Victims of the 2003 bushfires are calling again for an ACT-specific app that will warn people in real-time of impending bushfire danger rather than forcing them to go search for it online or rely on apps that have inherent delays because they are run from interstate.
Laurence Buchanan, whose Duffy home was destroyed in the 2003 bushfires, said the NSW Rural Fire Service and Fires Near Me apps were not appropriate for the ACT as they were run from NSW and there were inherent delays in getting vital information updated.
His concerns about the effectiveness of current apps are being raised more than five years after a national review of emergency warnings and information recognised that "[government] agencies are confronting increasing expectations from the public for 'real time' and detailed information about emergencies".
The National Review of Warnings and Information was funded by the Commonwealth government's National Emergency Management Project grants program. It was overseen by a national steering committee chaired by Emergency Management Victoria.
The final report, released in November 2014, made recommendations including that governments "invest in and prioritise improved use of technology to create and disseminate warnings and information. As a priority, develop warnings which offer visual and spatial information".
Mr Buchanan said a model for the ACT to follow was the VicEmergency App, the official Victorian government app for access to community information and warnings for all types of emergencies in that state.
Mr Buchanan said the app allowed users to set up watch zones in which they would be immediately notified if a fire entered the zone.
He had set up a watch zone around Yackandandah because he had friends there. When a grass fire broke out south of Wodonga recently, the app alerted him almost immediately.
"It went from advice to emergency in 15 minutes and my phone was going, 'ping, ping, ping'," Mr Buchanan said.
"Victoria has taken the initiative to develop a world-class app and we have got nothing."
Mr Buchanan said while the Emergency Services Agency was providing detailed information about the fires burning in nearby NSW, it was not linking that information to its incidents map for some times as long as 12 hours.
Canberra company JR Apps does have a Canberra-specific safety and emergency information app iAlert, which carries all the information released by the ACT Emergency Services Agency, but does not include real-time warnings. The app is also, so far, only for iPhones.
JR Apps co-founder Josh Luongo said due to increased demand since fires broke out in the region late last year, the company was working on releasing an android version of iAlert next month.
The app was free and would remain so, he said. Mr Luongo was also looking at developing "watch zones" on the iAlert app to alert users of a fire in any zone they specified.
"We provide the latest information published by the ACT ESA, we send push notifications for ESA news, ACT Policing Traffic Twitter, total fire bans, double demerits period (when data is available) and amber alerts (when data is available). Users can choose what notifications they would like to receive from these sources," Mr Luongo said.
"In regards to fires, we show any active fires as soon as they appear in the ACT. We also show hazard reduction burns within the app too. At this stage we only support incidents within the ACT, we are planning on an expansion to the surrounding areas as many Canberrans have friends, family and property in our surrounding areas."
The app is free. It is not an official government app.
"Given the opportunity, we would love to work with the ACT government to make an official app but for the time being, we're doing the best job we can with the publicly available data," Mr Luongo said.
Mr Buchanan and another victim of the 2003 bushfires, Wayne West, met with ACT Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman on Monday to discuss the issues of timely warnings and the introduction of an app.
Mr Buchanan said the minister made no promises of follow-up action.
"I expect a template response," he said.
Mr Gentleman issued a statement on Friday.
"I appreciate trauma of the 2003 bushfires remains in the minds of many Canberrans, especially those who were worst affected," he said.
"The ACT government has taken significant steps over the last 17 years to ensure that the lessons learned from 2003 have been applied across our emergency services.
"We are well prepared for emergencies in the ACT and have more communication channels at our disposal than ever before. Surveillance, mapping, and prediction technology has advanced considerably and we are now working much more closely with our NSW counterparts.
"Canberrans can currently view fires in our region on the ACT Emergency Services Agency website and the NSW Fires Near Me app.
"We continue to improve our emergency alert system and are working with NSW and South Australia with a view to establishing real-time notifications.
"In the event that evacuation of any areas is required, we can deploy direct SMS notifications, emergency radio broadcasts and doorknock homes to ensure that no residents are missed.
"Commissioner Whelan and the ESA have been doing a remarkable job keeping the community up to date with the latest information during the state of alert."