Alert glitch as bush­fire bore down

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - MI­RANDA WOOD SE­NIOR WRITER

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

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