CFS volunteers frustrated by teething problems with update to SA emergency paging system
An update to South Australia’s emergency paging system has left firefighters frustrated after it corrupted or prevented messages from being received in the opening days of the Mount Lofty Ranges fire danger season.
A Country Fire Service (CFS) volunteer, who did not want to be named, said the messaging system for “half his brigade fell over” before being partially rectified two weeks later.
“We were pretty distressed because some people were getting pages and some weren’t, and the logic was you just start sending SMSes to each other [in the brigade] instead to tell them to respond,” he said.
SA Government Radio Network (SAGRN) messages are sent to pagers operated by personnel from the CFS, State Emergency Service, Metropolitan Fire Service and SA Ambulance Service to notify them of an emergency situation.
Once crew members have responded and arrive at stations, SAGRN radios are used.
Messages half complete, delayed
The CFS volunteer said the system upgrade also affected the pagers’ time synchronisation across the network and subsequently affected message cohesiveness.
“If a message exceeds 190 characters, what used to happen is you’d get the first page and then the second page immediately,” he said.
“Now what happens is you get the first message but the system is allowing other pages to come though, and then a couple of minutes later you might get the second part of the message.”
Issues identified by update team
A spokesperson for Emergency Services Minister Corey Wingard said the cut-over occurred on November 13, four days before the start of the Mount Lofty fire danger season.
“After the cut-over, some users with older pagers reported issues with receiving pages; this issue was rectified two weeks after cut-over and only affected users with older pages,” the spokesperson said.
“An issue with the setting of the date and time on pagers has also been identified.
“While frustrating, this issue is only cosmetic and does not affect the receipt of pager messages [and] a fix for this issue is imminent.”
The spokesperson said the update was designed to improve coverage and reliability.
“The new network provides an additional 13 paging sites, including two servicing the Mount Lofty region,” he said.
The paging upgrade was part of a larger $145 million upgrade of the SAGRN which the ABC understands was approved by the former government.
Timing of update criticised
But the CFS volunteer criticised the decision to roll out the update at the opening of the fire danger season.
“It’s ludicrous and it should have been left to the end of the fire season when you can run both systems concurrently and test the other one first to make sure it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.”
The Minister’s spokesperson said the decision to move to the new paging network “was made by the SAGRN upgrade team and all user agencies, including the CFS”.
“All user agencies agreed that it was better to cut over the new paging network as soon as possible due to the improved reliability and greater coverage of the new network, rather than waiting until the end of the fire season,” he said.
“With the exception of the above issues, the network has been operating successfully since cut-over [and] there has been no rollback to the old network.”