Vodafone Hutchson Australia has joined the Federal Government's Emergency Alert program, agreeing to distribute location-based SMS messages to customers during disasters.
The carrier is the second to sign on to deliver such alerts to customers, joining Telstra which has been contracted to enhance the national Emergency Alert telephone warning system with geo-location technology for mobile users.
The existing system is capable of sending SMS alerts to users based only on their registered address with a carrier, not on whether they happen to be in the vicinity of an unfolding emergency.
Emergencies such as a toxic chemical leak in Canberra last year saw users with residential addresses in the vicinity of the leak warned of danger, even if they were overseas.
At the same time, phone users whose registered address was outside the emergency area - but who found themselves in the area that day - failed to receive a warning and risked chemical exposure.
One of the main advantages of the location-based SMS Emergency Warning System is that, in addition to providing a warning system to local residents, it enables SMS alerts to be delivered to international and domestic visitors who find themselves exposed to potential danger.
“The new system will require a significant amount of development and testing, including work by emergency services,” VHA's general manager of industry strategy and public policy Matthew Lobb said.
Nationwide, Telstra customers reportedly account for about 45 percent of all mobile subscribers.
Vodafone’s agreement brings the Emergency Alert coverage up a further 24 percent to just under 70 percent.
The Victorian Government has led negotiations with telecommunications carriers to join the Federal scheme, on behalf of all states and territories.
Telstra will roll out location-based SMS services by November this year, with Vodafone to offer the same service by November 2013.
So far, the Federal Government has invested $26.5 million on Emergency Alert.
A spokesman for the Attorney-General's department declined to put a total figure on how much it would cost to introduce geo-location across all mobile networks.
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