Don't rely on emergency SMS: Vic govt

The Victorian government has urged residents not to rely solely on the new SMS alert system.
Written by AAP , Contributor and  Josh Taylor, Contributor

People caught in bushfire zones should not rely on SMS warnings alone, Victoria's Acting Premier Peter Ryan has said.

Victims of a bushfire that tore through farming communities at Carngham in the state's west on Tuesday night have criticised authorities for failing to keep them informed about the blaze.

During a packed community meeting in nearby Snake Valley on Wednesday, residents were angry at not being able to find out information on the blaze, with some complaining that they did not receive emergency SMS alerts.

Ryan said that 12 different alerts, including multiple SMS messages, were issued after the grassfire took hold in Chepstowe, west of Ballarat, on Tuesday.

He said that those who complained they did not receive the warnings may not have fallen within the selected transmission "polygon".

"The SMS I believe worked very, very well in the course of all of this," he told Fairfax Radio on Thursday.

Ryan said locals should keep a back-up battery radio to monitor warnings in case power is lost during a blaze.

"People need to understand that the SMS system is but one element of a suite of warning systems," he said.

"You will be hearing on the radio that there is trouble.

"The idea is that you should have some battery radio available to you, if you lose power."

Optus, Telstra, and Vodafone had all joined the Victorian system for national alerts by the end of September last year, however, this is the first time the alerts have been put to the test. The new system takes into account the actual location of the users, rather than the physical address that the phones are registered to, this allows them to send location-specific alerts to people in the affected areas.

One issue with the system is that it is not currently compatible with the 4G networks of Telstra or Optus. However, the current workaround in these situations has the telco sending the alert message if the person has made a phone call in the last hour in the affected area, prior to the alert being issued.

Nine houses, including the 120-year-old historic homestead Carngham Station, were destroyed in the blaze.

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