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QLD flood report calls for emergency services broadband network

Says digital radio a dud for data, also critical of some insurers’ service

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The Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry’s Final Report calls for the creation of a dedicated wireless broadband network for the emergency services.

The report finds that says black spots for the analogue radios used by Queensland emergency services at the time of the floods were “inevitable”, before going on to endorse existing plans for a replacement digital network to improve coverage.

But the report notes that the digital network’s intended use of the 400Mhz band means it will not be useful for carrying large amounts of data.

“The 400 MHz spectrum cannot effectively be used for data communications because the size of each spectrum allocation is too small to transmit large files,” the report says in Section 15.2.1. The report goes on to say “The Commission … regards as vital the allocation of broadband spectrum to Australia’s emergency service organisations …”

The report praises the imminent upgrade to Queensland Police’s computer-aided despatch systems, the design of which aims to reduce the time taken to take a call, record data and despatch the appropriate assistance. The system will also provide “improved awareness of current conditions for call takers, since the system will be linked with geographic/geospatial information system (GIS) data sets.” The addition of vehicle location systems will also make despatch easier, the report notes.

Insurance technology

The 658-page report, released last week, also recounts how customers struggled to reach insurance companies’ call centres in the days after floods inundated substantial areas of Brisbane in January 2011. Some customers also felt that insurance companies did not provide timely information about claims. One customer even reported that his insurer sent snail mail to a flooded Brisbane home, even though he had requested emails be sent as he lived in Singapore.

The report therefore makes a suggestion (in Recommendation 12.1) that “When a policy-holder makes a claim, the insurer should ascertain the policy-holder’s preferred method of contact and ensure that it is used (with other modes of communication if necessary) to keep the policy-holder informed about the progress of the claim. However, important decisions regarding the claim – for example, determinations about the outcome of the claim and settlement sums – should always be confirmed in writing.

Another technology-related issue the report touches on is the recording of calls made to insurers’ call centres. Some insurers did not record calls. Others kept inadequate file notes about each claim. The result was claimants who felt that the nature of their claims was not well-understood and that in the absence of a single case manager they had to restate their case on several occasions. These circumstances are the subject of another recommendation, to the effect that ” Insurers should review their existing systems and processes and implement any improvements necessary to ensure that accurate and complete records of conversations with policy-holders are made.” (Recommendation 12.2)

The information technology industry will probably get plenty of work from the report, thanks to numerous calls for greater data collection so that Queensland’s rainfall and rivers can be better understood and modelled to help predict and manage future floods.

That data, the report recommends (as recommendation 2.1), should be curated by “The Queensland Government and Commonwealth Government should ensure the existence and maintenance of a repository of data of the type used in flood studies. The database should include the types of data which the expert panel specified as needed for a comprehensive flood study. Councils, Queensland and Commonwealth Government agencies and dam operators should be able to deposit and obtain access to data.”

Another technological nugget in the report concerns remote-controlled sewer-cleaning vehicles , which have ” … reduced the need for manual inspection by torch and mirror, but it remains a slow process. With modern technologies, Brisbane City Council is presently able to inspect approximately 80 kilometres of stormwater pipes every year, which means that on average the entire system will be inspected once every 30 to 40 years.” ®

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