First up my thoughts go out to those directly impacted by the fires.
I found myself in a location that could have been at risk yesterday but thankfully we escaped with little more than some smoke and a glow on the horizon. We also has a near miss with some roof iron that fell from the smoke cloud meters from us but really compared to some of the stories it was nothing, a story for another day.
This post is to point out a problem I see with our emergency communication within Victoria and the growth of the real-time internet.
I’ve found that Twitter has been the best source of information for the fires. Two useful hashtag have been setup #vicfires and #bushfires. These two feeds have had the most up to date information. @774melbourne deserves a special mention as their tweets come from CFA and DSE and are very accurate.
The CFA and DSE sites haven’t handled the load, the following is the message on the DSE site
Please note – due to unprecedented demand on this website, DSE is requesting that people who do not need to access this information for reasons of personal safety, please refrain from doing so.
What this tells me is that the Victorian Government websites cannot handle an event that causes Victorians to go online looking for information in a large number. This concerns me, and it should concern all Victorians. How would the government infrastructure hold up if Victoria has an event that directly affects all of us? Where would we go for up to date information?
Due to the limited availability of the official communication channels others have set up their own. Google Australia has the best I’ve seen so far at http://mapvisage.appspot.com/fires/FireMap.html
Why are the DSE and CFA not using Google maps as part of their reporting? Why do we have two disparate reporting systems on fire locations and even naming conventions and categorisations?
A friend of mine was involved in the fires last week, he stayed to protect his property. At one point a CFA truck came up to his house to ask for directions, they were not local and only had paper maps and a compass! How can we send these guys out to fight fires in the 21st century without even giving them a basic GPS? Shouldn’t they be equipped with full 2 way GPS so the the fire controllers and command centres can see exactly where every resource is at any time? I know this costs money but really if Taxis and couriers can have it then why not our fire fighters! I’m certain that this would save lives.
Now that the internet is many people’s primary information source how does it fit within the Government’s emergency response plan? The call centres are overloaded, TV too slow to update, the radio stations do an OK job but the information is sometimes difficult to visualise, in my case I was in an unfamiliar part of the state so the points of reference like roads, towns, and mountains didn’t mean very much.
This is not a criticism of the fantastic work that the fire fighters have done and continue to do, I fully support them. I do believe that our State and Federal governments can do more to support them and use technology sensibly to provide the community and the emergency services with accurate and up to date information they need when dealing with these situations.