As with most of the country – well, those with a healthy appetite for current affairs – I’ve been watching the unfolding flood disaster in Queensland with a mixture of shock, fascination and
awe at the power of Mother Nature.
One thing that I’ve found rather interesting about this particular disaster, is the way that technology has been used to compliment existing emergency broadcast systems to disseminate information to those affected by what’s happening.
Obviously, this has come from the massive encroachment of technology (and in particular related social media services like Twitter and Facebook) into our lives. It’s been a natural progression for normal life, so it makes perfect sense to see this happen in times of disaster such as this.
My question is: Will our increasing reliance on advanced technology in our every day lives see the end of older forms and will this create a series of problems and black spots in times of emergency?
Will the eventual cessation of AM radio broadcasts, broadcast television (and it will happen eventually) and the uptake of internet-based, digital broadcast technologies going to make it harder for people to stay informed during large disasters?
Historically, in times of natural disaster, emergency information has been made widely available through the ABC’s local radio station in whatever region things are happening. For the majority of the country, these stations are found on the AM band of your radio.
However, the push from consumers is towards more advanced forms of radio such as digital radio or Internet streaming. The problem is, for a lot of this stuff you require a reasonable amount of electricity to power it. And as we’ve seen in Brisbane today, electricity is becoming something of a scares resource as the floodwaters move through the city.
Couple that with congestion on mobile phone networks (we’ve seen Optus and Vodafone both struggle today to keep their networks functioning) and you start heading towards a situation where people are not only out of contact, but also completely outside the information loop that keeps them informed if what is happening and where the safe places to go are.
Natural disasters are something that is always going to happen. We need to ensure that we have the best possible methods available to us to keep people informed during these times. Power-happy, Internet required devices and tools might be fantastic when the sun is out and everything is fine, but they may not cope when those things are removed or restricted during some sort of disaster.
And that has to be kept in mind. You never know, that tatty old radio might one day prove to be more useful to you than your iPad.