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Civil defence exercise missing communications

Emergency Response Systems Ltd

Media Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 15 May 2006


National Civil defence exercise is missing key communication component

Testing the ability of Civil Defence to communicate quickly and effectively with the affected public in the event of a national or localised emergency should be a part of the national exercise planned for tomorrow.

Exercise Pacific Wave – an exercise involving 28 countries around the Pacific is being held on May 17 to test warning procedures. In a statement last week the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM) director John Norton said the eight-hour exercise would begin with a simulated warning from US Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii of a large quake off South America. Mr Norton said Exercise Pacific Wave would be simulated within the National Crisis Management Centre at Parliament and regional Emergency Operations Centres will no actual warnings or evacuations conducted.

Graham Roper, director and owner of Emergency Information Systems Ltd (EIS), developed an Emergency Text Response System two years ago. He has serious concerns that the vital issue of notifying the general population has not been addressed in Exercise Pacific Wave.

“If they don’t have an effective public communication system in place, there will be no lessons learnt after the Gisborne Tsunami alert confusion of two weeks ago,” he said.

Mr Roper says a text message emergency response system would have averted recent confusion arising among Gisborne residents over a tsunami warning.

The Dunedin-based company, which has developed the Emergency Text Response (ETR), says the system would have enabled Civil Defence to send immediate text messages to all cellphones in the Gisborne area advising of the situation. This meant people would receive updates as they came to hand, information about what to do and reassurance about their situation.

He says it is a unique system, nationally and internationally which is simple and cost effective. ETR is a registered patent in New Zealand and holds protective patents in other parts of the world.

Mr Roper said if the ETR system had been in place nationally two weeks ago, everyone in the Gisborne region with a cellphone, who had it turned on would have received a series of text messages advising them what was happening and what to do.

Mr Roper said the system utilises the Telecommunications frameworks and utilises state-of-the-art technology which already exists. It has the capacity to continually update data for all information requirements during a Civil Defence emergency.

Exchange of information via cellphone is the most efficient way to communicate as mobile repeaters can be rapidly deployed. The system has the capacity to isolate separate regions affected by a Civil Defence emergency.

Mr Roper, an ex-paramedic, said the ETR system had been developed with the idea of it ultimately becoming a central government generated response (through Civil Defence or the 111 system). He said the concept had been with the Minister of Civil Defence (past and present) for the last 18 months. Both Telecom and Vodaphone had also been approached.

"I guess the Gisborne events realised my worst fears about New Zealand's preparedness for a major emergency," said Mr Roper. "I shudder to think of the outcome if a tsunami had struck our shores,” he said. "By a simple text message, loss of life in this situation would at least be reduced, if not prevented.

"Ultimately ETR enables a major form of communication in the event of a civil defence emergency. It also empowers people to act and take control of a situation that could save lives."

ENDS

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