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Vic Govt warned 000 inadequate before Black S -

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TONY JONES: The Royal Commission into Victoria's bushfires is preparing for formal hearings next
month.

As it does 'Lateline' can reveal that not only was the Victorian Government warned repeatedly of
the need for a community warning system, it was also told that the State could not rely on the
triple zero emergency call system

The state's Emergency Services commissioner, Bruce Esplin, wrote a report last August warning that
the 000 phone number was in danger of being overwhelmed.

Rafael Epstein reports.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: The February bush fires came quickly and for many, without warning. The Victorian
Government did warn about the potential for extreme fire danger, but the Government had already
been warned the emergency system was not able to deal with a major disaster.

On Black Saturday, residents say the 000 emergency number went unanswered. Operators didn't know
how to find callers' locations and they claim valuable evacuation time was wasted while people
waited for their calls to be answered.

The Government said all that could be done was done.

BOB CAMERON, VICTORIAN EMERGENCY SERVICES MNISTER: We're still trying to examine that matter, but
what we do know is that the system was geared up to the maximum possible before the weekend given
the warnings of the chief fire officers.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But in fact the Government had already been given the clearest warning that the 000
system could collapse under just the sort of pressure it faced on Black Saturday.

Nearly a year before the fire struck in April last year, thousands of people called Emergency
Services after the worst windstorm in decades whipped across Victoria, bringing down trees and
powerlines.

A report on the emergency response was delivered to the Government last August, and the news was
damning.

It said of more than 25,000 calls to 000 and others during the April 08 storms, half of the calls
suffered extended delays or were not connected to Emergency Services.

In his review, Emergency Services Commissioner Bruce Esplin warned "... that a significant
proportion of calls to 000 were not at the time critical or threat to life nature."

Mr Esplin warned that the problem diverts capacity to handle time critical and potentially life
threatening events. So he recommended the consideration of technological solutions to streamline
the handover process for 000 calls.

The Government says it's responded to some recommendations and will respond to others only after
the Royal Commission into the fires.

The graphic warnings are contained in this report which was released last week just as public
attention in Victoria was focused somewhere else - on an alleged scandal involving a Cabinet
minister.

But this report raises questions about another contentious issue; the lack of an early warning
system for residents in specific areas.

BARBARA MUIR, MARYSVILLE RESIDENT: There has to be something better than word of mouth and running
up and down the street and telephone calls, and yelling across the road, "It's time to go," and
things like that, particularly when there was so many police around.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: The Victorian Government emphasised the problems had been a lack of national
agreement and the lack of right technology.

JOHN BRUMBY, VICTORIAN PREMIER: Even if you'd had the best warning systems in the world, I honestly
don't know whether they would have helped given the speed of the fire.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: In a private consultant's report, a senior Victorian policeman is reported to say
that State and Federal Governments wouldn't come up with the funding. The Victoria Police State
Emergency Response Coordinator Rod Collins says of a warning system that "... We want to run it out
across the country but want $20 million from governments, but they are balking at the costs."

But Rod Collins has told 'Lateline' he never said governments were concerned about costs, and that
he'd never heard the figure of $20 million.

Whatever the arguments over the funding, it's clear the Victorian Government had been told a new
warning system was needed.

Bruce Esplin's August review of the windstorm recommended that "... Victoria progresses as a matter
of priority, a telephony based public emergency notification system to reduce demand on 000 and
other emergency telephone lines."

The Federal Government says the States and Territories should agree on such a system before the
next Council of Australian Governments at the end of the month.

Rafael Epstein, Lateline.