Emergency notification of the public

Yellow Bird
Dr. Stephen Robson with his YellowBird emergency radio activator. Photo: Richard Briggs

An obstetrician in Australia has invented a device that would turn on your AM/FM radio during an emergency. After experiencing bushfires in 2003 and the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, he came up with the concept of an electronic device that could be activated by emergency management authorities that would turn on your AM/FM radio. When the radio is activated by a tone broadcast during the radio transmission, you would hear a siren and see flashing lights before the emergency warning message. The device, named “YellowBird”, can also include technology to detect your location so that the emergency services could activate radios in specific locations.

Some Pacific nations have embraced the concept, but the federal government in Australia has not tested it and prefers a new system that sends voice messages to landline phones and a text message to mobile phones. The phones in Australia are targeted by the location of the handset or the billing address of the mobile phone. The federal government is considering using location-based technology in mobile phones in the future to send information based on their current location.

None of these systems are perfect, in that if a single technology is used, a segment of the population will be left out. For the AM/FM radio system, you have to have a radio that contains the electronic chip, which will increase the price of the radio. Some people are not interested in even owning an AM/FM radio anymore, at least in their homes, but they might be convinced to purchase one if the additional price of the technology was reasonable.

With some mobile phone automatic notification systems, at least in the United States, you have to opt-in to be notified. That is, you have to contact the authorities and give them your mobile phone number. The Australian system appears to bypass this opt-in requirement and sends messages to all mobile phones based on the billing address.

Thanks Dick

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

One thought on “Emergency notification of the public”

  1. The U.S. Emergency Alert System which replaced the Emergency Broadcast System in the mid 1990s was designed to be capable of remotely activating consumer electronics.

    However, I don’t believe any consumer electronics actually listen for the activation tones. I think it was just a whole host of concerns of how you integrate it to reliable, idiot proof, and not trigger false alarms. And what would happen to the power grid if you turned on one million television sets simultaneously.

    Out of that effort grew “SAME” capable weather radios.


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