Tuesday 17 September 2013

Hansard of the Legislative Council





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 territories.

(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 2005.

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.