Government News, Volume 23, Issue 5, June 2003 
(scanned from the publication and reformatted)

Dial E for emergency 

By Jane Garcia


The City of Maribyrnong in Victoria is trialling the use of a telephone messaging system to warn residents of emergency situations.

It will use a software system called Voice Reach to simultaneously call residents that volunteer their numbers for an alert database. Rather than purchase hardware and dedicate phone lines, the council will utilise the phone infrastructure from an external company on an as-needed basis.

Depending on the nature of the emergency, messages can be relayed to the whole database or to a sub-group of numbers.

Messages can also be pre-recorded in languages other than English and sent to culturally and linguistically diverse community members.

Maribyrnong City Council emergency resource officer Theo Pykoulas said telephone messaging was a proactive way of getting information out to the community.

"In our consultations we established that at least 50 per cent of people are at work during the
day so if something was to happen now then half our community are outside home." he said.

"Normally we wouldn't be able to contact you but if we have your work number or your mobile number given to us in our database then we can ring you at work to let you know."

"Within minutes of a telephone alert being sent, the council will receive a report detailing what happened to each particular message ? whether it was picked up by a human voice, a message was left on an answering machine or if the message didn't get through." Mr Pykoulas said.

The telephone messaging system will form part of a wider community alerting and information system the council developed in conjunction with the Department of Justice through the Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner.

There are several major hazard materials facility sites in and around the council's municipal area, including Coode Island, and a portion of the community live in an area prone to river flooding.

Community consultation undertaken by the council indicated people wanted clear and specific information about what they could do to protect themselves in the event of an incident. It was also important for the council to establish if a particular resident had experienced a local emergency before, and where they would turn for information if they were concerned for their safety.

The Community Information and Alert System will attempt to combine the new telephone alert with existing procedures and resources, such as community education material, industry information hotlines and local radio, to create an integrated alerting approach.

Results of the 12-month pilot project will be used to determine whether a similar system could be implemented on a Victoria-wide basis.

Mr Pykoulas said having a system like this in place might help councils respond to terrorist related emergency scenarios.

"All the large chemical industries that handle dangerous goods are required by law to model worst-case scenarios to maintain their existing licenses." he said.

"We know what can happen. The only difference with terrorism is the likelihood of it happening may increase ? the actual consequence of what can happen to the adjoining area is about the same."