Emergency SMS alerts ready for Australia's summer

Mobile phone customers will receive emergency text alerts when disasters hit their areas, the Federal government has said.

Telstra customers will have access to the Australian emergency alert system this summer, while Optus and Vodafone alerts will come on board next year.

"In a world first, emergency text messages will be sent out to mobile phones based on where that phone is, as well as its registered address," Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said in a statement on Thursday.

Roxon said that issuing emergency warnings effectively during a disaster was "absolutely critical."

"This update will help emergency services to get warnings to the right people, at the right time, in the right place," she said.

She said that the public should not rely on receiving any single warning system, but should also listen to the radio, watch television, check emergency services websites, and stay aware of local conditions.

The government has spent nearly AU$60 million on upgrading the alert system so that it can send location-specific warnings during disasters.

Queensland MP Bernie Ripoll said that the state's recent floods emphasised the importance of delivering the right information to people as quickly as possible.

"This upgrade will mean mobile phone users will be able to get these warnings if they're in a disaster area. This system won't only rely upon their registered address," he said.

The Victorian government, which has been negotiating with telco carriers on behalf of the Federal government, had previously signed Telstra on to the alerts system in January, and completed talks with Vodafone and Optus in September this year.

The announcement confirms concerns raised in previous budget estimate sittings that the seven month delay between signing on Vodafone and Optus would mean that the latter two would not be able to use the national alerts system for the fire season. Optus has previously told ZDNet that in the interim, it will continue to reach out to emergency services and volunteer alerts services.