Thursday, January 19th, 2006

An Adelaide Hills community has taken control of its own destiny, becoming the first subscribers to a world-first Bushfire Alert service developed here in South Australia.
When a resident becomes aware of a bushfire, all they need to do is pick up the phone.
Within seconds, their message is broadcast to every community member wherever they are - the system simultaneously calls their home phone, work phone and mobile phone plus email and SMS.
How did this small community of 20 properties, set between Macclesfield and Strathalbyn, become telecommunications pioneers?
Simply because Adelaide Hills resident Derek Forsyth, like all South Australians, had seen too many tragic fires, where an early warning system could have provided the vital minutes that can make a difference between life and death.
He approached his neighbour Richard Clarke, worried that local lives were at risk every bushfire season.
Richard and his co-director Bill Oborn run telephony systems developer SkunkWorks Australia, which already had an alerts system design under way.
We approached the South Australian CFS with our bushfire alerts system in 2004, but they depend on providing information to the public via ABC Radio, Bill Oborn says.
Our experience shows that most Hills property owners who work in the city do not listen to the radio at work. Besides, how can you glue yourself to a radio all day and night for a whole summer?
The CFS identified in its Project Phoenix* study that a pre-recorded telephone message would be an effective way of alerting residents to a fire, but that it would take at least three years to implement.
We were faced with a choice - wait for the next bushfire tragedy, or do it ourselves, Mr Oborn said.
Mr Forsyth, who is also Chairman of the Doctors Creek Landcare Group, set to work to collect signatures and phone numbers from his neighbours. He was met with unanimous support.
I had the idea of a `phone chain, where anyone who saw or started a fire could phone the next person in the chain. However that would have taken 45 minutes to an hour. The Bushfire Alert system gets the message to everyone within a couple of minutes.
Mr Forsyth added that the proposed annual subscription of $25 was an incredibly reasonable rate - we would be willing to pay more if necessary to protect our homes and families.
All that residents need to do is subscribe via the website at They can add a community or join one or more existing communities. People who dont have web access can call 08 8125 5690 to request a form by mail or fax.
What has kept us focused on getting this system up and running is the enthusiasm shown by property owners and volunteer firefighters for the service, Mr Oborn said.
The ideal situation would be that Bushfire Alerts is leveraged by organisations that receive early warnings as part of their operations.
That would include Country Fire Services, radio stations and other media, who could then initiate alerts to all registered communities either with a single phone call or simply by pressing a button on a web control panel.

Contact Profile

Bill Oborn, Sales & Marketing Director

P: 0881255500
M: 0411112644


Hills community goes it alone with Bushfire Alerts


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