CostalWatch deploys SMS in emergency management strategy

New mobile technology has been trialled by Queensland lifeguards as a means to source greater information on beach conditions up and down the state.

The technology, which uses text-based SMS messages to communicate ocean conditions and incident reports, was used by the RD arm of surf conditions advisory site CoastalWatch, CoastalCOMS, to address the ongoing issue of delayed beach condition reports which endangered swimmers, and lifeguards.

“We wanted to know what the present conditions on each beach around Australia,” CoastalCOMS general manager of research and development, Chris Lane, said at the recent World Computer Congress 2010 in Brisbane. “At the present moment, there is no way of telling if beaches around Australia are safe.”

Under the technology trial mobile devices were given to lifeguards to allow feed in up-to-the-minute beach condition reports to CoastalCOMS via SMS, Lane said.

“We went to the SMS technology to look at verifying conditions,” he said. “There’s no use getting information back from people that aren’t professional lifeguards on the beach, so we had the mobile device and we put the handset in the hands of lifeguards and set up an SMS reporting system.”

Having a digital, near-realtime information source also dramatically increased the accuracy, reliability and efficiency of the organisation's reporting, Lane said.

“At the present moment, all incident reports are done on paper at the end of the day, so all lifeguards in Australia would walk out and ask themselves ‘what rescues did I do today?’. No-one would actually know what they were doing in real time.

“Each SMS went into the gateway system and into the web server engine, which we verify. It then went into the data centre…[and a] confirmation [was sent back] to the Lifeguard telling them that their report was implemented.”

CoastalCOMS worked with the Queensland Government and Bond Wireless to set up the solution. According to Lane, SMS was a more reliable option than Web-based reporting due to a lack of 3G coverage on beaches.

“3G doesn’t exist everywhere,” he said. “In places like Surfers Paradise, parts of the beach don’t have 3G [coverage], so this solution made it very easy.”

Lane said that following a review of the technology trial, some 86 per cent of lifeguards said they would use the technology again, 72 per cent took less than 60 seconds to complete a report, and 100 per cent said the data logger was more practical and easier to use.

Following the trial CoastalCOMS is now assessing whether to include a beach reporting program, an auto-police reporting system with State Emergency Service (SES) and internet-based reports.

The trial follows news that the Federal Government plans to upgrade its Emergency Alert warning system, with all Australian mobile handsets on every carrier set to receive SMS notifications about natural disasters in their current location. The Western Australian government also plans to consolidate its emergency communications system and eradicate mobile blackspots.


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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