This week The Beagle editor wrote to the RFS Media team outlining concerns over last weekend's Fires near Me App notice indicating an Out Of Control fire on the Clyde.
The notice advised, as you can see below, that there was a Bush Fire that was Out of Control at the location identified.
The Beagle wrote to the RFS Media team "As you can expect this created panic, it brought back immediate feelings of anxiety and it brought back memories of the fires in this exact area last year that closed the highway for days on end. It also brought back the memory of the massive fires that resulted ranging south east into the valleys below and the massive plumes of smoke with active embers that followed.
"This was just the tip of the iceberg in regards to the emotional impact that this one screen shot and the description "Out of Control".
"Late in the afternoon the fire was declared (above) Under Control on the Fires near Me App. It had sat there for many hours offering little in the way of updated information. That might seem of little importance to some but to the highly stressed and anxious residents of the fire savaged Eurobodalla it was not the promised new, improved Fires Near Me communications they had been told would be in place for this bushfire season. "To add to the anxiety the Eurobodlla had woodsmoke in the area and that smoke also triggered flashbacks adding to the anxiety. "It is understood that just after 4:30pm fire brigades were called to reports of a bush fire on the Kings Highway between Batemans Bay and Currowan. "It is also understood that, after a thorough investigation of the area no fire was found and all crews were able to return to their stations. "It has since been informally explained to the many people who may have noticed a notification from the Fires Near Me smartphone application that a notice is set after a 000 call has been received and is then updated as crews arrive on scene to investigate the area. "If that is the case then the psychological consequences to the community of IMMEDIATELY attributing a reported fires as OUT OF CONTROL needs urgent revision. The statement on the app of OUT OF CONTROL to a fire that has not yet been verified following a 000 call and has not been investigated is FALSE information. A simple change of status to AWAITING CONFIRMATION would have not resulted in the widespread panic that this Notification caused. The beagle editor advised the RFS Media team "As a media outlet able to assess the immediate response of news items as they are published the following statistics will indicate the impact that this unverified false alarm, posted by the Fires Near Me App that declared an out of control bushfire that caused. "The image below are the figures from yesterday's initial Facebook post. The post reports nothing more than the formal notification from Fires near Me. The numbers (and comments) indicate a widespread panic.
"The above is an example of the need to be careful with messaging the community. The Fires Near Me App was identified in the NSW Bushfire Inquiry as a highly relied upon as a source of FACTUAL information. By the icon and description above we are led to believe from the following table that the FIRE HAS STARTED yet there is no immediate danger. Such a statement can only be made on inspection yet we know it had not been inspected and simply reported by a 000 phone call. "The status of the fire according to the notification is OUT OF CONTROL which, according to the table below is a fire spreading on one or more fronts and that there are no effective strategies in place for the entire perimeter. That is exactly what the Notification very clearly advised users of the Fire near Me App. A fire has started and it is out of control. But it wasn't. It took two hours to advise it was Under Control. That too is FALSE as it is FACT that there was NO FIRE.
"During the last bushfires the community relied heavily on the Fires Near Me NSW app as a source of information during the 2019-20 fire season. Feedback was mixed – while some found it incredibly useful, others noted limitations. "While Fires Near Me is an important source of information, the NSW Bushfire Inquiry heard that it should not be relied upon as the ‘single source of truth’, particularly when fires are spreading quickly. "The example above highlights that the Fires near Me App is now relied on and that authorities need to be mindful that they are considered the ‘single source of truth’, and as such, must be mindful of TRUTHFULLY presenting the situation. "In this instance there was no onground verification that a Fire Had Started (as per the blue icon) nor was it OUT OF CONTROL yet the Notification clearly told the community otherwise. "Of considerable concern Your formal response for publication as comment to the above would be appreciated". A spokesperson from the NSW Rural Fire Service responded:
“Incidents, such as that you refer to in your enquiry, are originally generated in our systems and given the Alert level of Advice when reported, to inform the community of an incident in that area. This can either be scaled up or down once verified by brigade members.”
“The NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) is continually looking at improvements to the service it provides, including the display and information of public warnings like that through Fires Near Me NSW.”