Satellite Based Disaster Warning System for Australia

Resilient societies require rapid and effective communication and dissemination of safety information and warnings to the general public in case of an emergency. New media and mobile technologies are shaping people’s growing expectations of individualised warnings to personal mobile devices. In particular, location-based emergency services and mobile alerts are becoming increasingly prevalent in the provision of emergency warnings.

In Australia, the Australian National Emergency Alert (a telephone-based service, enhanced with location-based capabilities) has been used widely. However, telephone-based warning services are vulnerable to network overload and ground-based disruptions in the often extreme and unexpected circumstances surrounding an emergency.

This research was undertaken by an interdisciplinary RMIT team led by Professor John Handmer and Dr Suelynn Choy, working alongside specialists in Japan from Keio University and two corporations (NTTData and PASCO). The team investigated the use of next generation global satellite navigation systems (GNSS), such as the Japanese Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS), in the provision of emergency warnings and alerts. The Japanese QZSS signals can be used to “piggyback” real-time location-based emergency warnings to people’s mobile devices. The satellite’s orbit provided a unique opportunity to provide warnings across the whole of Australia, without the constraints of ground-based communication technologies.

In the course of their investigations, researchers interviewed key personnel from both national and Victorian organisations providing emergency and disaster management services. The immediate beneficiaries of this research include the various emergency management agencies in Australia, by demonstrating the near-future possibilities in emergency warnings. Further implementation will involve trials with more users and members of the community to see how they respond to receiving warning messages in this manner. Ultimately, the main beneficiaries of the research will be those people who receive accurate, relevant and timely warnings from the appropriate authorities when threatened by a natural disaster or major accident.

The research and initial trial indicated that use of navigational satellite systems can indeed overcome some of the limitations of the current emergency alert system. The QZSS would be faster, not subject to overload, independent of the terrestrial telephone and data system and would provide coverage of the whole country and marine areas close to the coast. The results of the work continue to be cited in peer-reviewed publications around the world.