Increasing disaster alert accuracy

Whitsunday Regional Council Mayor Jenny Whitney said Council is working with Geographical Information System (GIS) specialists and the Queensland Government to improve the mapping that drives the State Government Emergency Alert system for the Whitsunday region.

The emergency alert system sends out free messages via SMS and landline telephones of impending disasters.

The service was used in late January to alert residents in low-lying areas threatened by surge tides caused by Cyclone Dylan, however it highlighted some issues with the current infrastructure.

“At the moment, the alert is issued to home phones in the affected areas, mobile phones who have billing addresses in the affected areas, or whose mobile phone has most recently connected to a mobile phone tower that was in or around the affected area,” said Mayor Whitney.

“This may have resulted in some people who were high and dry receiving SMS alerts who did not need to worry about storm tide surge inundation.”

The council acted on updated storm intensity and tracking information received just after 10pm on the night of the storm.

The region however was fortunate enough to escape with only minor damage after the storm landed earlier than expected and did not coincide with the highest tide of the year.

“The Whitsunday region dodged a bullet with Cyclone Dylan, had the cyclone crossed the coast later in the morning, as originally predicted, there would have much more damage and inundation due to storm surge.”

Used in conjunction with the emergency alert system are social media platforms, radio and television alerts and door knocking services provided by police officers, SES and rural fire volunteers.

Improvements to the mapping service however would lead to alerts sent out more accurately and promptly to those in danger.

“Hopefully this will reduce the nuisance calls and text messages people will receive during a disaster event, which can potentially alarm people who are not in harms way.”