EXCLUSIVE

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VICTORIA'S heavily promoted smartphone application for fire warnings is considered flawed within the IT industry, was not fully tested before this fire season and is difficult to use in the place it is needed most - outside cities.

Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley has revealed the government will review Victorians' use of digital fire warnings and will rebuild the FireReady app, stripping out unnecessary functions and returning to the ''fundamentals'' of what people need in emergencies.

Four years after Black Saturday, the Country Fire Authority's smartphone app continues to frustrate users, including those who faced fire danger on Monday. A Fairfax Media investigation has revealed the CFA's decision to provide a ''bells and whistles'' app undermined its provision of accurate and timely smartphone fire warnings.

This fire season, users have reported strange bugs in the app. One user found a nearby fire plotted on a map of the Czech Republic, while Josh McKinnon - one of the developers who worked on the NSW Fires Near Me app - reported on Twitter that the FireReady app was showing blazes across Bass Strait.

But the bigger problem, according to several app specialists interviewed by Fairfax Media, is FireReady's architecture. Each time the user taps a map or touches a button, the app appears to send a fresh request back to the supporting CFA server. ''The app hits the server really, really hard and it makes multiple requests, possibly for the same thing, like two or three requests,'' says one expert who has studied how the app works.

The experts declined to go on the record because the emergency smartphone app industry in Australia is small. But their verdict was clear: ''It appears this was built as a marketing exercise, more than a safety exercise,'' said one. ''I think it's really dangerous.''

The app specialists said the frequent data requests cause the app to freeze, place extra pressure on the CFA website and require the user to have good internet access - something a person in a fire emergency often lacks.

Since December, more than 600 people have registered mostly negative reviews of the program on iTunes, most expressing frustration at the app crashing and freezing. In response, Victorian fire authorities - after heavy pre-season promotion of FireReady - have urged people to rely on a range of sources for fire warnings.

The Victorian app also has many extra features - such as YouTube videos, photograph uploads and incident alerts - that have made the app memory-hungry and data-consuming.

In a statement, the CFA admitted FireReady's latest version, released in December, sent more data to smartphones and tablets, putting greater demands on its website.

The app experts said the data-hungry nature of the program probably contributed to the meltdown on January 4, when the CFA's website and app froze for most of the extreme fire danger day. The CFA blamed the popularity of the app, which has been downloaded 402,958 times. But the fire service now says that ''more robust testing'' of the December update ''should have been undertaken prior to its release''.

New South Wales Rural Fire Service describes its app as ''lean and mean'', but it did not crash despite facing a greater number of fire emergencies this season. It has had 69 reviews and a four-star average on iTunes. Fires Near Me does not send multiple requests to its server and is hosted separately from the fire service's computers.

The NSW authorities also had Telstra on call in the operations centre to provide surge capacity to websites. In Victoria, the CFA's hosting partner Macquarie Telecom does not sit with authorities in the operations centre. The CFA has since put the app and website on different servers and boosted the capacity of both.

The Department of Justice said on Tuesday the start-up cost of the app was $320,000, but it did not know additional costs thereafter. The app was conceived and commissioned in the dying days of the Brumby government.

CFA sources said the fault lay not with any budget pressure - and not so much with the developer, Melbourne-based company Gridstone - but with those within the government who came up with the app's architecture.

The CFA refused to allow Fairfax Media to interview those directly responsible for the app.

One emergency app developer said FireReady's problems were due to the CFA ''forging forward'' in this area and being world leaders. ''People are trying new things and sometimes it doesn't work.''

Users have also complained that townships appear on the map in the wrong place. The CFA has blamed Apple Maps for these township inaccuracies.