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Better technology may have saved lives in Victorian bushfires

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The Royal Commission into Victoria's recent bushfires that killed 173 people heard the state faced Black Saturday with “unrealistic optimism”, with Victorian police revealing they couldn't use the communications system in areas worst affected by the fires and that if such a bushfire were to be repeated, the same problems would exist, a number of media reports have stated.

This sombre assessment is also supported by a leading vendor of disaster and recovery communications technology - Adtec Communications, which believes that so many people died on Black Saturday not only because of the intense and fast moving fires, but also because of the use of “inappropriate technology by emergency services and the fact that the technology was overwhelmed”.

Mr. Jeremy Sharp, Managing Director of Adtec Communications, which supplies its ALERTS mission-critical emergency communications software to the likes of SES Victoria, South Australian Country Fire Service and Metropolitan Fire Service, the Australian Federal Police, Department of Environment WA, WorkCover NSW, and various health authorities believes that “173 people are dead not only because of a huge and ferocious bushfire but also due to the fact that the communications technology used by the emergency personnel was unsuitable and swamped to the point of rendering it ineffectual”.

“The 000 system was also totally overwhelmed. This was mainly caused by callers simply seeking information and updates, said Mr. Sharp, adding that, “a series of voice messages relayed to resident's phones would have negated the necessity for them to ring 000 or at least, greatly reduced the number of inbound calls.”
Mr. Sharp points out that, “a greater tragedy is that a number of emergency service operators (ESOs) were using unsuitable technology, when more appropriate technology that has already been tried and tested is available.”

Adtec's Jeremy Sharp notes that one excuse given for the lack of warnings was that authorities believed it would lead to mass panic and clogged roads. “However, a series of composed, properly escalated and targeted warnings could have been given with the use of appropriate technology, resulting in relatively controlled and orderly evacuations,” he says.

“Australia is a vast country and we do have a disproportionate number of natural disasters. To ensure that we can overcome them with minimum loss our ESOs need to be equipped with the most appropriate combination of robust communication technology,” said Mr. Sharp.
Mr. Sharp also says that in mid 2008, his company contacted a large number of local authorities in Australia offering information about their emergency early warning system, however “there were no takers”.

“I can't speculate as to why this was the case, but as we have all seen, the repercussions of inappropriate communications technology can be devastating,” he concluded.

For more information on emergency communications software, visit Adtec Communications

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