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NSW Rural Fire Service to adopt national emergency warning system

By Claudia Jambor and Kerrin Thomas, Monday November 30, 2020 - 14:07 EDT
ABC image
The new Australian Warning System. - ABC

Emergency services across Australia will be overhauling their warning systems over the coming days in line with a national strategy being developed to protect Australians during emergencies.

The new approach consists of new triangle icons for Advice, Watch and Act and Emergency warnings for all disasters, including bushfires, floods, heatwaves, cyclones and storms.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service has confirmed it and other agencies will be introducing the new system online over the coming days.

"This is really the first step in a much longer change process," RFS director of community and engagement Anthony Clark said.

"Over time, in all states and territories across the country you'll start to see a consistent approach."

The reform comes after a busy weekend for NSW firefighters as

"The start of summer is a good time to educate the community about the changes," Mr Clark said.

A national educational campaign would be rolled out as the system goes online nationwide.

Watch and Act remains

The reforms come following a recommendation from the National Natural Disaster Royal Commission that the state and territory governments should urgently deliver and implement the all-hazard Australian Warning System.

Mr Clark said the national strategy has been informed by a two-year community research project in collaboration with all states and territories about emergency warnings.

"People are more likely to take action as a result of seeing these as opposed to the existing icons and colours," he said.

The difference for those in NSW is the colour change for each warning: yellow colour indicates Advice instead of blue and orange is now the colour for Watch and Act.

The Royal Commission had heard the new system would be introduced by 2022, after work started in 2016.

But the Watch and Act level, about which some concern has been raised, remains.

During royal commission proceedings, Commissioner Annabelle Bennett questioned the wording of that level and described the slow process of reforming the warning system as "breathtaking".

"I find it breathtaking that it takes that many years to come up with something where you know there's confusion," she said.

But Mr Clark said extensive research for the Australian Warning System found Watch and Act should remain with some adjustments.

"Overwhelmingly, the research has come back saying that Watch and Act makes sense, especially when you've got that detailed information sitting alongside it," he said.

Watch and Act alerts will now be complimented with "action statements" such as "prepare to leave" or "leave now".

"People will get a clearer indication of what they need to do to protect themselves," Mr Clark said.

"We are confident that will reduce some of that confusion."


© ABC 2020

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