Black Saturday fires prompt comms boost

Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment has bolstered agreements with Centrelink and the State Revenue Office to boost the number of phone operators available in a bushfire crisis, and improve the response times taken to switch staff to emergency services.

Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment has bolstered agreements with Centrelink and the State Revenue Office to boost the number of phone operators available in a bushfire crisis, and improve the response times taken to switch staff to emergency services.

(43 kinglake image by Fernando de Sousa, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The agencies were left floored during the 2009 fires as a whopping 103,000 calls flooded the unprepared department, spilling over into Centrelink at a rate of more than 6000 calls an hour. The relevant department website also went down when it was flooded with queries.

In February, the department's call centre received 39,000 calls, smashing its former record of 14,000 calls for the month, which was set in January 2007.

Contact centre manager, Greg Compton, said the agencies were not prepared for the call and web surge.

"We had one server running everything," Compton said.

The department has now upped the amount of kit available to run the website. It also now has redundant links to Centrelink and the State Revenue Office so that fail-over call centre support can be quickly mobilised.

"It took six hours to mobilise Centrelink. Now it will take about an hour."

He said that a small bushfire earlier this year generated some 9500 calls to the department.

"People see smoke and ring us straight away. We want to now proactively inform the public."

The department has increased the number of agents available for spill-over operations from about 50 to 400, and is set to ink a similar agreement with VicRoads by year's end. Agents can access the department using a single web portal username and password.

Compton spoke at the G-Force event in Melbourne yesterday.

Darren Pauli travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Genesys.

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