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Improvements to Fires Near Me app

The NSW Rural Fire Service has made some critical improvements to the Fires Near Me app, adding a system where border residents will be alerted to any fires starting within 50km of the NSW-Victorian border and not just to fires with a point of origin in NSW. Source: Tumut and Adelong Times

The change is expected to be added to the app within weeks.

The issues with cross-border communication were highlighted at the Royal Bushfires Commission by Snowy Valleys CEO Matt Hyde last June.

“Communications were so poor during the event it was difficult to tell what was happening,” said Mr Hyde at the hearings, describing how the fire quickly jumped from one side of the NSW/VIC border and back again.

“The apps were based on where the fire originated from, so if the fire originated on the NSW side of the border, the RFS maintained the fire information until it crossed the border and then it didn’t maintain the information, and vice versa.”

The RFS has responded, adding the alert feature to ensure residents living along the border are aware of new fire starts.

“Anything within 50k of the border will show up as an incident and you click on it and it should take you to the VicEmergency app,” said RFS Inspector Ben Shepherd.

“It was a way of showing people there were at least incidents across the border.”

Inspector Shepherd said it still remains the responsibility of the agency in charge of the fire to issue warnings to people in the area, but by adding the 50km fire alert bubble, it ensures residents who are at risk have immediate notification.

“It’s an automated process. We’re just looking for anything that’s within 50km of the border,” he said.

The app will only alert residents to fires which start within 50km of the border, measuring the fires from their point of origin rather than their mapped edge.

Inspector Shepherd said if there was a fire which started in Victoria more than 50km from the border and started moving towards the border, the RFS and Country Fire Authority would liaise to ensure border residents were appropriately warned.

“If it started within 50km of the border there would be a notification, and by the time it was running that way, we would be in contact with the CFA for an appropriate alert level for towns and villages on our side of the border,” he said.

The new system is already in place. People living near the NSW-Vic border are encouraged to download both the Fires Near Me app for NSW and the VicEmergency app.