Border residents could soon be able to track fires in both NSW and Victoria on one app, with the NSW Rural Fire Service currently testing an update to its Fires Near Me program.
Fires Near Me currently shows the status of fires across NSW and the ACT on the RFS website and via its smartphone app.
As fires at the start of 2020 jumped across the NSW/Victoria border in the Snowy Valleys, local communities found it difficult to keep track of where fires were and the level of threat to their safety.
The Snowy Valleys Council used their submission to the national bushfire Royal Commission to call for improved cross-border communication including through apps like Fires Near Me.
Speaking this week, council chief executive officer Matthew Hyde said adding Victorian incidents to the app would address one of the council's major concerns.
"We certainly put our submissions into the Royal Commission to say the boundary was a real issue for us and our communities weren't able to get cross-border communication," he said.
Mr Hyde said in the Snowy Valleys emergency operation centre during the bushfires at the beginning of 2020, it had been very difficult to track fires as they jumped across the Murray River on multiple occasions.
"We basically saw right up to the boundary, and had black space after that," he said.
He said it had been much easier to track fires moving in and out of the ACT which currently appears on Fires Near Me, and adding Victoria to the map would solve a lot of problems they faced last year.
"If that can be resolved ... that'll be absolutely fantastic for both our community and our emergency operations centre," he said.
In late 2020, NSW joined all states other than Western Australia in transitioning to the Australian Warning System, a national standard for logos and descriptions of the level of danger of each fire to reduce confusion for those following fires in multiple states.
NSW residents are encouraged to download and update the app, after which the new icons appear.
A RFS spokesperson said for NSW residents, the logos have changed but the messages have not.
The three icons are:
- Advice (Yellow): An incident has started. There is no immediate danger. Stay up to date in case the situation changes.
- Watch and Act (Orange): There is a heightened level of threat. Conditions are changing and you need to start taking action now to protect you and your family.
- Emergency Warning (Red): An Emergency Warning is the highest level of warning. You may be in danger and need to take action immediately. Any delay now puts your life at risk.
This system will also be used for other types of emergencies such as flooding or storms, however there are no current plans to add these emergencies to the Fires Near Me app.
However, the new national system has opened the door for the inclusion of fire incidents in other states.
The RFS spokesperson said testing was currently underway to include Victorian, South Australian and Queensland incidents on the app, allowing border residents to see fires in Victoria that may threaten their safety.
Currently, border residents are advised to follow the websites of relevant fire agencies in both NSW and Victoria to monitor fires in their area.