based mobile telephone emergency warning capability. However, it is
also important to note that some of the problems associated with the use of
Emergency Alert for the chemical fire arose because the ACT government did not
use Emergency Alert in accordance with the 'Recommended Use Guidelines'.
The NSW State Emergency Service (SES), the Local Government Association
of Queensland (LGAQ), Lake Macquarie City Council, Mr David Tones and Mr Kim
Allen were among those who identified the absence of a capacity to issue
warnings based on the physical location of a handset as a major weakness of
Submitters argued this weakness needed to be addressed so that people 'in the
foot print of an emergency'
receive 'reliable, timely early warning alerts to enable them to prepare for
and respond to natural disasters and other emergencies'.
The governments of NSW, South Australia and the Northern Territory also discussed
some of the limitations of the Emergency Alert system in this regard
but recognised that a telephone emergency alert system is one tool amongst a
suite of tools that should be used to alert members of the community. Mr Bruce
McDonald, Chief Superintendent of the NSW Rural Fire Service stated:
The Emergency Alert system has two functions. It dials
landline telephones based on the service address—that is, the address that the
telephone was physically connected to. That is reasonably successful. For
mobile phones it is based on the billing address which for me would be my
organisation and not my residence. Some of the limitations are that unless the
alerting polygon is drawn around the business address, I will not get a message
no matter where I am.
As an organisation we have only used Emergency Alert on two
occasions. It has had reasonable success, but we also believe that Emergency
Alert is not the panacea to all ills. There needs to be a mixture of Facebook,
Twitter, local media, community doorknocking, community meetings et cetera. Our
experience has shown that different solutions work differently in different
communities. You cannot take one of the suite of tools and isolate it. You must
use all of the tools and whatever is appropriate for the best community
The National Council on Intellectual Disability (NCID) agreed that
telephone warning systems such as Emergency Alert must not be the sole
mechanism by which people are alerted to an emergency, but must be used in the
context of the ability of people with an intellectual disability to receive and
respond to such an alert.
NCID was concerned about people with an intellectual disability physically
receiving an emergency alert, understanding the alert and taking appropriate
action in response to an alert.
To address these concerns, NCID emphasised the need for direct contact with
people with an intellectual disability, including door knocking:
During an emergency or natural disaster a common way in which
people are advised of safety concerns, including the need to evacuate, is
through door knocking. There are important issues with this that must be
- this is a good way to have personal contact with people and to
ensure that the situation and what people should do is understood by the person
with intellectual disability, but,
- for some people it may be difficult to stay calm, anyone
approaching their door may have to spend some time both calming the person and
making sure that the person understands what the situation is and what is
expected of them.
- some people will not open their door to strangers ("use
neighbours if this happens")
- some people do not trust people (even if they see them regularly)
in uncertain or stressful situations – they have a history of being treated
badly by people in authority ("the door knocker should wear a uniform with
an id badge)
Training in disability awareness and communication strategies
for emergency service personnel could also be included in emergency planning.
For example, in NSW the Intellectual Disability Rights Service conducts
education sessions for Police; this is delivered by trainers with intellectual
With respect to community satisfaction with Emergency Alert, a recent
evaluation conducted by the Torrens Resilience Institute, commissioned by the South
Australian Fire and Emergency Services Commission (SAFECOM) and funded by the
Commonwealth Government, surveyed householders to ascertain the level of
satisfaction with the telephone warning system. The survey found that:
- 83 per cent of people received emergency alerts;
- of those who received alerts, 98 per cent said the alert was
delivered in full and 97 per cent said the alert was clear;
84 per cent of people understood and acted upon the emergency
- on receiving an alert, approximately 87 per cent of people said
they would seek further information; and
- 84 per cent said Emergency Alert fully met or exceeded their
The Attorney-General's Department informed the committee:
No emergency warning mechanism is guaranteed to deliver
warnings to all people in a given area at a given point in time. Thus it is
critical that no single mode of warning or communication is relied upon solely,
in times of emergency – either by the public to receive warnings, or by warning
agencies to disseminate them. States and territories have a suite of delivery
mechanisms at their disposal that they may use to issue warnings.
The Attorney-General's Department went on to explain that a
location-based mobile phone emergency alert capability was currently being explored
by the Commonwealth Government in conjunction with the states and territories:
The Commonwealth funding for the development of the national
telephone-based emergency warning capability also provided $1.35 million for
research into the feasibility of developing a location-based mobile telephone
emergency warning capability. This capability would issue warnings to mobile
telephones based on the physical location of the handset at the time of an
emergency, rather than the customer’s registered service address.
Once this research confirmed that development of a
location-based mobile warning capability was technically feasible, on 14 September
2010, the Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP and the Attorney-General
jointly announced that the Commonwealth would assist the States and Territories
to fund the establishment costs associated with the development of the capability
as an enhancement to Emergency Alert and State Alert. As the States and Territories
will own and operate this capability in their capacity as first responders, the
Commonwealth does not have a direct role in the procurement. This process is
being led by Victoria on behalf of the States and Territories.
The timing of the deployment of the location-based mobile
telephone emergency warning capability is subject to negotiations with each of
the three national mobile telecommunications carriers.
Use of other technologies to issue
As discussed above, it was recognised by various submitters to the
inquiry, including state and territory governments, that existing systems for
issuing emergency alerts—such as Emergency Alert—have limitations and are only
part of the solution in ensuring the delivery of timely, accurate and effective
warnings in an emergency situation. As a result, various submitters raised the
use of other technologies such as the internet and social media as well as
devices specifically designed to alert people to an emergency situation.
The internet and social media
Mr David Place, Chief Executive, South Australian Fire and Emergency
Services Commission (SAFECOM) reflected on the increasing use of 'more informal
processes...because [the public] are craving that information and they are not
getting it through the formal channels'.
In response to the public's desire to access information through
"informal" means, the governments of South Australia,
informed the committee they were examining the use of the internet and social
media to deliver emergency information and warnings.
The Bureau of Meteorology explained its increasing use of the internet
to provide weather information and warnings.
The Bureau informed the committee that a recent market survey, conducted in
December 2010, had shown:
...around 53% of respondents had used the Bureau’s website in
the past 6 months. Of these respondents, 35% indicated that the Bureau’s
website was their most valued source of weather information. Knowledge of the
Bureau’s website is steadily increasing with just 15% of respondents unaware of
the Bureau’s website in December 2010, compared with 20% who were unaware of
the site in a separate survey conducted in winter 2009.
The Bureau also informed the committee that it had recently commenced
use of Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds that allow people to subscribe to
warning information. The Bureau explained the RSS service 'alerts users to the
presence of new warning data when it is issued, provided they have a web
browser open on their devices'.
The NSW Government acknowledged the opportunities to disseminate
information using the internet and social media but flagged that care was
needed in the use of these:
It is not just copper, it is optic fibre, it is microwave,
there is Twitter, there is Facebook and the internet. There is a whole range of
technologies so that we have the choice of a lot more and we have to be very
careful about their availability and how we use them.
There has been a lot of focus on alternative technologies,
particularly the alerting system. We see that as really important, but we have
to remember that not all parts of Australia and not everybody is internet savvy
or has a mobile phone. There is still a really important role for the
traditional ways of getting to people: radio and television; and telling people
through education systems to have a battery driven commercial radio and to know
who to listen to is really important.
Similarly, the Australian Psychological Society raised the risk of
misinformation about an emergency being spread 'between friendship networks or
informal networks' on 'public source applications'.
The Psychological Society believed these risks could be minimised by making
available 'up-to-date accurate quality information...distributed from reliable
authoritative sources so that there is a possibility that people can be
cross-checking their information'.
The Attorney-General's Department expressed the federal government's
support for the use of a variety of mechanisms to issue emergency warnings,
including the use of the internet and social media:
States and territories have a suite of delivery mechanisms at
their disposal that they may use to issue warnings. These range from more
traditional methods such as television and radio broadcast, community meetings
and loud hailers to utilising the latest technology, such as mobile texting and
social networking tools.
All Australian governments are supportive of a multi-modal
approach to issuing emergency warnings. Adopting such an approach to warning
the community is crucial in the event of critical infrastructure failure and
also for reasons of saturation and accessibility. It maximises the likelihood
that as many people as possible receive and comprehend a warning regardless of
the activity they are involved in or the mode of communication they are reliant
on or prefer. This in turn makes it more likely that people will be in a
position to take appropriate action to protect against loss of life, or injury,
and mitigate against damage to property.
In response to criticisms of Emergency Alert, and the requirement for
televisions, radios and mobile phones to be turned on, and in the case of
televisions and cordless landline phones to be connected to mains or generator
power in order to receive an emergency warning, the committee was made aware of
several technologies that may overcome some of these problems.
An example of the importance of an emergency alert capacity that wakes
people at night and / or turns on the device to deliver a warning was provided
by the Northern Territory government:
I note with SMSs, they do not wake people up at night. One of
the big weaknesses in the whole system at the moment is if a tsunami comes in
after dark then there is a very good likelihood that we will not be able to
wake people up and alert them to move. This is probably one of the bigger holes
in our alerting system as we speak.
Both the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and the Australian
Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) cited the emergency alert system used in Japan.
Mr Hugh James, Manager, Transmission Services, SBS and Dr David Sutton, Head of
Strategic Policy, ABC described the Japanese model and some possible
implications for Australia:
In the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the relatively
low death toll was a testament to the work done particularly by the Japanese
broadcasters on developing an emergency warning system that is now built into
their radios. The radio sits there, off, and given the tsunami it comes to life
and broadcasts the warning. That is now being put out across South-East Asia,
and Australia should take note of that for the future.
Mr James: It has been developed by the Asian
broadcasting union, particularly in conjunction with the Japanese broadcasters.
They established it as a standard about two years ago. The Japanese have been
using an earlier version of it for some years. My only concern about
implementing it in Australia would be that it probably adds a few dollars to
the cost of a radio, but given that we are moving to digital radios anyway a
few dollars on $100 is relatively small.
Dr Sutton: While I am not exactly a technician I had
an explanation of it when I visited the NHK [Japan Broadcasting Corporation]
labs in Tokyo. Essentially it requires a very thin sliver of broadcasting
spectrum to carry a signal that is able to wake up the device. You then need to
have the necessary chip set in the device to respond to that signal. It would
add a cost and would have to be effectively inserted into radios across the
country, so there would be a fairly substantial replacement that would be
The committee also heard about technologies developed in Australia,
- Sentinel Alert—a dedicated public emergency warning system that
delivers via satellite and VHF channels, and within minutes of initiation of an
alert, an audible, visual and text warning to a receiver unit that can be
installed in homes;
- YellowBird Automatic Linking to Emergency Radio Transmissions
(ALERT)—a method (software and microchip) of using existing radio broadcast infrastructure
to remotely switch on radios, and other mobile devices, in the event of an emergency
to deliver emergency warnings.
Both Sentinel Alert and YellowBird ALERT utilise location-based
emergency warning capability to deliver emergency alerts to people in the
footprint of an emergency.
Emergency warnings and
telecommunication arrangements for people with a disability
The arrangements for people with a disability during times of emergency,
including the impact of an emergency on communication services for people with
a disability as well as emergency warning and evacuation procedures for people
with a disability, were the subject of discussion during the course of the
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) was
particularly concerned about 'the accessibility of emergency call services and
emergency information to people with disability' and the difficulties
encountered in this regard by people with a disability during the 2010-11
Ms Danielle Fried, Disability Policy Advisor for ACCAN described
disruptions to the National Relay Service (NRS) as a result of the Queensland
...the flood affected the operations of the Australian
Communication Exchange, including the National Relay Service, or NRS—a phone
solution for people who are deaf, hearing impaired or speech impaired. Staff
were unable to reach or work safely at the call centre, which is in Brisbane.
The NRS worked closely with Telstra and the ACMA to ensure that emergency calls
via the 106 emergency number could continue, and this meant that people with
disability who use a TTY—a specialised telephone with a keyboard—were still
able to make emergency calls. However, other people with disabilities
throughout Australia—those who rely on the National Relay Service's Speak and
Listen and internet relay services and the Australian Communication Exchange's
video relay and caption telephony services—were not able to make emergency
calls for around 24 hours. All NRS users throughout the country were not able
to make calls to the SES either throughout this period.
ACCAN praised the work of the ACMA and Telstra for working 'in difficult
circumstances' to 'ensure that the 106 service remained available throughout
the almost 24 hours that other NRS call types were offline' for people who are
deaf, hearing-impaired or speech-impaired and who use a teletypewriter (TTY) to
make calls to emergency services.
ACCAN was very concerned, however, that "Speak and Listen" and
internet relay users were unable 'to call emergency services at all during this
To address the disruption to emergency call services for Speak and
Listen and internet relay users, ACCAN recommended the ACMA ensure that:
- The National Relay Service (NRS)
emergency site is in a location which is less prone to floods (or other risks)
- Users of the NRS’s internet relay
and Speak and Listen services have guaranteed access to 000 at all times
- Users of ACE’s Video Relay and
captioned telephony services have guaranteed access to 000 and that these
services are incorporated into the legal framework for emergency calls
- Greater legal and regulatory
obligations are required of the 106 Emergency Call Person (ECP), in order to
provide stronger protections for consumers
- Emergency service organisations
can call back all 000 or 106 users, regardless of the method initially used to
At its meeting inaugural on 11 November 2011, the Standing Council on
Police and Emergency Management (SCPEM) agreed to implement improvements to
Triple Zero emergency call services
- the adoption of national phone numbers for State Emergency
Services and police assistance;
the development of national standardised qualifications for
Triple Zero call takers;
the introduction of recorded voice announcements (RVAs) directing
people who have called Triple Zero to call state or territory emergency
services, or police assistance if they do not require urgent assistance from
police, fire or ambulance; and
- examining the establishment of an "all hazards"
emergency information hotline to provide a single number to call about
information for floods, bushfire and other serious events.
However, SCPEM did not undertake to make changes to Triple Zero call
services for people with a disability.
ACCAN also raised access to emergency information for people with a
disability. Ms Fried cited the use of an Australian sign language (Auslan)
interpreter by the Queensland state government during the 2010–11 floods as an
During the floods, we saw the Queensland government take the
welcome decision to provide Auslan interpretation for the deaf community at
emergency related media conferences. Unfortunately some TV networks initially
chose to cut the interpreter out of their broadcast. ACCAN would like to see
all state emergency communication strategies include Auslan-English
interpreters in public broadcasts and all broadcasters include the
interpretation on air. Broadcast emergency information also needs to be open
captioned, and any written information on the screen, such as scrolling ticker
tape or emergency phone numbers, has to be read out audibly so that viewers who
are blind or vision impaired have access to this important information.
ACCAN wanted to see the routine use of Auslan interpreters and envisaged
a two part strategy to bring this to fruition:
- the provision of Auslan interpretation as part of emergency plan
strategies at the local, state and national level; and
- a requirement for free-to-air television broadcasters to
broadcast the Auslan interpreter when broadcasting emergency warnings and
The ABC explained that it had been considering the use of Auslan
interpreters during emergency warning broadcasts. Mr Michael Ward, Head,
Operations Planning, ABC informed the committee:
Mr Ward: Yes, we have thought about it. In fact, we
have had some approaches since the Queensland floods. There are a number of
issues, though, that need to be taken into account. You may recall that, during
the floods, someone was providing Auslan signing at some of the broadcasts
during the Queensland floods.
Senator BOYCE: That was at the Premier's and the
police commissioner's press conferences?
Mr Ward: That is right. But there was also some
criticism that, at times, the framing of the coverage did not include the
person doing the signing. Just to go back to your question about cooperation,
one point of cooperation is shared footage, pooled footage, so not every
broadcaster is at every point and will share the footage from a news
conference, for example. If another broadcaster has framed it in such a way
that it has left the signing out, then clearly we would not be able to
broadcast it. There was also a request to look at picture [in] picture kind of
signing. There are two difficulties with that. So, at this stage, all I have is
difficulties for you. It is certainly one that we are talking through. The
difficulties concern spectrum. You require more spectrum and, currently,
spectrum is at a premium. Secondly, you would have—
Senator BOYCE: That is something for the picture [in]
Mr Ward: That is right, but not if it is live. One of
the things here is guaranteeing that service. If we say we are going to do it,
then we will do it. So we could not say we are going to do it, then take
someone else's pool of footage live from an event, for example, and not have
it. That would be a real problem for us. So the kind of technology solution
starts to present itself. Spectrum issues arise and so, too, would the
availability of someone who is able to do the signing at another point. Then
there is the cost of providing that. At this stage it is in, if not the
too-hard basket, certainly the very difficult basket and I do not quite know
how to solve it. Plus, of course, all of that coverage is captured and live
Ms Julie Flynn, Chief Executive Officer, FreeTV Australia responded on
behalf of commercial free-to-air television broadcasters to ACCAN's concern:
On Auslan, we are very strongly of the view that if the
emergency service provider or the police or the Queensland Premier or the New
South Wales Premier or the Victorian Premier wish to provide Auslan coverage we
will make sure that it is within frame. That did not happen at the beginning of
the Queensland floods.
As I have said, we have a very close working relationship
with the hearing and deaf community and they got in touch with me—I was on
holidays—and I got in touch with the broadcasters and within the hour the
matter was repaired. So we are more than happy to ensure that processes are in
place for Auslan to be captured. We think it is totally impractical to expect
broadcasters to provide such and we certainly would not support the need for
the provision of such in the news bulletins when we are already legislated to
provide closed captioning.
A related concern, regarding the ability of people with an intellectual
disability to understand and respond to an evacuation order, was raised by
NCID. NCID explained that not only do people with an intellectual disability
need to understand an emergency alert but they also need to be able to respond:
People have to be able to undertake the action; for example,
if the text message, radio message, etc is to evacuate and the person does not
have a car or public transport has stopped the person may become anxious and disorientated.
Most people with an intellectual disability rely on public
transport or the assistance of others. Suggestions that people leave their
neighbourhood including evacuation orders will cause difficulty for people who
have no transport and may cause distress and panic as they are unable to do as
they have been asked.
The dissemination of emergency warnings in Australia via radio,
television and telephone / SMS (Emergency Alert and StateAlert) is and will
continue to be an important and effective tool to alert communities to
emergencies and impending natural disasters.
Effective and co-operative working relationships between ESOs and radio
and television broadcasters improve the timely and accurate dissemination of
emergency warnings and information. The committee believes that agreements,
such as MOUs, that establish the way in which ESOs and broadcasters share
information during an emergency are a welcome development. However, the
committee agrees with CRA and FreeTV Australia that up-to-date contact details
for key personnel would assist both ESOs and broadcasters to establish contact
with one another during an emergency.
3.63 The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government together with
national, state and territory emergency service organisations and radio and
television broadcasters, develop a secure database of up-to-date contact
details for key personnel to be used during an emergency.
The committee welcomes continued improvements to the Emergency Alert
system, specifically the development of a location-based mobile telephone
emergency warning capability. The committee urges Australian governments to
implement a location-based mobile telephone emergency capability as soon as
practicable so that telephone emergency alerts can be better targeted to those
people located in the geographic area of an emergency.
The committee recognises the community's increasing desire to access
information through the use of new and "informal" platforms, for
example the internet and social media, and was pleased to hear that several
state and territory governments are already taking steps to provide emergency information
in these ways. The committee encourages federal, state and territory
governments and ESOs to use these platforms to further engage with the
community during each phase of an emergency (preparation, response and
However, the committee agrees with those submitters that indicated the
use of new platforms should be an adjunct to and not a replacement for existing
emergency warning systems. A suite of tools should be used to alert the
community to an emergency, in recognition of the different ways in which people
are able to or choose to access such information.
In regard to emergency alert systems used overseas, such as the Japanese
example, as well as other technologies like Sentinel and YellowBird ALERT, the
committee is of the view that genuine and careful consideration of their
applicability in the Australian context is warranted. In this regard, the
committee notes that SCPEM agreed on 11 November 2011 'to continue to harness
the latest scientific and technical expertise by conducting another' technology
forum in 2012 and that the theme for the 2012 forum will 'be public warning and
communication systems and situational awareness'.
Emergency telecommunication services and the effective dissemination of
emergency alerts to people with a disability are vital. The committee was
surprised to learn that the guarantees around service delivery for emergency Triple
Zero phone calls are not also required for emergency call services available to
people with a disability using TTY, Speak and Listen, internet relay, video
relay and captioning telephony. The committee believes that emergency call
services for people with a disability must be available at all times, as is the
emergency Triple Zero service. This is particularly important during times of
emergency when people with a disability may be more vulnerable and isolated
than the wider community.
3.69 The committee recommends the Commonwealth Government require guaranteed
access to emergency call services for people with a disability at all times.
The committee understands the provision of Auslan interpreters for
emergency warnings and information broadcast on free-to-air television is a
recent innovation. The committee praises the Queensland state government for
taking this step during the 2010-11 floods in that state. The committee was
also encouraged to hear that the ABC is considering the provision of Auslan
services during emergency information broadcasts despite technical difficulties
to do so.
The committee urges federal, state and territory governments and ESOs to
consider the routine use of Auslan interpreters during emergency information
bulletins and warnings broadcast on television. Equally, the committee hopes
that public and commercial free-to-air television broadcasters undertake to
show Auslan interpreters as part of their emergency information and warning
Community preparedness and responsibility
Community preparedness and responsibility were identified by some submitters
as important factors in the ability of communities to prepare for, respond to
and recover from an emergency effectively.
The South Australian government felt community expectations about where
responsibility for emergency preparedness lay had shifted so that a greater
emphasis was placed on the provision of information and support by government,
at the expense of resilience in the community:
There seems to be an increasing expectation upon governments
to provide the perfect information at the perfect time and in a manner that is
perfectly tailored for each individual recipient. This is clearly not
achievable and certainly not sustainable. If we are not careful, we will create
an expectation that all responsibility rests with government, which is not in
the best interests of community resilience. Resilience is achieved through a
partnership between all levels of government, the community and business.
This was also noted in the Torrens Resilience Institute's evaluation of
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing governments,
organisations and communities today is satisfying society's needs and
expectations in the event of a disaster...Over the past few decades we have
benefitted greatly from improvements to our safety and occupational health, and
we look to our governments and others in authority to mitigate threats and
reduce risks. We demand information to assist us in reducing the likelihood and
consequences of a disruptive event, and we expect support to help us recover as
quickly and completely as possible.
Professor Kevin Ronan, Chair, Disaster Reference Group, Australian
Psychological Society discussed the importance of community preparedness and
emergency warnings in combination:
A warning message on its own, from our view and from the
research that has accumulated over the years, no matter how well crafted, is
insufficient. A community has to be...prepared to take up the message in such a
way that they are going to be able to use it to protect themselves and their
families. One of the things we know about warning messages, for example, is
that a finely crafted warning message can be sent to the public and members of
the public who are not in risk areas, who are in fact in safe zones, and their
high state of emotional arousal starts to compromise their decision-making
capacity and they in fact move themselves from a safe zone into a higher hazard
zone, or a high risk zone. In order to buttress against that kind of
eventuality, it is really important that the human factor is taken into account
prior to the need for an early warning and helping prepare communities
themselves and also, really importantly, preparing across the various agencies
that are somehow linked in with a warning message so that they are collectively
all on the same page and are going to be providing the same kind of information
that is consistent, accurate, clear, specific and provides specific guidance
that is being put out by multiple sources that are trusted by the public.
Both the ABC and SBS saw it as their role to help prepare Australian
communities for emergencies and natural disasters. Mr Anthony Rasmussen,
Manager, Regional Local Radio described the activities of ABC Local Radio to
assist in the preparation phase:
Our approach is that we are with our communities before,
during and after emergencies. In the 'before' part in particular, we make a
point of seasonally running education campaigns through various short
promotions on the radio at a regular frequency so that we are educating people
to what that alert sounds like on the radio, what they should do when they hear
it, how they can prepare their homes, how they can prepare an escape plan and
things like that. We run those in the lead-up to seasonal events like cyclones
and the bushfire seasons, and all our stations run those on a regular basis in
the lead-up to what might be a time when people will need to know that
information. Hopefully they will not need to put it into practice, but we
certainly run promotional campaigns in that 'before' period.
Mr Hugh James, Manager, Transmission Services, SBS noted that emergency
alerts issued on ABC radio are all in English and went on to discuss the SBS's
role in educating non-English speakers about emergency warnings and how to
appropriately respond to those warnings.
The NSW and South Australian state governments also highlighted the
importance of community preparedness and responsibility, in particular the need
for communities to partner with ESOs to enable effective preparation for,
response to and recovery from emergencies:
Mr Place: ...there needs to be more emphasis on
community self-reliance. It seems as though, when we take a step forward with each
new product, the community takes a step back and just expects it to happen. I
think there is a very concerted behavioural change issue. This is a
partnership. We can supply some of the infrastructure in government. We can
supply some of the education and the knowledge and the tools to do it but,
without a partner from the community, we cannot respond to everywhere. We
cannot have a fire truck or a message out on every corner on every day when
there is a major incident.
Mr Gates: I think there is an important point that
South Australia make, and [Mr Andrew Edwards, NSW State Emergency Service] and [Mr Bruce McDonald,
NSW Rural Fire Service] referred to it as well, about the mix of technologies.
Looking at the emergency alerting system at night, if you can target a
landline, you have a good chance of waking people up. That message, to pick up
what Northern Territory said, might simply be, 'Hey, wake up and listen to your
radio.' What the Northern Territory said about the timing of that message is
important, but then South Australia also said part of the message might be,
'Check your neighbours.' Andrew made a comment to me while you were asking that
question about the overreliance on technology. Technology is really important
and we have to use it, but, to be effective, we have to rely on some good old
community values. People need to be able to talk to one another. As much as I
hate to say it, if this increasing trend in the number of emergencies
continues, there is a limit to how government can respond. We have to respond
as best we can, but the community has to respond as best they can too. Maybe we
need to get back to basics and do some basic emergency training exercises and
emergency education so that people know what to do in an emergency—who to ring,
what to listen to and how to react.
Mr McDonald: That takes us down the path of community
engagement. We believe that, beyond community education, there is community
engagement, which will build the resilience of communities. As I said before,
different communities react differently to different triggers. It is about
working with those communities and understanding what their triggers are, what
systems they are going to use and making that appropriate.
Community preparedness and responsibility are key factors in determining
the resilience of a community to emergencies and natural disasters, and their
subsequent ability to recover from such an event.
The committee acknowledges the challenges faced by ESOs as communities
place increasing responsibility and expectations on governments to provide
information and support during times of emergency: ESOs cannot be everywhere,
all the time. The committee agrees that the public must be an active partner
and actively participate in each phase of an emergency if communities are to
effectively prepare, respond and recover. Regular, ongoing public education
well in advance of an emergency (for example, at the start of each bushfire or
flood season) should be used as an opportunity to teach the public about their
responsibilities during an emergency and how they can appropriately prepare
themselves for such an event.
3.81 The committee recommends emergency service organisations in
collaboration with television and radio broadcasters, the print media and other
relevant organisations, use regular and ongoing public education well in
advance of an emergency situation as an opportunity to teach the public about
their responsibilities during an emergency and how they can appropriately
prepare themselves for such an event.
Further, the committee welcomes the suggestion by state ESOs that a
sense of community and "good old community values" help build
community resilience and foster a sense of responsibility amongst communities.
Unfortunately, however, it is difficult for governments to
"manufacture" a sense of community and community values. Despite the
devastation and tragedy experienced by so many Australians, perhaps the silver
lining from recent natural disasters has been an increased awareness in
affected communities about the importance of good relationships between members
of that community and the community's ability to effectively support one
another and work together during the preparation, response and recovery phases
of an emergency.
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