Technology not key in disaster warnings

AFAC CEO, Naomi Brown claims community participation and education are key to emergency warnings

The role of technology in emergency warnings and procedures is not key to their success, the chief executive of the Australasian Fire Authorities Council (AFAC) has said.

At a public hearing into the capacity of communication networks and emergency warning systems to deal with emergencies and natural disasters, AFAC CEO, Naomi Brown, said that while technology played a part in warnings and the dissemination of information, the system was made up of many elements including community participation and education, without which the warnings “aren’t particularly useful”.

“We have obviously a huge interest in the criticality of warnings and issuing information, it’s now a major feature of managing emergencies and it’s very much because community expectation has risen exponentially and the access to the technology that everybody has enables that,” Brown said.

Despite this, Brown said there is much hope that the National Broadband Network (NBN) will make data more accessible for emergency agencies to improve warning systems.

“One of the things emergency agencies increasingly need is data for all sorts of reasons and with what’s available now it can be hard to come by and fails a lot,” she said.

“Hopefully it will improve in two ways, both in getting the intelligence from wherever the disaster is relying on data-heavy applications and also community expectations to see events in real time ... so yes, there is hope and expectation [for the NBN].”

Brown also alluded to possible pricing gouging by telcos around the issue of spectrum, noting it was “a fraught issue” with continued concerns around the cost of allocation in the 700MHz spectrum.

“As a bottom line there really is a common view that there is a great need to access broadband and to have speed and interoperability,” she said.

“Then in the 800 [MHz] band there’s a feeling that it’s already very crowded ... there isn’t one view but there is great interest [in the issue of spectrum] and the need to actually have the capacity whether it’s allocated in the 700 band or the 800 band. It’s a very tricky issue.”

Commenting on the issue of spectrum and price gouging, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) claimed there should not be a dedicated national emergency services network based on the 700MHz spectrum, as such a network would cost tax payers billions and deprive industry of valuable spectrum.

Althaus also said it was best left to the market to decide the capacity and cost provided during a disaster.

“The recent range of unfortunate events from the 2009 bushfires through to the floods and Cyclone Yasi saw the industry, and particularly the three primary carriers, respond as they do at considerable cost,” he said at the time.

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