Hansard of the Legislative Council
BELL BAY – FIRE WARNING SYSTEMS FOR THE PUBLIC
AND TOXIC MATERIALS
Mr FINCH (Question)- My question is to the honourable leader.
(1) What protocols and procedures are in place to warn nearby residents
of toxic emissions from fires like the one at Bell Bay earlier this month?
(2) Given that there are complaints from some residents that they
had no advice whatsoever of the release of health endangering toxic fumes, are
there any plans to review protocols for such events in the future?
(3) What plans does the government have to prevent the
accumulation of the potentially toxic materials that fuelled the Bell Bay fire?
Mr FARRELL - Mr President, I thank the honourable
member for Rosevears for his question and the honourable member for Windermere
for his offer to answer it.
(1) The Tasmanian Fire Service (TFS) maintains a web-based
community alert publishing system for alerting the community to important
information during emergencies. This system has a capacity, upon a request from
an incident controller, to quickly produce information for dissemination on
websites, Facebook, Twitter, radio and television. The system is available for
use by incident controllers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The TFS maintains arrangements with ABC
local radio and commercial media organisations to ensure that community alert
information produced is delivered to the public in a timely and effective way
and in as many forms as possible to cater for differing community needs. This
is the same system that allowed for the delivery for hundreds of warning
messages throughout the 2012-13 bushfire season.
TFS also provides the Tasmanian
community with emergency information through the Emergency Alert system.
Emergency Alert is the national telephone warning system used by emergency
management agencies. The system sends a voice message to landlines and text
messages to mobile phones within a defined area about likely or actual
emergencies such as fire, flood or extreme weather events. This system can be
utilised for hazardous chemical incidents. The system has the capacity to send
500 text messages per second and around 1 000 voice messages per minute. This
system was also extensively used during the 2012-13 bushfire season.
The commonwealth government funded the
initial establishment of Emergency Alert. The location based technology
provided by each of the mobile phone carriers, the TELCOs, is funded by the
commonwealth government and the Victorian government for use by all states and
(2) The system of community alerts maintained by TFS has been
formally reviewed by the TFS after the 2012-13 bushfire season. A substantially
improved alerting system is expected to be available to TFS from the latter
part of this year. Improvements include more flexible messaging, improved
training for users of the system, and increases to the business continuity and
redundancy provisions of the system.
With regard to the specific incident,
the call log indicates that while no request by the incident control was made
to initiate the emergency alert system, the police, EPA, council and side
operators were requested to attend, as well as media notified. Local Bell Bay
industries were notified including Tasports and the two smelters. No other
operations were occurring at the time of the incident being first reported.
The other important point was that no
wharf operations were going on at the start of the incident. Discussions around
this need to consider wider alert or notification incurred and any actions or
non-actions were undertaken based on a risk assessment taking note of such
factors as the fire activity, weather, wind direction and subsequent plume, and
risk to the public.
(3) The Tasmanian Fire Service is not the industry regulator.
Operators of Dangerous Substance Locations, DSL, Large Dangerous Substance
Locations, LDSL, and Major Hazard Facilities, MHFs, are required to have plans
and procedures in place outlining their understanding and compliance with their
safety obligations according to the Dangerous Substances (Safe Handling) Act
The Tasmanian Fire Service can be
called upon to provide advice in relation to drafting of these plans. Local
government, the Environmental Protection Authority and Workplace Standards Tasmania
are stakeholders to these operators providing oversight to the safe and
efficient operation of these industries conducting business at the local level.