Alert glitch as bushfire bore down
AN emergency SMS warning system failed to alert residents in the path of an outof-control bushfire.
Homeowners in South Maroota, in northwest Sydney, claim a “dangerous glitch” in the national Emergency Alert system kept them in the dark as a blaze threatened their semi-rural blocks.
With the bushfire bearing down on houses in Gallaghers Rd last Saturday, locals revealed they didn’t receive text message warnings while others living up to 15km away were alerted.
Jessica Beckingham said she and most of her neighbours weren’t notified on their mobile phones of the unfolding emergency.
“It’s supposed to be a safety measure — a headsup,” Ms Beckingham said.
“It’s that awful feeling of ‘what if?’.
“Emotion has now given way to the preliminary anger and fear for the fact that it failed.”
A 16-year Gallaghers Rd resident, Ms Beckingham and her husband were 30 minutes from her home when they first heard of the bushfire from a neighbour holidaying in Queensland.
The couple then raced back to South Maroota, with a late afternoon storm saving properties from a potentially devastating loss.
Mum-of-two Hannah Millward was grocery shopping when her neighbour phoned to tell her she had seen flames 100m from her kitchen window.
“You’d think the government would take this seriously and get to the bottom of why we are not all warned with an SMS, when others clearly were,” Ms Millward said. “It’s a dangerous glitch that can be fatal.”
The national alert system is designed to send text messages to mobile phones registered at an address or in a geographic area.
The NSW Rural Fire Service is one of a number of government agencies that uses the service to warn those in an emergency situation.
An RFS spokesman said an emergency warning was issued on Saturday afternoon and was one of a “suite of tools” used including the website, social media, the Bush Fire Information Line, notification to general media and information provided by firefighters in the area.
“As part of our public awareness campaigns, the service is always strong on the point that residents need to seek information from more than one source, as sometimes fires start and spread so quickly that there is no time for a warning,” the spokesman said.
Maroota blaze … residents didn't receive alerts. Picture: Glenorie Rural Fire Service