Tasmania in the cold over national warning system

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Tasmania in the cold over national warning system

Failed trial exposes telco infrastructure shortcomings.

The Tasmanian Government has warned of its inability to rely on a national emergency warning system established following the Victorian bushfires in 2009.

In a recent submission [pdf] to the Senate inquiry into emergency communications, the state government pointed to its support for the national Emergency Alert system, established on December 1 2009, as an "important tool" in warning citizens.

But it used the submission largely to flesh out concerns about using the system in a real emergency.

In particular, it pointed to one trial exercise in which the system took 20 minutes to deliver emergency warning messages to 255 households, despite claims the system was capable of delivering 1000 messages a minute.

Poor capacity at telecommunications infrastructure in the state was blamed, and the government said that similar responsiveness was likely in a real emergency.

"The issue for the Tasmanian Government is that we do not have information on the capacity of exchanges in various areas, so we are unable to take into account the likely impacts on the timeliness of the landline voice message delivery in a particular area," it said.

The government was also wary of extraneous factors preventing the system from working optimally, including in mobile reception blackspots, power outages, damaged telco infrastructure and due to incorrect telephone details.

As a result, the government had told communities not to "rely on receiving a message at the time of an emergency" over the system.

The national system has, to date, delivered 7 million messages on 308 occasions throughout most states since becoming operational.

Western Australia and Tasmania were yet to successfully use the system during a real emergency.

In a separate submission to the inquiry, the NSW Government [pdf] indicated its own hesitancy to rely on the warning system in emergencies.

While also supportive of it, the NSW government had erected its own, opt-in emergency warning system for the Sydney and North Sydney CBDs, allowing emergency wardens and security staff to receiving critical emergency information.

Concerns have recently grown around whether the Emergency Alert system was optimal for use by federal and state governments in the event of emergency.

The use of a telephone-based system had drawn ire from those who argued a radio system, such as that pushed by Australian National University researchers, would overcome many of the alleged shortcomings of the current system.

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