Sunday, September 13, 2009

Victorian Government asking for mobile phone bushfire system

The Victorian Government has issued a Request for Information (RFI) for "Location Based Identification of Active Mobile Handsets for Emergency Notification Purposes (SS-06-2009, 6 August 2009, closing 28 October 2009). There is a four page document (pdf format, 572 kBytes). Appended is an excerpt from the Statement of Requirements in the document.

There some obvious flaws in the RFI. The first is that the RFI is assuming a particular technical solution to the problem of altering people to an emergency. Specifically the RFI refers to Location Based Identification of Active Mobile Handsets". This assumes it is feasible, legal, safe and necessary to identify where handsets are, in order to issue a localised bushfire warning. As I have discussed in a number of presentations this year, this is not necessary and may not be desirable. A further problem is the the time for the RFI, to which a decision is not expected until late February 2010.

Victoria has an urgent need for bushfire emergency warning systems. By selecting a solution which will involve complex technical and legal issues and by cutting off alternatives which may be better, even before an RFI is issued, the Victorian Government is delaying the implementation of a workable system and thus placing at further risk its citizens. There is a risk that a complex system will take longer to produce and will be less reliable. Also producing a system which too precisely tracks where citizens are will create privacy concerns and may also give a false sense of the precision of the information which citizens will receive. Victoria should aim to build a simple robust system first. In addition Victoria has to build and test a clear chain of command for who can decide to issue warnings using the system.

RFI Part B – Statement of Requirements

Department of Treasury and Finance – Government Services Group

Request for Information for Location Based Identification of Active Mobile Handsets for Emergency Notification purposes

COAG has agreed to take immediate steps to enhance Australia’s natural disaster arrangements through the development of a telephone-based emergency warning system that will enable the States and Territories (the States) to deliver warnings to landline and mobile telephones, based on the billing address of the subscriber, to be operational by October 2009 and to undertake further research into a capability to deliver warnings based on the location of a mobile telephone.
Communication with potentially affected individuals before, during and after emergencies is critical and it is an area where the States and the emergency service organisations can leverage telecommunications technology to greater advantage as the provision of information to individuals during emergencies can make a critical difference.

The delivery of emergency warnings to landline and mobile telephones, based on the billing address of the subscriber, component is being addressed through the NEWS (National Emergency Warning System) Request for Tender (RFT) for all States except Western Australia. Western Australia will deliver their emergency warning messages using WA StateAlert.

We recognize that individuals have become increasingly mobile and we acknowledge that location based identification of active mobile handsets within a geographically defined emergency area will provide an efficient and effective method to notify potentially affected individuals.

To further our research into the identification of location based active mobile handsets for the purpose of emergency warning notification, and to potentially supplement the NEWS, we are seeking an understanding of your wireless location based capability in this regard.

This document describes the background for seeking an understanding of location based identification of active mobile handsets, for the purpose of emergency warning notification, with a view to incorporating this technology within the NEWS.


Both Federal and State government have undertaken research to determine the most effective method of notifying individuals of impending or existing emergency events that could have an impact on the welfare of individuals within the geographically defined emergency area.

Consumer trends reveal that the preferred method of communication with an individual is the mobile telephone.

Australia has a mobile telephone saturation point in excess of 100% and this is currently increasing.1

Australia: Population and Cellular Market Penetration ...

At the same time the domestic penetration of fixed line telephone is decreasing. ...


It is our aim to understand current and future capability of mobile location based services that are able to be provided by a solution provider.
We would further like to understand your view of network or other component enhancements that may be necessary to enable the location based identification of active mobile handsets for the purpose of emergency warning notification.
We would also like to understand the current impediments that exist which may prevent location based technology from being utilised to identify active mobile handsets within a defined emergency area.

These expectations may vary based on locality of emergency event and the type of emergency event. These expectations will be further explored based on requirement for accuracy, speed of delivery, delivery indicator and network load. We aim to understand what degree of certainty and accuracy can be achieved through the different methods of targeting location based active handset messaging.

Emergency event types may dictate a requirement for outbound messages to be delivered to targeted active mobile handsets. This requirement may range from naturally occurring events, with an amount of lead time before the event is predicted to occur through to more urgent man-made, instantaneous emergency events concentrated in Capital city Central Business District precincts.

Examples of the message volumes for mass dissemination are in the range of 1,000 messages for specific public safety messages where precision of accuracy is required, 5,000 for town or shire type notification, 20,000 for metropolitan targeted warning, 50,000 for widespread urban events such as flooding through to 100,000 upwards for extreme and CBD centric events.

Emergency warning messages may be disseminated using either voice or text.
It will be essential to understand the capability and precision of location based identification of active mobile handsets across CBD, metropolitan, urban and rural localities.

This understanding of capability across different cell density and cell types will further allow emergency service organisations to structure their emergency warning processes and procedures appropriately and with a clear understanding of what the technology can provide based on locality and requirement of the emergency event type. This exercise may require a collaborative and open approach between government with

The table below illustrates various emergency event types and fundamental requirements to be met as part of delivering that type of emergency warning.

Table 1

Wireless Technology Characteristics ...

Response Required

As location based services mature, and for certain emergency event types, it would be envisaged that:

  • the technology will have the ability to receive notifications about any new mobile devices entering a previously specified emergency area to alert the user that, for example, an emergency services vehicle has arrived at a location, or a civilian has entered the area and may be unaware of the emergency
  • the technology will include the ability to receive notifications for any mobile devices exiting the defined emergency area. This could facilitate the creation of an evacuation list of people who are still remaining in the emergency area
  • the technology will be able to locate specific mobile devices in both 2G and 3G networks, and overlay their position onto a map.
  • the technology will have the ability to provide sufficient privacy and authentication checking mechanisms to ensure mobile location security

This understanding of a Respondent’s ability to identify location based active mobile handsets will enable governments to consider any future adoption of this capability ...

From: "Location Based Identification of Active Mobile Handsets for Emergency Notification Purposes, SS-06-2009, Request for Information (RFI), Department of Treasury and Finance, Victorian Government, 6 August 2009

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