At the height of the Beard fire crossing the NSW border from the ACT on Thursday afternoon, one of the Emergency Services Agency's most critical online fire advisory tools crashed without warning.
The incidents map, which shows the progress of the fire, went offline for more than 90 minutes, providing a "503 Service Temporarily Unavailable" message.
This message can be provided when an account is constantly exceeding the resources assigned to it. It may also be attributable to be a spike in website traffic which the account is unable to support.
On January 2, as heavy bushfire smoke swept across the ACT, the ESA stated that it was the "single point of truth for emergency information in the ACT".
In a media conference on Friday, ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said that website redundancy measures were being developed.
"There is nothing in this world that is infallible," she said.
"We will work to learn from what has occurred this week."
Victims who lost their homes in the 2003 Canberra bushfires expressed concern recently about the agency not releasing information about the current crisis that is timely and clear enough.
ESA announced its website crash on Twitter at 4.51pm and requested people to stay up to date via Facebook "and local media". The Twitter post prompted public complaints among those who do not have Facebook access.
The ESA website hosting provider AMAZON has experienced an error which has affected the ESA website and their other clients.— ACT ESA (@ACT_ESA) January 23, 2020
We are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
Please continue to stay up to date via ESA Facebook and local media. pic.twitter.com/v7UWnjNxa7
At 4.41pm, ESA's website host Amazon reported: "We are investigating increased API error rates and latencies in the AP-SOUTHEAST-2 Region. Connectivity to existing instances is not impacted".
Then at 5.18pm, the technical update Amazon provided was "we have identified the root cause of the issue causing increased API error rates and latencies in the region and continue working towards resolution.
"Customer[s] using the EC2 Management Console will also experience error rates for instance and network related functions."
Late on Thursday, ACT Rural Fire Service chief officer Joe Murphy told a media conference the website "had gone down" and suggested the NSW RFS app as the alternative public access to monitor progress.
"For those who are interested in monitoring the fire activity, the new Fires Near Me app, the New South Wales version of Fires Near Me, we would encourage people to download that," he said.
"We are working very closely with our website provider Amazon to get this situation resolved as quickly as we can," he said.
Late on Thursday, the ESA site had experienced 825,000 page views, 300,000 sessions and 107,000 users, with 47,000 people on the site at any given time.
ESA announced via Twitter that its website had been restored at 6.37pm.
Amazon Web Services accepted full responsibility for the outage which not just affected the ESA, but other ACT agencies and clients throughout NSW.
ESA is waiting on written advice from Amazon, which has provided its website services for around 12 months, as what actually occurred on Thursday.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said that Amazon had provided assurances that this would not happen again and that a "diversity of communications meant we were able to keep people informed during the period the website was down".
A territory-wide state of alert remains in place as is the Public Information Coordination Centre, which is staffed by communications officers across various government departments.
The centre was unable to be fully staffed by external agencies on Thursday at the height of the emergency because road access into ESA's Fairbairn headquarters was closed.
Established government protocol usually dictates that in these situations, a centre at an alternative physical location is set up to manage public information.
In previous exercises, the alternative was the ACT police media office at Winchester Police Centre in Belconnen. However, this alternative was not activated at the height of the fire emergency.