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New warning system explained

Thursday, 10 September 2009

This article aims to give volunteers and staff an overview of the new national fire warning system announced by the Premier and changes to the way CFA establish increased awareness around the forecast fire danger outlook and issue warnings.

More information and key messages will be provided to staff and volunteers as they are available.

- Forecast fire danger advice will be issued throughout the media and will be aligned to the new fire danger ratings (which is based on the fire danger index)

- Key messages have been designed to clearly communicate what is likely to occur if and when a fire starts for each of the fire danger ratings.  Messages will include specific actions for the community to take during this outlook period.

- The ratings are as follows;

 

FIRE DANGER RATING



Category


Fire Danger Index


CATASTROPHIC (CODE RED)

100 +

EXTREME

75 – 100

SEVERE

50 – 75

VERY HIGH

25 - 50

HIGH

12 – 25

LOW – MODERATE

0 - 12

- The states are still working on a suitable graphic representation of the ratings. This will be communicated as soon as it is available.

- The CFA Chief Officer will have responsibility for issuing warnings to the community during fires; delegated to local Incident Controllers with a backup in the State Duty Officer in the iECC.

- Information units will have operational guidelines and the technological capability in place to enable them to quickly issue accurate warnings. Approval will occur at local incident level by the IC or deputy IC.

- Where an ICC has not yet been established, warnings can be issued on behalf of the IC by information units in the RECC or iECC.

- Warnings will be disseminated throughout a variety of media, for example websites, local radio and VBIL simultaneously via a single entry tool known as One Source One Message (OSOM).  This will ensure that warnings are provided to all sources at the same time, will appear in the same format and contain the same language.

- The iECC (or SECC) Information Unit will play a monitoring and auditing role in relation to community warnings, as well as a pro-active role when a warning hasn’t been issued or released.

- All areas will have access to OSOM (warning system). It can be issued at a very local level (for example at a regional office before an ICC has been set up) or in the iECC which will be manned throughout high fire danger rating or fire danger indicator days

- In accordance with Royal Commission recommendations, there will be two warning categories, and three levels of information

o          Advice

o          Watch and Act

o          Emergency Warning

- ’Watch and Act’ messages are to alert the community that there is a heightened level of threat, and that they need to stay informed and take appropriate action.

- ‘Emergency Warning’ is an alert that there is an imminent threat and immediate action is required to protect life.

National Framework for Scaled Advice and Warnings

The National Framework for Scaled Advice and Warnings was agreed and adopted by all States and Territories at the Australian Emergency Management Committee meeting on 3rd and 4th September. This includes a new Fire Danger Ratings, the slogan Prepare, Act Survive and an agreed format for scaled warnings.

All States and Territories are now planning to roll out these changes, with the exception of NT and QLD, who will do so in mid-2010 as their fire season has already commenced. Specific timing for roll out is still being determined in Victoria. Work is underway to design how the Fire Danger Rating will be visually represented to the community. Further detail will be announced in coming weeks.

Overview of Fire Danger Ratings

- Fire danger ratings are used to indicate the type of threat  bushfires may pose on any day given the forecast weather conditions.

- The fire danger ratings provide the community with an indication of the sort of bushfire behaviour that could be experienced on that day.

- There is a new fire danger rating for an index of above 100 that will be known as Catastrophic (Code Red).

- Under these types of weather conditions fires will be unpredictable, uncontrollable and fast moving.  The fires on February 7 are an example of the types of fires that may be experienced under a ‘Catastrophic’ rating.

- Advice to communities under these conditions will be that leaving is the safest option for survival.

- The other fire danger ratings have been altered to provide greater differentiation above a fire danger index of 50.  In the past ‘extreme’ was the top category, now we have catastrophic as outlined, as well as ‘severe’ for when the fire danger index is between 50 and 74.

- The top categories rate in order of severe, extreme and catastrophic. The key differences between these ratings is the expected impact a bushfire might have, therefore the community needs to have appropriate plans in place to deal with fires of these different types of severity.

- The Bureau of Meteorology will use this terminology in fire weather forecasts so that the community can improve their understanding about what the threat from bushfires is, and to help in using consistent language for the community to understand.

- Victoria is going to trial the new Fire Danger Rating over the coming season and will assess the success and the take up of it post season.

Community Warnings During Bushfire Events – Trigger Points

-Any bushfires that start will be posted on the CFA and DSE websites to essentially provide ‘advice’ to the community that there is a bushfire in their area.

- In accordance with Royal Commission recommendations there will be two warning categories, and three levels of information

Advice

Watch and Act

Emergency Warning

- ‘Watch and Act’ messages are to alert the community that there is a heightened level of threat, and that they need to stay informed and take appropriate action.

- ‘Emergency Warning’ is an alert that there is an imminent threat and immediate action is required to protect life.

- The Standard Emergency Warning Signal will be used at the same time as the Emergency Warning as appropriate. Work is being done to establish the appropriate frequency and use of SEWS.

Prepare, Act Survive

The Prepare, Act Survive slogan will have specific safety messaging and action attached to each of the three words.  Some of preliminary thinking around this messaging is:

PREPARE

-          Physically, mentally

-          Property prepared

-          Having/preparing a plan

-          Know where to seek information

-          Thinking ahead

ACT

-          Respond to forecasts – weather and fire danger rating

-          Putting your plan into action

-          Act decisively / take decisive action – do not wait

-          Let people know what you are doing

SURVIVE

-          Your life and your family’s lives are your priority

The Prepare, Act Survive slogan will form a key component of Victoria’s fire safety messaging, and the awareness campaign. The slogan will also be a key part of SA and NSW fire awareness campaigns.

 

 

 

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Last modified on Thursday, 15 October 2009 22:20
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Comments (10)Add Comment
Peter Rice
Still will be problems issuing the warnings!
written by Peter Rice, September 10, 2009
A major problem that we experienced on 'Black Saturday' was not being able to contact the RECC (Region 12 HQ) because all the phone lines at that location were constantly engaged. That is one reason we could not use SEWS, etc.
Under this new system the same problem is likely.
The local Incident Controller HAS to be able to issue warnings right from the start..
Has not anyone read the submissions and evidence within the Royal Commission?
Geoff Schmidt
...
written by Geoff Schmidt, September 10, 2009
That's what it says:
- Information units will have operational guidelines and the technological capability in place to enable them to quickly issue accurate warnings. Approval will occur at local incident level by the IC or deputy IC.

- Where an ICC has not yet been established, warnings can be issued on behalf of the IC by information units in the RECC or iECC.

What's the issue?
Paul Davis
...
written by Paul Davis, September 11, 2009
So, it looks like there is one communication framework for community warnings during a bushfire, and another for education about what to do to prepare and act during a bushfire?

Was any consideration given to having only one communication framework or system for everything to work within - surely this would be simpler for the community to grasp, understand and engage in rather than two?

It seems we now have a set of messages around prepare, act and survive, and another around advice, watch and act and emergency warning? Does this not leave room for confusion?

One way to tackle this would be to create the framework in a customer centric or end user model, so you start from what they need ( the community ) and how best to design that communication based on their needs.

My concern and caution is that previous to the last fires, there was confusion around communication targeted for an internal audience, and communication that was supposed to be for an external audience...they are very different and need to be designed that way however my observation is there has been confusion between who messages are being designed for, fire fighters or the community and we need to be so careful around this....

Peter Rice
Warnings
written by Peter Rice, September 11, 2009
As stated . For the RECC to be able to issue warnings (in the earlier
periods of an incident or fire) it is necessary for the RECC to be able to be contacted by the Incident Controller .
This was not generally possible on 'Black Saturday'.
If the RECC has no sitreps - How can the Info. Officer there issue the warnings?.
That is the issue.
That is one reason why warnings fell down on 7th Feb. 2009 and also why we could not use SEWS.
Don  Barber
Don Barber
written by Don Barber, September 11, 2009
Can someone please tell me which of the two FDIs the BOM publishes will be the basis for the new system...the grasslands FDI or the Forest FDI?
DU1
...
written by Russell Edwards, September 11, 2009
‘Emergency Warning’ is an alert that there is an imminent threat and immediate action is required to protect life.


The average person will interpret that via the following warped and extremely dangerous logic: (1) Action to protect life is not required unless there is an imminient threat, and (2) There is no imminent threat if I have not received a warning about it in my specific locality.

(1) obviously defies the laws of logic, but the average person might reasonably ask, what is the point of warning about imminent threat if action is actually required long before that stage? Surely the CFA would not be issuing such warnings if it was too late? And didn't they just tell me that all I had to do was "Watch"? (oh, "and Act".. whoops... that bit came second... surely that's not important!)

(2) places unrealistic expectations on emergency intelligence and communications

(1) and (2) both court disaster in exactly the same way as the previous system of urgent threat messages. The very existence of a flood of these on the website and on 774 acts to invite people towards propositions (1) and (2), especially when they are predisposed towards "it won't happen to me" and "boy who cried wolf" sentiments. This is why you had a whole bunch of people on Black Saturday who had no intention to or real preparation for staying and defending, who got caught out either still in their house (without knowing proper sheltering techniques) or out on the road in a last-minute attempt to flee.

Unless it is made very clear that people who do not plan to stay and defend should be leaving as soon as there is a fire within 75 km in the direction of existing or forecast wind, we are doomed to see Ash Wednesday and Black Saturday repeat themselves again and again.

Martin Anderson
Clear and concise
written by Martin Anderson, September 11, 2009
Russell - your last paragraph is the clearest, most concise and sensible expression of a leaving early trigger point that I have heard in five years with CFA.
Paul Davis
Test the messages
written by Paul Davis, September 11, 2009
Please make sure that whatever CFA/DSE/Government etc go out with has been thoroughly tested on groups of residents from well prepared to know nothing, one of the gaps previously is that there appeared to be little testing to actually see if the messages worked, and if they did, what behaviour or action did they drive....or are we too late for that already?
Karen Enbom
Comments from the Project Team
written by Karen Enbom, September 12, 2009
Hi all

Thanks for the comments - I read them with interest as it directly relates to our Project: Community Information & Warnings - Timeliness, Content & Form.

Rather than take up a huge chunk of space by responding to everyone's individudal comments, suggestions and concerns, perhaps it's better to break our project's key deliverables down into a series of dot points. I'll then aim to post something more comprehensive up as an article in a week or so.

Key Actions & Deliverables of the Project Team:

- Revise message levels and content based on market research outcomes, Royal Commission findings, existing psychological research, Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) princples and other subject matter experts
- Focus group testing for understanding of fire danger rating scale and language used within warnings messages
- Revise & Enhance authorisation & approval process for community information - including contingencies for when systems/communications fail
- New and existing Information Unit personnel identified to receive new & refresher training for this season & beyond; revise/enhance existing training package including updates to new processes and web entry tools
- Revise all Information Unit documentation in line with changes

I hope this goes some way towards providing clarification. Watch this space!

Karen Enbom - Project Manager
DU1
...
written by Russell Edwards, September 13, 2009
Thanks Karen, looking forward to your upcoming article. I am interested to know what the wording will be for the "Watch and Act" messages, and whether it takes into account not just how members of focus groups tell you they will react, but how they will actually react, knowing as we do from past experience the prevalance of a predisposition towards adopting a "wait and see" approach. My bet is that most will go for wait and see unless there is very strong wording towards the ACT part of the message.


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