Effective emergency warnings

Emergency Management Australia has asked the Victorian Department of Justice to review Australia’s national warning system, to come up with best practice.

http://www.em.gov.au/Fundinginitiatives/NationalEmergencyManagementProjects/Pages/NationalEmergencyManagementProjects20132014.aspx

The review is underway and should be finished by the end of the year.

Emergency warnings are now common-place in Australia and the community has come to expect them, and agencies which do not provide warnings are quickly the subject of stringent review, including and up to Royal Commissions. The next step is to ensure the warnings are effective.

In my experience, and based on research from my favorite authors, Miletti and Sorenson, Handmer, McClennan and Paton, this would be a template for an effective warning.

We will test this against some of the warnings issued over the next few months.

The event

  • What’s happening?
  • What’s going to happen?
  • How serious is this?
  • What’s it mean for me?
  • When is it happening?
  • What should I do?
  • Where can I get more information?
  • How can I help my community?

The delivery

  • Immediately
  • Repeatedly
  • Updated
  • By a strong trusted local voice
  • With verification
  • Simultaneously on a variety of platforms several of which should be available to the recipient

The basis

  •  Be based on research
  • The community must know what to do when it hears a warning
  • Be part of our community culture
  • Be comprehensive
  • Be reliable
  • Be consistent
  • Be integrated with all warning platforms and options.
  • Be reviewed, assessed and constantly improved.

 

How do people want their emergency advice?

There is a great deal of focus at present on providing the right advice to the community before, during and after emergencies – in the right way, at the right time and in language and format people can understand, even in the face of a calamity.

But are we considering the community needs, or the emergency agency needs?

Research in Far North Queensland by Sandy Astills [astills@optusnet.com.au] suggests sometimes it will be useful to look more carefully at how emergency agencies and disseminators are delivering information.

The Australian Journal of Emergency Management contained an article https://ajem.infoservices.com.au/items/AJEM-29-03-09 on these dilemma’s by Sandy, and she then spoke to ABC Local Radio Far North Qld broadcaster Richard Dinnen, on July 23, 2014.

 

PNG Disasters

I visited PNG to discuss “emergency broadcasting.” As part of my preparation I built up a little knowledge about the disaster situation in that country.

PNG has about 7 million residents and a fantastic rate of population growth, but in places there is great poverty.

Emergencies are dealt with largely by provincial governments and responders, some of which are quite sophisticated, others are still developing.Communications are reasonable, although for the vast majority of people the web is too costly to access, so texting is widely used in the cities. Many villages have no access to reliable power, although the bigger centres are probabloy okay for most of the time.

The media is vibrant; the health sector has just been flooded with new cases after the Government made hospital visits free. I read a story saying next year the country will be introducing pensions for aged people with disabilities The extra money is coming from the mining development sector.

Disasters

The principal disasters confronting the community of PNG are floods and cyclones, which each year result in a large number of people being displaced, a small number of injuries and occasional deaths, and devastation to agriculture and subsistence farming.

In addition PNG has five active and two dormant volcanoes.

Earthquakes

PNG lies on the “Pacific Rim of Fire” and experiences earthquakes weekly in the mountain regions (circ 3.5-4.5 Richter scale), a few of which each year result in landslips which impact on local communication tracks roads and utilities. Occasionally higher magnitude earthquakes are recorded.

The seismic image map of PNG by the US Geological Survey (Below) shows probable recurrence of seismic activity.

http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/world/png/gshap.php

There have been 18 earthquakes greater than magnitude 6.6 (When damage and deaths are thought likely to begin to occur) since 1995[1] but only two resulted in fatalities (total, 6 people).

Tsunami

There is great fear in PNG that tsunami will impact on coastal communities. They are known within oral history but are extremely rare. Most catastrophic tsunami throughout the world are generated by earthquakes greater than magnitude 7, off shore, however the two tsunami which created great damage in PNG were not. The Aitape tsunami (1998) was created when an onshore earthquake created a land slump under the ocean, with much damage caused because of the unique canyon nature of the off shore area funnelling water across the coast.

The other tsunami was (1888) was generate buy a collapsing volcano.

The common fear grows from the tsunami which impacted on the coastal communities of Aitape region in July 1998 10-25 minutes after a magnitude 7 earthquake. At least 2,183 people were killed, thousands injured, about 9,500 homeless and about 500 missing as a result of a tsunami generated in the Sissano area.

Maximum wave heights were estimated at 15 meters. Several villages were completely destroyed and others extensively damaged.

The tsunami comprised three waves, each estimated to be about 4m high. The second of the three waves rose to a height of 10-15 m above sea level after it had crossed the shoreline and caused most damage. The greatest damage was in the villages of Arop and Warapu which were removed almost without trace, leaving only the concrete foundation slabs of churches and classrooms.

The Aitape tsunami was the worst natural disaster in the history of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, and compares with the catastrophic eruption of Mount Lamington in January 1951, in which 3000 people were killed. Since the beginnings of written history in this region, the Aitape tsunami is exceeded in impact by only the 1888 tsunami, triggered by the collapse of Ritter Island volcano.

Recent tsunami in the Solomon Islands (6 Feb, 2013) which killed 10 people and displaced 6000 others[2], also generated great fear that similar events can occur in PNG, and the Japanese tsunami of March 11, 2011, created small marine waves that washed up across the entire Pacific, including onshore in PNG, but there was no damage.

Volcanoes

Papua New Guinea has the most active volcanoes in the South West Pacific. Its most active volcanoes include Manam, Karkar, Lamington, Langila, Ulawun, Rabaul and Bagana.

In 1951, within four to five days of the initial signs of unrest, Mount Lamington in Oro Province erupted, killing 3,000 people.

UNDP, RVO and officials in PNG’s Northern Province have worked on contingency plans for Mount Lamington. An estimated 40,000 people would have to be evacuated if it erupts again, and some of the communities have no roads.

The Rabaul Volcanological Observatory (RVO) has been funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) since 1995 after the Rabaul volcano erupted and destroyed most of the town. It monitors eight of the country’s most active, high risk volcanos and receives daily reports and sends people for closer monitoring if there are reports of unrest.

RVO, working with provincial disaster officers, also conducts awareness programmes with populations around high-risk volcanoes, including Lamington, Ulawun, Pago, Karkar, Manam, Langila, Garbuna and Bagana.

Cyclones and floods

Recent disasters have included floods in April 2014 caused by Tropical Cyclone Ita (which killed 26 people in the Solomon Islands and reached the Australian mainland category 5). Widespread flooding in the islands of Milne Bay displaced 15,000 people.

Other major recent events include January 2013[3]: Heavy rainfall since the begin of the cyclone season in November 2012 has resulted in floods and landslides affecting homes, food gardens, water sources and infrastructure in several provinces of Papua New Guinea. Estimates from a range of sources indicate that up to 35,000 people might be affected.

Also in May 2013 it was reported by the aid agency Oxfam the flooding situation in Papua New Guinea’s East Sepik province reached “crisis point.” Seven people were confirmed dead and about 11,500 people have been affected by flooding along the Sepik River.[4]

Also in January 2013 the Red Cross reported[5] 27,000 flood-affected people in Papua New Guinea’s Oro Province remain in desperate need of basic items like food and clean drinking water. This was flooding which started in November 2012.

On May 25, 2010 it was reported[6] an estimated 20,000 people in remote parts of East Sepik Province, northwestern Papua New Guinea, were affected by floods – the worst in 40 years – along the Sepik River. It was added in the report that “residents have been able to sustain themselves with minimum levels of outside support thanks to traditional coping mechanisms.”

Worst affected were Angoram, Ambunti and Wosara-Gowi districts

Health  epidemics

The World Health Organisation reports[7] PNG has the worst health status in the Pacific region and ranks 153rd of 187 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index, worse than Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Tuberculosis, malaria and other communicable diseases cause 62% of deaths nationwide.

Only 33% of rural people have access to clean water, a major factor in the 2009 cholera outbreak that affected 14,000 people (more than 50 deaths) while diarrhoea is the seventh bigger killer and a measles outbreak in 2014 was reported as “an epidemic.”

Disaster information

Local news outlets in PNG report in an ad hoc way on disasters and emergencies. The PNG National Broadcasting Corporation provides consistent coverage at times, but is not always able to provide useful information to enable the community to prepare, or warnings which will enable it to respond as a disaster unfolds. It has a project in place to rectify this.

Technically NBC is in a position to respond better with warnings, alerts and comprehensive coverage.

During the cholera epidemic NBC arranged with the Department of Health to broadcast public service announcements.

 

[1] http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/world/historical_country.php#papua_new_guinea

[2] http://www.redcross.org.au/solomon-islands-tsunami-2013.aspx

[3] http://reliefweb.int/disaster/fl-2013-000017-png

[4] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-05-07/an-png-floods-at-crisis-point/4674414

[5] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-01-24/an-calls-for-flood-relief-in-png/4483110

[6] http://www.irinnews.org/report/89238/papua-new-guinea-residents-coping-with-rising-flood-waters-for-now

[7] http://www.adi.org.au/health-in-png-2/png-health-statistic/

Presentations this week

Last week I visited the National Broadcasting Corporation of PNG to discuss with them some aspects of emergency broadcasting. (See here for a quick assessment of natural disaster threat in PNG.

This week I will give a presentation at the Emergency Media and Public Affairs Conference 2014, in Canberra. The focus of my presentation will be on (1) media and emergency agency collaboration and (2) how people respond to emergencies and why we must change the content of warnings to include RISK and Threat. Catch us #EMPA2014 or http://www.emergencymedia.org/

And then its off to a slightly unusual conference for me – The Australian Business Continuity Institute Summit in Sydney, where I’ll talk about the same thing. http://www.thebci.org/index.php/home/australasian-chapter-home

Ian

 

 

Ten years of “emergency broadcasting” in Victoria – now what?

My professional position is as the Manager of Emergency Broadcasting and Community Development for The Australian Broadcasting Corporation Local Radio division. It was my delight to be able to attend on Friday March 28 an event to acknowledge the tenth anniversary of the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with The ABC, the Bureau of Meteorology and Victorian emergency agencies.

The agreement provided a reliable, 24/7 platform on which those agencies could issue warnings to the community at any time for any event, knowing the ABC would broadcast them repeatedly and for as long as necessary, to enable the community to respond to the event. We now make the same undertaking on TV and online (including social media).

The March 28 event was arranged by the Victorian Fire Commissioner Craig Lapsley, and the key note address was by the Victorian Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Hon Kim Wells.

“It is an honour to receive on behalf of all ABC staff a tribute from The Hon Kim Wells today marking ten years since Bruce Esplin and I signed the first MoU to commit the ABC to broadcast warnings delivered by the Bureau of Meteorology and the CFA.

The process of issuing warnings to the public has come a long way since the first, somewhat  hesitant and halting warning in January, 1997. Siusan McKenzie wrote the first warning for us in January 1997, and immediately suggested we wouldn’t be able to broadcast it.

Why – because Siusan knew we would not break into cricket coverage, and the warning, to be effective, would need to be issued repeatedly.

My then director Sue Howard advised me: ”Break in, but don’t tell anyone.”

All hell broke loose inside the ABC, but few now can recall those days long ago.

In fact this January the ABC has implemented a policy committing all staff to create processes to enable us to issue all high level warnings when requested by an emergency agency or government authority on whatever platform we feel is  useful.

This change of culture is highlighted by the fact that now our community expects to receive timely and effective warnings, and on a variety of platforms.

The partnership we have in place with the Bureau of Meteorology and emergency agencies is strong and robust.

Implementing something as new as the principal of “emergency broadcasting” which requires change of culture, attitude and operational procedures in a highly political and highly regulated environment isn’t easy.

It’s a credit to the people involved at the ABC and in emergency agencies that we’ve been able to make this work.

The goodwill is generated because Emergency Broadcasting makes a difference. Timely warnings save lives.

As a manager at The ABC I look at the way we broadcast to the community during disasters and  ask three things: are there any complaints from the community that they didn’t receive any warnings; did we look after our staff; and did things run smoothly.

 

Here in Victoria we can look at the recent example of the catastrophic fire day when there were five simultaneous emergency warnings including three in built up areas. It’s our nightmare, and it came on a nightmare day.

 

There were no complaints from the community that warnings were not received  even though there were emergency warnings in five places that day and hundreds of thousands of people were potentially affected.

 

We did look after our staff. Dealing with bushfires, to me, seems like an intensely personal and intimate activity, putting your life on the line to confront the flames. And sometimes issuing warnings is equally personal and confronting. One of the ABC staff who worked on the Mickleham fires stopped on the way to work and cried, remembering our performance on Black Saturday. The broadcaster nearly turned around, but eventually came to work. That person told me they felt an important job needed doing, and the ABC and emergency agencies were now much better at creating effective warnings. In other words it was safe to come to work.

 

And on that busy day our studio production team worked effectively with the State Control centre and Incident Controllers to provide warnings, context and advice.

 

It’s not lost on me how complex the process of issuing warnings can be. From the volunteer on the fire ground, to the SES worker on a riverbank or an weather forecaster at their desk, it’s difficult to first create sense out of the mess they are facing and then find ways to effectively communicate a message about threat and risk.

 

It’s interesting too that Emergency Broadcasting  is a management dominated initiative…I know staff and volunteers have an important operational role to play and I’m not underestimating that, but there is the work of policy development and strategic planning, stakeholder relationships, dealing with the public and high level enquiries. It’s shone a spotlight on the work of people like Neil Bibby, Bruce Esplin, Russel Rees, Alistair Hainsworth and Ward Rooney, Christine Nixon, Euan Ferguson, Craig Lapsley, Mary Barry, Ewan Waller, and the researchers, like Gary Morgan and John Handmer. And at the ABC, Sue Howard, Michael Mason, Kate Dundas, Mark Scott.

 

These managers took risks with emergency broadcasting. They put their reputations on the line to embrace the concept of emergency broadcasting, they nurtured it, defended it, and can take a great deal of responsibility for the fact it’s now part of the fabric of our life throughout Australia.

But acknowledging a tenth anniversary is also a chance to look forward. And there is more to be done.

As we learn more about the psychology of bushfires from people like Rob Gordon, it’s becoming more and more important to understand warnings have to take account of human behaviour. We know in a disaster human beings  use the side of their brain which works in graphics and images,  so we simply must have more graphics and images in our warnings, and this includes effective fire forecast maps.

We must be on TV. And while the ABC has now moved to ensure that all warnings are carried on News24 we as an industry must make further efforts to get commercial TV involved.

We must learn how to better engage on social media like Facebook and Instagram, to talk directly to the more mobile and younger adults who no longer have to look to their parents for advice at critical times because they have all the information literally in hand.

We must keep reviewing and improving and to do this we need to build even stronger relations with emergency agencies where we are trusted with forecast material and risk evaluations.

At the ABC I know the people involved in emergency broadcasting, and this includes broadcasters, producers, reporters, managers, technical people, MCR, transmission co-ordinators and those in IT and human resources, all of whom come together to make it possible for us to issue effective warnings.

I know them all personally, and am very proud of them, and I know they will all continue to do everything they can to ensure that we issue effective warnings and information when the community needs it.”

Ian Mannix

March 28, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defining “emergency broadcasting”

In the past two weeks I have met a group of people from Germany and talked about the needs of some pacific island states regarding issuing warnings to their community.

Issuing warnings in a repetitive way, with useful information that meets the needs of people involved in an emergency, is what I call “emergency broadcasting.” It’s not just issuing media releases and going to wall-to-wall or rolling coverage. That’s “news,”  and flow programming and it’s interesting and sometimes compelling but if it doesnt consider the needs of the community when they are facing the emergency, it’s not emergency broadcasting.

If the elements of emergency broadcasting are all considered alongside the content, then it will be more effective communication package to the community.

I needed to write a report defining emergency broadcasting to those unfamiliar with it.

Here is what I came up with. Does it make sense?

The aim of “emergency broadcasting:”

“Giving people information they could use to respond to an event before, during and after the emergency.”

It is conducted in partnership with emergency agencies, The Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the media outlet, and is relevant in all natural hazards, and some man-made disasters such as human, animal and plant quarantine, civil unrest, active shooters, utility failure and toxic gas and chemical spills.

The principals of emergency broadcasting are:

  • Understanding the threat environment by all involved in emergency broadcasting.
  • Ensuring that all staff involved in EB includes, among other things: weather forecasting, the natural environment; the disaster history in the region; planning and undertaking emergency broadcasting; understanding human behaviour in disasters; understanding the response agency operations; sharing information.
  • The provision of formal and informal warnings and information to assist individuals to respond and recover.
  • To work in partnership with emergency agencies and the Bureau of Meteorology to understand their operations and assist them to meet their goals.
  • To ensure that information can be provided even when no formal warning and advice are forthcoming.
  • To build partnerships with transmission agencies to ensure broadcast pathways are maintained and prepared.
  • To ensure that the information can be provided in a way which best suits the needs of the whole community regardless of language, age and cultural barriers.
  • To emphasise the need for a whole of community response to best survive and recover.
  • Regular review of all emergency broadcast activity in collaboration with emergency agencies.

The strategies to achieve these principals are:

Use of audio alerts, and effective headlines to ensure the listening and viewing audience knows that the messages are important.

Warnings provided in a way that is scalable depending on the level of the threat.

Education campaigns to ensure that the audience knows what the provision of emergency broadcasting includes.

Education campaigns to ensure they know what to do when they receive a warning.

The capacity to scale up content quickly.

Collaboration with technical departments to ensure transmission and technical services are aware of the emergency and can prepare.

Training of broadcasters to understand emergency agencies operations; basic weather forecasting; and to reduce stress and anxiety which can be problem when conducting an emergency broadcast.

Managers engage with State, District and Local disaster committees to build strong understanding, personal networks, and local capabilities.

Have I missed anything?

 

All I had was the radio – the need for radio when the power fails

Rachael Mead lives at Lobethal Road, Basket Range in the low hills outside Adelaide, in South Australia. Her husband was on a Country FIre Service volunteer truck during the unseasonal “Cherryville” bushfire which hit her valley in the first week of May. 

She has a bushfire plan. She moved the animals to another place when the fire started. She does not listen to 891 ABC Adelaide, (the emergency broadcaster) and was unaware of the sign on the freeway 10 km from her place that suggests she should listen to 891 in an emergency.

 She was not listening to the radio when the fire started as she was relying on her mobile phone access to the CFS website for information, but it eventually became apparent that she would lose power and access to the web site. She streamed 891 to her handset and walked around with it for a while, but then realised her phone battery would fail and she had no way of charging it. Rachael retrieved her battery powered radio from her “ready kit.”

 “I had never thought I would ever use that radio, but now I understand. I will have to change the batteries before every fire season, because without the radio I would have been lost. I would not have had information to enable me to stay and prepare. I would not have known when to turn the sprinklers on and to leave. I had seen the ribbon warnings on ABC TV in the past about other fires and thought that was a good idea, but I couldn’t watch TV when the power went off. The power was switched off by the power authority.”

 “I scanned the radio for a station broadcasting fire coverage, and came across 891 ABC Adelaide and thought because they were local they would probably have something. I waited until they did, and then had no reason to see if other stations had anything.

 “The half hour updates were accurate and useful in the most part. Coming at half hourly intervals meant I could go and do things and always come back at the right time, so I wasn’t glued to my kitchen bench and I could plan my actions.  It was very useful.

“When they came at  15 minute intervals and I also started receiving CFS alerts and the mobile phone started ringing more frequently and it was quite frantic, but then I found myself needing more and more information.

 “At one stage I contacted my husband on the CFS truck and he told me the information was inaccurate about where the fire had reached. They were discussing it quite a bit on the fire ground. I wondered who at the Uraidla Incident Control Centre was giving the radio the information.

 “I went up to the hill and watched the fire while listening on the stream. They were discussing dry cleaning with talk back, which was a bit surprising.

 “My neighbours were also listening to 891.

 “On Friday I had to change my fire plan when the power went out. I recall thinking they (891) were doing a very good job not inflaming the situation with inaccurate or sensationalist coverage. Some neighbours described to me that other media were quite sensationalist but I didn’t feel that with 891. They appeared to be very objective.

 “I cannot image how scared I would have been without the radio. I would have had to leave my house. It was a complete security to me. I was also in my house without even an animal for companionship.”

 “I was very worried about the forecast wind change on the Saturday and listened until 3pm, and recall thinking this was the first time I had ever listened to a footy game on the radio. I have no interest in football. It was the Richmond Tigers v Port Power. I remember thinking I would have appreciated more information during Saturday, as I was very worried about the wind shift.

 “I didnt check the websites after I turned on the radio because I had no power and needed to conserve my phone batteries.

 “The wind shift didn’t occur, and the rain almost started so I switched over the Poetica on Radio National, but when that finished I came back to 891 and listened to the news for any further information.”

 Rachael’s property was not affected.  

 http://redroomcompany.org/poet/rachael-mead/

 

 

The US National Weather Service considers changing warning language.

Developments in the US National Weather Service might influence the way weather warnings are issued in Australia. In any event discussion about the use of language can inform Australia’s hazard managers as they seek to improve warnings.

The US National Weather service is considering changing it’s warnings, in line with its aim to ensure more recognition for impact to be described when issuing forecasts.

This approach was taken by Australia’s bushfire and emergency experts in creating the National Bushfire Warning Framework. It’s interesting to consider how it might be included in weather warnings.

The NWS is gathering opinions from the public and weather product users to help guide the process, and in a promising move their approach highlights it’s relationship with the public – and its belief that people are capable of receiving and processing large amounts of data to make their own decisions.

It’s trialling a new system side by side with the present system, despite the obvious concern about confusion.

In its own words, it says it wants to have “a conversation” with users:

“In support of our Weather-Ready Nation initiative, NWS wants to start a conversation on how we might simplify and clarify our products. For this demonstration, we are proposing an alternative way to express headlines within our hazard messages, with winter hazard messages as a focus. If you have other ideas for simplifying and clarifying these messages, we want to hear them.”

The details are here:

The language used by the NWS in the US is very close to the language used in Australia. The principal enhancements are to headlines:

For all current, official winter weather hazard messages that lead with the phrase:

“THE NWS HAS ISSUED A _____ WATCH” it will say: “THE NWS FORECASTS THE POTENTIAL FOR ____” with the hazard type (snow, ice, wind, etc.), level of certainty, timing and expected impact(s) clearly stated in the blank space.

For all official winter weather hazard messages which lead with the phrase: “THE NWS HAS ISSUED A(N) ______ ADVISORY” it will say instead: “THE NWS ADVISES CAUTION FOR ____”  and for messages which lead with the phrase: “THE NWS HAS ISSUED A(N)______ WARNING” it will change to: “THE NWS HAS ISSUED A WARNING FOR A DANGEROUS______”

“We retain the term “Warning” for the demonstration because of its direct connection to protection of life and property, but this alternative approach would eliminate the individual hazard products within the Warning category.”

The NWS  will receive feedback early this year, and is proposing that it will revisit its approach to water and wind warnings if this proposal receives public endorsement.

 

 

Churchill Trust report available

As many of you will know I was fortunate enough to receive a Churchill Trust Fellowship to visit the US and Canada to learn more about how warnings are issued; how authorities conduct evacuations and how the National Weather Service operates.

I met many wonderful, generous and committed people, and (they know who they are)  am very grateful for their time and warmth. I will keep in touch with them all.

The report’s here. The principal areas of interest are:

Partnerships

Sirens

Community Awareness

Warnings and social media

Strategic direction.

If you are considering enhancing your experience and knowledge, please consider a Churchill Trust opportunity. 

 

 

Warning sirens to be enhanced in Victoria

(I changed this post 18/12/12) to reflect correspondence from the Victorian Fire Commssioner’s office. )

 

The Victorian Government in Australia has announced a pilot program to establish sirens in some bushfire prone communities this year.

Sirens are a form of warning. As can be seen from previous posts, many believe they are effective externally only; should be part of an integrated warning system; and need a voice activated announcement to provide context.

Many communities feel safer with sirens, other’s tend to believe they prevent people from being pro-active in their hazards behaviour. This leads to complacency.

Overwarning is an issue.

The Victorian system is not integrated.

(Note change here: This sentence from me is not correct: The Fire Commssioner’s office says: “Sirens are to be integrated with osom which means that the warnings go to social media, emergency broadcasters, website and also sets the sirens off.”)

The Victorian Bushfire Commissioner web site says they can be used as part of Victoria’s warning system for all hazards – including flood, fire and storm.

“In the future a siren sounded anywhere in Victoria will have one of two consistent meanings:

  • CFA Brigade siren – a signal sounded for up to 90-seconds will indicate a CFA Brigade has responded to an emergency incident nearby.
  • CFA Brigade sirens and community sirens – a prolonged, 5-minute signal will indicate a significant emergency is underway in the local area, conditions are changing and people must seek further information and take immediate action.

The sound of a siren is a trigger for people to seek more information from other sources, including emergency broadcasters, the Victorian Bushfire Information Line or emergency services websites.

The sirens in Victoria appear to be tone only.

Here is the Victorian Govermnment news release:

Sirens to alert community at pilot locations this summer

Thursday, 22 November 2012 From the Deputy Premier, From the Minister for Police and Emergency Services

Sirens will be used as an additional warning tool across 13 local government areas this summer fire season, as part of a Victorian Coalition Government pilot program . The pilot will see 46 community sirens used to alert 39 towns or communities to any significant emergency or potential danger that could impact on them. Of these sirens, 28 will be located across three council areas to alert communities in the fire-prone Dandenong Ranges.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Police and Emergency Services Peter Ryan said the pilot locations were chosen based on their bushfire risk and access to a working CFA brigade siren or community siren.

“We know Victorian communities want sirens to be used as a warning tool and this pilot will make sure the correct processes are in place, and the community understands their use, before they are rolled out in other appropriate locations across Victoria,” Mr Ryan said.

“The pilot locations are primarily those where CFA brigade stations or infrastructure already have working sirens, however community-owned sirens in Ferny Creek, Steel’s Creek, Blackwood and Greendale will also be activated.

“Sirens are not a stand-alone means of warning the community, they are designed to alert people when a significant emergency is threatening the local area and to seek further information from other channels.

“Residents should then refer to alerts and warnings issued through emergency broadcasters, www.cfa.vic.gov.au, www.ses.vic.gov.au, SKY News television, local ABC radio, the FireReady app for smartphones, and the Victorian Bushfire Information Line or Flood Information Line,” Mr Ryan said. All sirens are being upgraded to connect to existing warning systems so the community has access to multiple, simultaneous alerts about emergency incidents in their area. The sirens will warn of fire, hazardous material incidents, floods and severe storms, in line with the Use of Sirens for Brigade and Community Alerting policy released by the Coalition Government in May.

The pilot siren locations are Lavers Hill, Wye River, Lorne, Cockatoo, Gembrook, Mt Martha, Noojee, Boolarra, Yinnar, Loch Sport, Kinglake, Kinglake West, Flowerdale, The Basin, Belgrave, Belgrave South, Belgrave Heights, Clematis, Emerald, Olinda, Kallista, The Patch, Kalorama, Mt Evelyn, Menzies Creek, Monbulk, Sassafras, Selby, Upwey, Upper Ferntree Gully, Silvan, Narre Warren East, Macclesfield, Blackwood, Greendale, Euroa, Myrtleford, Ferny Creek and Steels Creek. Some locations will have more than one siren. For more information about the Use of Sirens for Brigade and Community Alerting or the sirens pilot visit www.firecommissioner.vic.gov.au