Alert SMS loophole leaves Brogo residents in limbo

WHILE the Federal Government’s Emergency Alert SMS system kept Brogo residents informed about this week’s fire danger, at least one local is upset with its failure to assist her evacuation.

Emergency Alert is the national telephone warning system used by emergency management agencies.

The system sends voice messages to landlines and text messages to mobile phones within a defined area, about likely or actual emergencies such as fire, flood, or extreme weather events.

However, Brogo resident Donna Nicoll’s mobile service is with Optus and therefore she did not receive the SMS warnings and evacuation advice.

The Emergency Alert website reports the service is currently only available to Telstra customers.

It says alerts for Optus and Vodafone customers will not be available until November this year.

Ms Nicoll said this was a potentially dangerous situation and expressed her concerns to Member for Bega Andrew Constance’s office on Wednesday.

“I would’ve thought after what happened in Victoria they would go all out trying to alert everyone,” she said.

Ms Nicoll said her neighbours on Hawks Head Rd and nearby Warrigal Range Rd – which was directly threatened by Tuesday’s bushfire – began receiving SMS alerts around 11am.

She didn’t find out about the evacuation advice until after her son in Sydney called her after seeing the fire on the news.

“I then rang all around trying to get information,” Ms Nicoll said.

Meanwhile, her neighbours “continued getting updates on their phones”.

“I called the radio and they said ‘yes, people in Brogo are being told to evacuate now’.

“I realised then I had to do what I had planned to do.”

Ms Nicoll said her Bushfire Survival Plan was always to leave early as there is 10km of bushland between her and the main road.

Her husband and son – who is in training to become an RFS volunteer – elected to remain behind and protect their property from potential ember attack – with a warning from Ms Nicoll to get out as soon as they saw any fire approaching.

Ms Nicoll said having a prepared survival plan was vital.

“It can be stressful and scary [when it happens] so you need to think about what to do before it’s on top of you,” she said.

However, she added that any plan – and indeed the emergency alert warnings – needed to be more concrete in their end goals.

Alerts on Tuesday recommended Brogo residents threatened by the fire evacuate to “Bega township”.

“When instigating your fire plan you really need an end goal – where to go and where to get more information,” Ms Nicoll said.

“I really think it needs to be more specific.

“You can’t go into town when you have animals with you,” she added – her dog and pet lamb accompanied her on her drive to Bega.

“The Bega vets were wonderful and offered to board them overnight, so that was one less thing to worry about.

“You need a specific point to go to, were friends and family are around, somewhere for animals and somewhere to find information.

“It really needs to be set in concrete as this is just a taste of it.

“With more hot weather on the way anything could happen.”

The story Alert SMS loophole leaves Brogo residents in limbo first appeared on Bega District News.

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