Friday, February 12, 2010

APCO Emergency Communications Conference in Melbourne in March

The "2010 APCO Australasia Conference & Exhibition" is in Melbourne, 15-17 March 2010. The theme is "Technologies & Their Impact on Major Emergencies, A Case Study: Back to the Future – Black Saturday". Last year I attended, and presented, at the conference in Sydney, during the Victorian brushfires, along with people responsible for fighting the fires. This is a very useful conference for those in the emergency and security communications business.


• Counter-Terrorism
• Critical Infrastructure
• Emergency Management & Response
• Future Technologies
• Information & Contract Management
• Training, Education & Planning
• Interoperability
Some 2010 Key Presenters Include
  • David Thodey, Chief Executive Officer, Telstra Corporation
  • Tony Pearce, Director General Emergency Management Australia
  • Kyle Tyrrell, Lieutenant Colonel, Australian Defence Force
  • Simon Overland, Chief Commissioner, Victoria Police
  • Russell Rees, Chief Officer, Country Fire Authority Victoria
  • Greg Sassella, Chief Executive Officer, Ambulance Victoria
  • Christine Nixon, Head of the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction & Recovery Authority
  • Michael Hallowes, Head of Strategic Operations, National Policing Improvement Agency UK
  • Jolly Wong Chun-Kau, Chief Telecom Engineer, Hong Kong Police Force
  • Bruce Farr, Chief, Toronto EMS
  • Dr. David Boyd, Director of Command Control and Interoperability, Department of Homeland Security USA
  • Dr David Jones, Head of Climate Analysis National Climate Centre, Bureau of Meteorology
  • Dr. John Carnie, Chief Medical Officer Victoria
  • Dr David Borth, Chief Technology Officer, Motorola
  • Mike Wright, Executive Director - Wireless Engineering & Operations, Telstra Corporation

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Great Wave off Kanagawa in Melbourne

The hollow of the deep-sea wave off Kanagawa by Katushika HOKUSAIThe National Gallery of Victoria currently has on display "The hollow of the deep-sea wave off Kanagawa" (神奈川沖浪裏 also known as "The Great Wave off Kanagawa") and other works by Katushika HOKUSAI. These include some of his Manga books, which he is said to have invented. These are books of sketches from everyday life, rather than the current meaning of Japanese comic books for adults.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Problems with Myki Smart Transport Card Website

The Victorian Public Transport Minister Lynne Kosky has announced that the myki smart card ticketing system is available for trains in metropolitan Melbourne. However, there appear to be some problems with the myki web site.
  1. The W3C Markup Validation Service reported 47 Errors and 65 warnings.
  2. The W3C mobileOK Checker reported "This page is not mobile-friendly!".
  3. The TAW automated accessibility test reported 4 Level One, 30 Level Two and 29 Level Three problems.
These would tend to make the web site less responsive and usable.

The accessibility problems are of particular concern. The web site says:
"We make every reasonable effort to ensure that this website reaches level AA conformance with World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG), and conforms to the Victorian Government's Accessibility Standard. ..."

From: Accessibility, MyKi, Victorian Government , 2009
This statement is clearly false (even this page with the accessibility claim on it had dozens of accessibility problems). A reasonable effort has not been made and the web site does not conform with level Double-A of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Not even the description of the level of compliance aimed for complies with the guidelines (the term "level AA" is incorrect: the correct term is "level Double-A"). On the face of it the Victorian Government is in breech of federal anti-discrimination legislation.

As an example the home page says: "Click the 'BUY' button below to take advantage of the FREE registered myki offer." The image below says "Buy", but the ALT text for the image does not say "Buy" it says "Get myki". This is very likely to confuse any user of the system who can't see the image because they are blind, would not be easily able to identify where "below" was and so would not be able to find a "buy" button. This very obvious problem should have been picked up if even the most minimal accessibility testing had been done.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Victorian Hybrid Buses

The Victorian Government is sponsoring a trial of two hybrid buses. As the video from the Victorian Transport Department explains, two types of hybrid bus are being trialled: the serial hybrid is more suited to slow routes with many stops, the parallel to longer routes with higher speed.

The series hybrid vehicle is for Ventura Coaches, with the wheels driven only by electric motors. It is claimed to reduce fuel use by 40%. There are 640 lithium ion batteries charged from a 2-litre diesel Volkswagen car engine. The internal combustion engine is much smaller than that normally used in a bus. As this is a full hybrid, the bus could, in theory act as a plug-in hybrid, or pure electric bus, charged from mains power. However, as Victorian electricity is primarily sourced from highly polluting brown coal, this would not have environmental benefits.

The Grendas Bus Service vehicle is a parallel hybrid (similar to a most hybrid cars), built from an Australian made Iveco bus chassis, Volgren Low Floor Route bus body and Cummins diesel Allison hybrid gearbox. This is used as a "Smart Bus" on the Springvale Road 888/889 route.

One aspect of the hybrid buses which is not clear is their fuel source. If the hybrid buses run on diesel they may have little environmental or cost advantages over conventional natural gas powered vehicles.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Victorian Transport Plan

The Victorian government has been promoting a "Victorian Transport Plan" on free to air TV using advertisements. This may have some unintended negative effects. I am in Canberra, which is not in Victoria, and yet I see the ads. This makes me wonder if the Victorian government is spending its transport money wisely.

The Victorian advertisements looks very similar to those which the NSW Government used to promote its "North West Metro". These advertisements were designed to reassure the public that this plan was going to be implemented very soon, unfortunately this turned out not to be true.

The Victorian government might usefully reallocate money from advertising a transport plan to replace its stalled MyKi smart card ticketing system. The Victorian Minister for Transport might like to visit Istanbul and ride their integrated public transport system, using an Akbil electronic token. Istanbul's Akbil is less technically sophisticated than Melbourne's MyKi, but has the advantage of being proved in daily use. Melbourne could benefit from such a system.

The Victorian government is renaming Melbourne's train system a 'Metro'. A metro system is distinguished by having a high capacity, frequent service. Usually with a metro there is no timetable, with services running at specified frequencies, such as every five to fifteen minutes. The Melbourne trains are not such a system and are therefore not a metro. As with the NSW failed North West project, simply relabeling a rail line a "Metro" will not make it one. In the case of Melbourne rail, the service is provided by a private operator, who could be taken to court for falsely offering a Metro service.

The last problem is that the Victorian government has made it very difficult to obtain the actual plan advertised. The plan is in the form of numerousdifficult to read files, some of which are very large, under an obscure link: "Download the plan":
Summary document

Full document

Document in parts

Audio (MP3) version

Consultant reports

  1. Victorian Transport Plan Stakeholder Engagement Summary Report (PDF, 228 KB, 28 pp.)
  2. Booz and Co: Melbourne Public Transport Standards Review (PDF, 217 KB, 15 pp.)
  3. Edward Dotson: East West Link Needs Assessment Recommendations 1, 2, 3, 6 (PDF, 185 KB, 3 pp.)
  4. GHD: EWLNA and Northern Link (PDF, 13,861 KB, 81 pp.)
  5. GHD: Hoddle Street Advice (PDF, 19,168 KB, 91 pp.)
  6. Maunsell: Review and Analysis of Historical and Proposed Commuter Ferry Services on Port Phillip (PDF, 657 KB, 49 pp.)
  7. Meyrick: Economic Assessment (PDF, 321 KB, 28 pp.)
  8. Price Waterhouse Coopers: Review of Social, Demographic and Land Use Analysis (PDF, 135 KB, 22 pp.)
  9. Price Waterhouse Coopers: Additional Impacts Analysis (PDF, 505 KB, 22 pp.)
  10. Price Waterhouse Coopers: Critique of Assessment of Conventional Costs and Benefits (PDF, 1561 KB, 41 pp.)
  11. Price Waterhouse Coopers: Review of the Estimation of Wider Economic Benefits (PDF, 115 KB, 20 pp.)
  12. SGS Economics and Planning: Melbourne Employment Projections (PDF, 933 KB, 34 pp.)
  13. SGS Economics and Planning: Valuing Household Sector Non-Transport Benefits in Cost Benefits Analysis (PDF, 632 KB, 39 pp.)
  14. Summary of Model Outputs (PDF, 1,802 KB, 23 pp.)
  15. The Nous Group: Transport Abatement Wedges (PDF, 706 KB, 54 pp.)
  16. Veitch Lister: Zenith Model Establishment And Validation Report (PDF, 2,935 KB, 34 pp.)
  17. Veitch Lister: Background Assumptions (PDF, 919 KB, 11 pp.)

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Victorian Government Climate Change Draft Policy

The Victorian Climate Change Green Paper is offered as a "comprehensive response to climate change". Unfortunately the document appears to contain no firm proposals from government to actually reduce carbon emissions to combat climate change. There appear to be no proposals for the government to measure or reduce its own energy use or greenhouse gas emissions. The paper appears to be an attempt to avoid dealing with climate change, rather than addressing it.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) gets only two brief mentions in the paper:

Information and Communications Technology: Using the strengths of our ICT industry to transform other sectors. ...

Our Focus

Driving new technologies and markets Victoria is a leader in scientific research and many of the State’s capabilities (such as energy,
biotechnology, advanced materials and ICT) have the potential to contribute to Victoria’s response to climate change. ...
The paper contains no mention of the Internet or the World Wide Web and their role in tracking and reducing carbon emissions.

The document is available as a set of web pages, separate PDF chapters or one large PDF file (95 pages, 4.9 Mbytes). Comment is invited via an online survey or more formal submission. One problem is the very long web addresses used, with a 64 character alphanumeric code in each.
Online table of contents

Message from the Premier

Message from the Minister for Environment and Climate Change

Highlights of the Victorian Climate Change Green Paper

Part 1 - Victoria's climate change framework
    1.1 Reviewing our approach to climate change
    1.2 The Commonwealth Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme - a new policy landscape
    1.3 Governments working together - a new role for Victoria
    1.4 Our long-term goals
    1.5 Our priorities
    1.6 Choosing between different policy ‘levers’
Part 2 - The challenge of our generation
    2.1 Our changing climate
    2.2 Our current emissions
Part 3 - Complementing the CPRS: a new world of opportunities
    3.1 The stationary energy sector
    3.2 Energy efficiency
    3.3 Transport
    3.4 The built environment
    3.5 Solid waste management
    3.6 Land use and forestry
    3.7 Agriculture
Part 4 - Adjustment: The low carbon economy - a climate of opportunity
    4.1 Creating opportunities
    4.2 Driving innovation
    4.3 Developing skills
    4.4 Supporting adjustment to change
Part 5 - Adaptation: a new reality
    5.1 Managing our water resources
    5.2 Victoria’s natural ecosystems
    5.3 Adapting to change in the built environment
    5.4 Building responsive emergency services
    5.5 Health and wellbeing in a changing climate
Part 6 - A shared responsibility
    6.1 Communities and climate change
    6.2 Government leading the way
    6.3 Making decisions in a time of climate change
Part 7 - Having your say

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Role of the web in bushfire warnings

The 2009 Victorian Brushfires Royal Commission is addressing the issue of the role of the web in providing warning to the public. Professor John Handmer, author of "Handbook of Disaster and Emergency Policies and Institutions", gave evidence on 16 June 2009. The statement is not yet online (the commission secretariat told me they have some "technological issues" with statements at present), but the Transcript of Proceedings is. Below are some excerpts dealing with the web and Internet. I agree with the general approach suggested by Professor Handmer, but would like to see simple efficient web mark-up used for warnings, rather than plain text.
You note in paragraph 16 that the audience for a warning may be hugely variable and towards the end of that paragraph you note that, "People go to different sources. Some community members may be habitual uses of the internet, others might be more likely to turn to the radio, others might use personal networks. There are different preferred modes of receiving information." How does that then impact on the way that one should take care to disseminate warnings?---Ideally - I mean the community at risk is infinitely diverse. Each individual, we could argue, has a unique preferred way of receiving a warning, but at some level we have to stop, I suppose. But ideally the modes that are the preferred ways for that community at risk to receive their information should be the modes that are used, given whatever is practical, and that means, almost always it means that there would be several modes.

So it would be preferable in your view to use the internet as well as ABC Radio and perhaps even give consideration to other modes like phone calls or Twitter sites?---Yes, that's right. They are all reasonably technological means. One could argue that in many communities to ensure that the more vulnerable people - it depends on the community - are reached, we would probably need to get into the local networks, the personal networks or the community networks to try to activate, if you like, the neighbourhood to make sure that people who may not receive warnings via those modes receive them either by direct personal contact or some other way, and that they make sure that they are in a position to take what sort of protective action is needed. But this is tapping into what we call the informal warning system. Is there another benefit to disseminating by more than one means, namely in case of failure of one means or imperfect delivery of one means during a crisis?---That's right. We would argue that reliance on any single mode of dissemination is pretty risky, partly because it is not going to get to everybody no matter what it is and, secondly, any single mode is subject to failure or congestion or interruption.

The next aspect you turn to in your statement is timeliness and you note in paragraph 17, "A warning should be delivered in a timely manner so as to allow people to confirm what they have to do and take action in time." Is that a feature you have noticed in your research, that people usually seek confirmation from further sources before they act?---There are two things that come out of the research, main things. One is what you have just said, that people will almost always seek confirmation. Officials will, too. But people at risk will seek confirmation usually by mobilising their personal networks or if they hear something, read something on the web, listen to the radio or TV or ring somebody or vice versa. This is pretty normal and we have found often people - they also might want to ascertain the location of other household members. There are a number of things go on typically before people take action. The other thing we have noticed is that very frequently people receive the warning or at least understand that the warning is important to them too late to do anything useful. ...

Websites. Can we go to question 5, which starts at page 0018, and you note in paragraph 67 that web-based material has really become the primary source of information in our society. In paragraph 69 you make some points about who uses the internet. You say that even though it seems ubiquitous, in 2006 about a quarter of Victorians didn't have internet access. So, although that is a declining proportion, that needs to be kept in mind. That comes from the census data, is that right?---That's right. So it remains the case that the web is not a fix all. One would need to keep in mind promoting messages through ABC Radio and other means?---That's right. The point there is that a proportion of households, and they are likely to be people who are more vulnerable, elderly people and so on, do not have web access. It is also an interesting thing that people who promote the web as a vehicle for warnings have an implicit assumption that people are out there actively seeking their warnings on the web. We don't have evidence for that.

That's an important point you make at point 3: "Websites offer a passive form of warning. That is, they don't alert you to come and read them, although you will find the message if you go and look for it"?---That's true. There are a variety of ways of overcoming that and making websites active through all kinds of tools that can send the messages to you now, Widgets, Twitter and so on. But, nevertheless, the basic principle is that a website is a passive form of warning.

It could be used in conjunction, though, couldn't it, with those other tools you mentioned. If there was a SEWS signal played on the radio or an automated phone call or a text message, part of which suggested looking at a website, that might combine the call to action with finding more information on the website?---It could, or it could simply be that the material on the website is sent to your mobile phone or whatever by one of these devices and there are several possibilities with that.

You note over the page on 0019 some issues about currency and reliability and the issues which may arise when a website is under heavy demand. We touched on this when you spoke of your own experience on 7 February. Is there a way to address the situation when websites are under heavy demand and therefore slow down or even become inaccessible?---They tend to slow right down, that's right. There are a number of ways of addressing it.

Probably the simplest way is for people to take the information off the site automatically and feed it onto other sites or other systems. In the fires on February 7th the material from the CFA site was re-posted, if you like, via Twitter. There was an unofficial site, CFA updates, which was a Twitter site, and that is still active, actually. That was one of a number of sites that on the day took material unofficially from the site. There is a way of doing it which is quite legitimate and CFA encourage it. So, that's one way. What that does is take the load off the site. Another way is to ask people not to use it or to restrict access, but that doesn't seem very promising to me, given that we actually want people to use it, but that's a standard response. Otherwise, there are a number of technical ways of doing this which I outline in the paper. They are basically about reducing the degree of interactivity with the site, so that when you go into the site you don't actually - what you get is just sitting there. The amount of processing power that site needs to use is limited one way or another. Things like graphics, logos and so on, which we have more and more of them on our sites, are pretty hungry for memory.

The idea is not to use them in these emergency situations. In one sense it is an argument for moving to a different website mode in a major emergency when you know the demand is going to be great. I don't know whether I mention it here, but after the tsunami the British Commonwealth and Foreign Office or Foreign and Commonwealth Office website on travel advisories and so on switched to a text only mode for precisely this reason.

And that reduces the memory use?---That's right. It can handle a lot more inquiries.

I note in paragraph 72 you suggest, if we just deal with websites bit by bit, you suggest first of all that it would be useful for there to be one website rather than the DSE and the CFA websites?---A lot of people are arguing this, that there should be one website, but it is a trade-off, I want to say, as well, because if there is one website, all the problems we are talking about in terms of website overload and so on are exacerbated. The solution of course is that there are two sites but they mirror each other's content.

So two sites with the same content or multiple sites with the same content may help?---Yes. I think a single site in terms of content is the ideal, but if we look at the practicalities and the reliability, we are much better off having a number of sites.

Is there also potential to enable information within a website to be hived off, namely to enable people to look at particular messages pertaining to particular parts of Victoria so that they are using different pages or different information at the one time?---Yes, there are a range of devices and so on that can be embedded in sites to do that, and even to send them to the people concerned. You set out all these matters working through to paragraph 80 in the statement. Paragraph 77 is where you deal with the RSS feed. This is the capacity you spoke of for the material on an internet site to be mirrored, if you like, over on a Twitter site?---Yes, but not quite. The RSS feeds really just take key information. They don't take the whole information of the site. That is one reason why they can actually feed information on to sites like

Twitter or even mobile phones if the system is enabled. They take headliners, basically.

Dealing with sirens, which is question 6 - - -

COMMISSIONER PASCOE: Before we leave the websites, a question about the Bureau of Meteorology site which had, we are told, 70 million hits on the day and is used to having a massive - - -?---It is the most popular in Australia, I think, the most popular government site.

I don't know whether you have looked at the features of that site and what enables that site to cope with the heavy demand vis-a-vis the sites that we have just been talking about and whether there are any lessons we can learn from the bureau website?---I'm sure there are, but I haven't personally investigated them, but a lot of the bureau's material is in very basic text form and I think that's probably one of the key features of enabling that site to handle such loads. But I think that would be a worthwhile. I think it is the fourth most popular site in the country. ...

Turning to new technology, question 7, this is a matter you discuss in paragraphs 91 onwards and you refer to the new technologies which have emerged. You make the point in paragraph 93 it is important not to overlook our longstanding communication technologies, including radio. In paragraph 95 you say that it is important to distinguish between new technologies that deal with the centralised systems, such as CAP, and those that relate to individualised information. I take it from what you say here there is certainly a role for new technologies to play and it is a field that continues to develop?---I think the new technologies, in terms of delivering a message, as we were discussing, to the people at risk, have only very recently started to play a major role, but it has been quite quick and now most people in our society, I would say the majority of people by far use either a mobile phone, text, are very familiar with texting and the internet as their normal means of gaining and sending information or whatever. So we have to use them if we want to reach particular audiences and there are many variations of those modes.

Because you mention in paragraph 98 Facebook sites that are mostly post-fire, but Facebook sites, MySpace sites and in paragraph 99 the Twitter site as new technologies being used by portions of the community that ought not be overlooked?---That's right. Some of these played a role, like Twitter sites, in warnings. There is anecdotal evidence that people got warnings on Facebook because they were looking at some aspect of Facebook and suddenly some message came across. But people weren't using Facebook, as far as I can see, for warning purposes but it fulfilled that role.

At paragraph 100 you refer to phones and mobile phones and you make the point obviously they are very familiar. For landline phones, about halfway through paragraph 100, you note the technology which enables locations connected to landlines to be selected which could be used to delimit areas. That might be useful, for example, in any automated phone warning system?---Yes. That's the idea, yes.

You point out the advantages, but also the disadvantages. There may be lack of mobile phone coverage, there may be issues with phone traffic?---And there is a privacy issue with unlisted numbers and so on. But, yes.

Are you familiar with the recent announcement by the Commonwealth government to now establish a national phone automated warning system?---Yes, I am familiar with that. You refer to the common alerting protocol. It, as you mention there, is really a mode of standardising the content of warnings to ensure that it is the same over different modes of dissemination?---Yes. The common alerting protocol relates to what we were discussing a while ago, the write-it-once concept. As you say, it is a standardised message, it has a standardised format and then the idea is that this message can then be disseminated over any number of digital modes. So it has that advantage of speed and also has advantages in being able to go on multiple modes that perhaps would have to be manually uploaded in the past. ...

From: Transcript of Proceedings , 2009 Victorian Brushfires Royal Commission , TUESDAY 16 JUNE 2009, 24th day of hearing

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Peter Carey's Laptop

Greetings from the State Library of Victoria where the free exhibition The Independent Type: Books and Writing in Victoria is on until 25 October 2009. This has artefacts from Victoria's publishing history. There are Events, an Audio Tour, Education Resource and a Touring Exhibition.

Melbourne is the second UNESCO City of Literature, so the library can perhaps be forgiven for trying just a little too hard to make the claim for Melbourne's literary status. Most interesting to me were the differing technologies used by Peter Carey, Henry Handel Richardson, Tony Wheeler and Ern Malley.These include the typewriter used by Henry Handel Richardson for The Getting of Wisdom, that of Tony Wheeler's original "South East Asia on a Shoestring" (first of the Lonely Planet books), the Apple Mac Powerbook 3400 Peter Carey used to write "True History of the Kelly Gang" and the telegrams discussing the Ern Mally publication hoax.

The 27 minute Audio Tour is narrated by Ramona Koval, from ABC Radio National's The Book Show. It is available free as 13 mp3 files online in a podcast.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sustainable Business

Rob GellGreetings from the ACS Victorian Branch 2009 Conference where Rob Gell BSc (Hons) FRGS FEIANZ, a coastal geomorphologist , is talking on "Sustainable Business". He mentioned the "tragedy of the commons" and discussed climate change science. This was useful sobering material for a usually hype-filled ICT industry.
The indicators are slowly lining-up. The way we have been doing business for the last fifty years seems to have served us well but there is now a sense that "business as usual" may not achieve the outcomes we would wish in the future.
The concept of sustainability is now part of everyday dialogue, but what does a sustainable future really mean? How far beyond "business as usual" will we need to move in order to leave a planetary inheritance we would be truly proud of?
Dr Robert Argent, Bureau of Meteorology and Vice-Chair, IFIP WG5.11, Computers and Environment is then talking on "Mixing Water and Computers: The Australian Water Resources Information System":
In 2007 the Bureau of Meteorology was charged with collecting, holding, managing, interpreting and disseminating Australia's water information. These functions require the Bureau to ingest water levels, volumes, ownership, trades, uses, quality and restrictions from over 250 organisations across the country; to harmonise and check these data; to augment, analyse and report, and then to deliver data and value-added information to the Australian public. To achieve this, the Australian Water Resources Information System (AWRIS) is being developed as a world-first system for end-to-end management of our water data. This presentation will cover AWRIS development to date, and highlight business and IT design and development challenges and solutions.

Later in the day I am talking on "Learning to lower costs and carbon emissions with ICT".

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission

The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission commenced public hearings 11 May 2009, in Melbourne. The Commission is streaming video and audio of the hearings via the Internet (but no online archive of the video), with written transcripts to be available later. The commission has an online "Make a Submission" form. Practice Notes for those appearing are also available.

The transcript of Monday, 20 April 2009 is available. This is a 226kbyte PDF document. For 57 pages of double spaced A4 text, this is a very compact file. The commission staff seem to have gone to some trouble to make sure the documents are easy to download.

The commission web home page passed an automated accessibility test at levels 1 and 2 (TAW). There was only one Priority 3 problem:
Missing lang attribute: The primary language of this document has not been set (1)
  • Line 5: <html xmlns="">
The page also scored a reasonable 73/100 on the W3C mobileOK Checker.

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Social Networking for Education and CO2 Reduction

I will be talking on "Learning to lower costs and carbon emissions with ICT" at the ACS Victorian Branch 2009 Conference, 15 May 2009. In this I am arguing that applications such as the Moodle e-learning and Mahara ePortfolio/social networking can reduce carbon emissions. These tools replace travel and classrooms for education and so reduce the carbon footprint of education. Also they teach the students how to work this way, so that in their workplace they can replace meetings and meeting rooms with web based tools.

I find online tools very useful for business, but the impediment is to find people to work with who are able to use them effectively. The idea that young people just naturally learn to use the web is a myth; they still need to be trained on how to use it effectively. Even IT professionals, who know how the tools work, do not use them effectively unless shown how.

Another example of using the web for CO2 reduction I will use for the conference is getting there. I have been using the web for "Finding a green way to get to a green conference". So far I have managed to find trains from Melbourne to Ballarat, with a side trip to Box Hill Institute to discuss vocational sustainability training for computing students.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Finding a green way to get to a green conference

Melbourne's Southern Cross Station with two VLocity high speed country trainsDr Turlough Guerin, Telstra's green guru, warned me he was going to mention me in his blog about using telecommuncations to reduce greenhouse gas emmissions. This is Telstra pushing its own agenda, but I couldn't find anything to object to in what was said. Telecommunications has a lot of potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A personal example, is that I have been invited to speak at the ACS Victorian Branch conference and have been using the web to work out a green way to get there.

The Victorian ACS like to have their conferences in out of the way places. Previously I did a live report from the spa at the conference in Lorne. This year the conference is at it is at Creswick, on the topic of "Greening ICT towards Sustainability" and so I am making a point of trying to get there in the greenest way possible. The conference venue suggests aircraft and private car as the transport options, which are not very green. For the Symposium on Sustainability of the Internet and ICT at University of Melbourne, I took a train from Sydney to Melbourne, then a tram to the university. The interstate train trip is so long as not to be practical for business. So I will have to fly to Melbourne.

But according to the venue web site, Creswick is only ten minutes by car from Ballarat. It would be convenient and reasonably green to get a taxi from the city to the venue (Taxis are power by LPG which is a bit better than petrol and it is a short journey). According to Vline's excellent web site, there are frequent trains from Southern Cross Station to Ballarat railway station, taking a reasonable hour and a half. There are express buses from Melbourne airport to Southern Cross Station. So it should be feasible to travel that way.

The point about this is that I can work it all out using the web, whereas I would have otherwise just accepted the default option of a hire car from the airport. Of course it would be a lot easier if the venue was to offer this transport option on their web site (or the conference presentations were by video).

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

ACS Victoria Conference on Greening ICT, 15-16 May 2009

The ACS Victorian Branch 2009 Conference, 15-16 May 2009 will be on the topic of Greening ICT. I am doing a symposium workshop on The Carbon Footprint and a professional development session on Learning to lower costs and carbon emissions with ICT:

Draft Program 2009 Conference
Day 1
8.00 Registration

9.15 Chairman Welcome

9.25 Symantec Presentation: Paul Kastner
Director, Industry Solutions and Alliances, Asia Pacific and Japan

Green IT: The Colour of Money
With ever-increasing data growth, more densely packed data centres, and ubiquitous endpoints, power costs has become a very major concern for CIOs and CFOs. Power now comprises the second highest IT operational expense for most enterprises. Just as worrisome, our data centres are running out of power capacity, forcing many enterprises to consider very costly data centre migration or power enhancement projects. Finally, and often overlooked, PCs and other endpoint devices account for over half of all energy consumed by IT devices. With the unit cost of power steadily increasing and with the government moving toward prospective carbon cap and trade schemes, the issue for IT is: how can we maximise our energy efficiency, thereby reducing IT costs while also protecting the environment. What’s needed is a multi-pronged approach to the Greening of IT, with software playing a leading part in improving overall IT asset efficiency and energy usage. Acting on this important issue now will significantly reduce IT operating costs, satisfy potential regulatory mandates, and best serve the community. Using real-life examples from Symantec’s own Green IT program this presentation provides an overview of how enterprises are using software to implement Greener, lower-cost IT.

9.45 Keynote Speaker 1: Paul Cooper
Industry Director, Public Sector and Cloud Computing Solutions SMS Management & Technology

Cloud Computing: Buying a Stairway to Heaven - is all that glitters gold?
During 2008 cloud computing has proved successful as a viable means of powering small business operations for some key "utility" functions such as CRM, email and office product functionality. But to what extent are the emerging capabilities proving themselves for large corporates and Government? Do they have such different requirements that the benefits translate differently for them? Indeed what are the steps that corporates and Government can take to maximise the advantages of cloud computing in lowering costs and improving collaborative working?

Lindsey Room

10.30 Morning Tea – Wattleseed Foyer

11.00 Keynote Speaker 2: Sean Casey
Business Development Manager, Enterprise Solutions Group, Intel Australia Pty Ltd

Intel Eco-technology: Delivering Energy Efficiency and Innovation
Intel will discuss its environmental policies and holistic approach toward eco-technology, looking at industry initiatives and technology optimization for the datacentre and client fleets and the real opportunity ICT has to impact industries larger carbon footprint.

Lindsey Room

11.45 Keynote Speaker 3: Jesco D'Alquen
Chief Executive Officer, Tradeslot Pty. Ltd

Hibernate or Navigate: The IT Perspective in the new Carbon Economy
Jesco d’Alquen is the CEO of Tradeslot Pty Ltd, a specialist auction design and technology company, Member of the ETS Advisory Panel of the Australian Department of Climate Change and contributor to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme White Paper.
Jesco’s 45 minute presentation will cover general points as well as items specifically relevant to IT professionals:
  • Immediate to-do's around carbon footprint reporting (NGERS)
  • Demystifying carbon permits
    • Who must have permits / who can have permits
    • How the carbon permit auctions will work
    • How CIOs, CFOs and Heads of Sustainability need to jointly prepare for auctions
  • Software tools for carbon management and financial planning
  • The supply chain effect
    • How your company is affected whether you need to buy permits or not
    • The role of data
    • Examples of companies creating competitive advantage through carbon
  • Examples of IT contributing to carbon reduction initiatives
  • Training options

Lindsey Room

12.30 Chairman of the State Board Address - Update on ACS initiatives

12.45 Lunch – Restaurant – Harvest 383

1.30 Symposium Workshops

Topic 1

The Carbon Footprint
Tom Worthington

Topics may include but are not limited to;
GHG emissions from:
  • the office,
  • manufacturing,
  • distribution,
  • ICT (2% worldwide: same as airlines)!
  • strategies,
  • immediate plans

Topic 2

Virtual IT Environments
Stas Lukaitis

In the spirit of Greening ICT for a Sustainable Future, virtual environments have been touted as an interesting solution. Topics might include but are not limited to...
  • The impact of server virtualisation on capital and recurrent infrastructure overhead
  • Can one "over-virtualise" – is there a sensible balance?
  • Are there any impacts on the TCO of a virtualised desktop environment and the attendant issues of acquisition, deployment, management and retirement?
  • Storage virtualisation has been around now for a while with iSCSI, NAS and SAN. Do they work well with other virtualised environments?
  • What about "Cloud Computing"?

Topic 3

Innovation & New Technology
Richard Hogg

Greening and sustainability could well be the triggers for new technologies and innovations. Topics might include but are not limited to...
  • Is innovation and the development of new technologies the product of external drivers, such as greening and sustainability, or are they somehow independent?
  • How does an organisation encourage innovation and development of new technologies? What are the enablers and inhibitors?
  • What is our Government’s role? What is the experience elsewhere?
  • Universities are traditionally the source of research. Since Dawkins, research has changed with different drivers and rewards. Has something gone wrong? Is there a solution?

Topic 4

ICT Sustainability & its Impact in the Environment
Andrew Parbury

Effective management of an ICT environment can work against ICT sustainability and environmental responsibility, for example the practie in amany organisations fo leaving PCs switched on at all times. This session seeks to explore and reach conclusions about the optimum balance between effective management of ICT and minmising environmental impact.

The session will be interactive, and will rely on active involvement from those present. Topics may include ICT sustainability realtive to:
  • Insourcing versus outsourcing for efficient 24 hour operations
  • Recycling of materials in waste disposal
  • Efficiency of production (manufacturing – energy star rating)
  • Efficiency of production (project management – do it once, do it well)
  • Planning ahead – ensuring that company strategic planning for ICT includes environmental responsibility and sustainability
  • Realistic service level expectations of ICT, consistent with company triple bottom line responsibilities

Topic 5

Recycle & Reuse
Brenda Aynsley

Where does your old computing equipment go?
Old paradigms – burn bash or bury
What is this re-usability? It doesn't affect me ... does it?
Yes it does
We can't recycle because we have sensitive data on the hard disk?
Yes you can
How much technology equipment do you dispose of each year?
  • Computers?
  • Monitors?
  • Mobile phones?
  • Cords and cables?
  • Printers and toners?
  • other?
What should companies and individuals do with them?
Recycle and re-use
Where do you find out about recycling and re-use?
We'll explore this in the workshop

3.00 Afternoon Tea Wattleseed foyer

3.30 Symposium Workshops - Continued

4.30 Symposium Workshops - Presentation preparation

5.30 Free time

6.30 Pre Dinner Drinks

7.00 Conference Dinner - Hepburn & Creswick Room
Day 2
7.30 Breakfast

9.00 Keynote Speaker 4: Rob Gell
BSc (Hons) FRGS FEIANZ, World Wind Pty Ltd

Sustainable Business
The indicators are slowly lining-up. The way we have been doing business for the last fifty years seems to have served us well but there is now a sense that "business as usual" may not achieve the outcomes we would wish in the future.
The concept of sustainability is now part of everyday dialogue, but what does a sustainable future really mean? How far beyond "business as usual" will we need to move in order to leave a planetary inheritance we would be truly proud of?

9.45 Keynote Speaker 5: Dr Robert Argent
AWRIS Project Director, Water Division, The Bureau of Meteorology Vice-Chair, IFIP WG5.11, Computers and Environment

Mixing Water and Computers: The Australian Water Resources Information System
In 2007 the Bureau of Meteorology was charged with collecting, holding, managing, interpreting and disseminating Australia's water information. These functions require the Bureau to ingest water levels, volumes, ownership, trades, uses, quality and restrictions from over 250 organisations across the country; to harmonise and check these data; to augment, analyse and report, and then to deliver data and value-added information to the Australian public. To achieve this, the Australian Water Resources Information System (AWRIS) is being developed as a world-first system for end-to-end management of our water data. This presentation will cover AWRIS development to date, and highlight business and IT design and development challenges and solutions.

10.30 Morning Tea

11.00 Symposium Workshop Presentation - Continue

12.30 Lunch - Restaurant - Harvest 383

1.30 Professional Development Streams

Do More With Less - Lean Techniques for IT Professionals
Richard Durnall

In the 1980's Japanese industry stunned the world with its ability to produce high quality products at incredibly low costs, triggering a quality revolution. By the 1990's Toyota were developing three new vehicles in the time it took the big three US manufacturers to develop one. In 1991 MIT's Auto Industry Programme and the best-seller that came out of it 'The Machine that Changed the World' revealed why: Lean Thinking.

This session will explore the processes, tools and philosophies applied by Toyota Corporation to become one of the most successful companies in the history of the world and it's 7th largest. It will address how lean can be applied to IT, to start delivering real return on your IT investment.

Learn how Lean techniques were used by two of Australia's largest websites to reduce product delivery cycles from over 12 months to every 4-6 weeks, by a large international bank to reduce the time taken to capture project requirements from over 3 months to 2 weeks and by an international financial services company to halve the cost of a 12 month program of work.

Environmental responsibilities in Project Management
Andrew Parbury

Virtual Worlds
Stas Lukaitis

This professional development stream will talk about server and workstation virtualisation. The main players in this technological space will be identified and their respective strategies identified. A typical virtualised environment will be illustrated with some of the more interesting issues confronted and discussed. Virtual server libraries will be addressed, sand box environments discussed and the impact on an organisation’s capital and recurrent budget discussed. The cost of ownership issues surrounding workstations will be reviewed taking into consideration that a virtualised workstation is a very different animal to the standalone workstation sitting on a workers desk.

Attendees will have the return on investment of actually seeing and interacting with a running virtualised environment, seeing a brand new server deployed in about 2 minutes and participating in a lively discussion about the hidden pitfalls of these new solutions.

The Green Business Analyst
Keith Majoos

Being Green is a philosophy; but how does it affect the business analyst, the business analysis process and deliverables? Apart from not printing reams of paper and switching off our computers when we go home, how does the Business Analyst Reduce, Reuse and Recycle? I’ve often wondered if there is a graveyard for all those Visio diagrams. How often do we re-use processes and process patterns? Do we participate in functional obsolescence and/or do we deliberately postpone functionality for later enhanced-versions?

Learning to lower costs and carbon emissions with ICT
Tom Worthington

The first globally accredited Green ICT course for computer professionals was commenced on 18 January 2009. ICT professionals can now enhance their career prospects by skilling up to meet the carbon emissions requirements the federal government is imposing on private and public sector organisations. Higher energy costs will require new skills to assess new aspects of computer procurement and also create new opportunities to help business re-engineer its operations and scope to expand the ICT function into new technology areas.
See how to:
  • Estimate the carbon footprint of the ICT operations of an organisation
  • Assess ways to reduce the carbon footprint of an organisation, by changes to policies for procurement of ICT, changes to the ICT operations and revising business processes

3.00 Conference Close

3.30 Afternoon Tea - Wattleseed Foyer

Please note the Conference Program is subject to change

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Greening ICT towards Sustainability, Victoria, 15 May 2009

At the conference "Greening ICT towards Sustainability" (Victoria, may 15-16 2009) I will be facilitating a workshop on the Carbon Footprint and conducting a Professional Development on lowering costs and carbon emissions with ICT. And of course I will promoting my Green ICT book and the ACS Green ICT course (registration for semester two is now open).

1.30pm 15 May 2009: Symposium Workshops

Topic 1: The Carbon Footprint

Topics may include but are not limited to;
GHG emissions from:
  • the office,
  • manufacturing,
  • distribution,
  • ICT (2% worldwide: same as airlines)!
  • strategies,
  • immediate plans

1.30 pm 16 May 2009: Professional Development Streams

Learning to lower costs and carbon emissions with ICT

The first globally accredited Green ICT course for computer professionals was commenced on 18 January 2009. ICT professionals can now enhance their career prospects by skilling up to meet the carbon emissions requirements the federal government is imposing on private and public sector organisations. Higher energy costs will require new skills to assess new aspects of computer procurement and also create new opportunities to help business re-engineer its operations and scope to expand the ICT function into new technology areas.

See how to:
  • Estimate the carbon footprint of the ICT operations of an organisation
  • Assess ways to reduce the carbon footprint of an organisation, by changes to policies for procurement of ICT, changes to the ICT operations and revising business processes

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Bushfire warning systems

According to media reports the Prime Minister has committed the Australian Government to implementing a bushfire warning system rapidly across Australia. A system using voice messages was trialled in Victoria and SMS messages are used in the Sydney CBD. However, in my view the use of cell broadcast to mobile phones would be the fastest and most reliable to implement. This technology is built into the mobile phone standards and can transmit a message to all phones in an area in a few seconds.

It should be noted that the proposed National Broadband Network also has implications for emergency communicators. It is likely the NBN, if implemented, will accelerate the trend away from use of the public switched telephone network. More people will be using VoIP and its reliability needs to be considered in an emergency. What level of standby power be required in the network and for consumer devices? As I noted in a talk to Turkey's earthquake warning centre in 2008, the Request for Proposals to Roll-out and Operate a National Broadband Network for Australia, asks about provision of battery backup of the equipment and mentions emergency calls, but this is priority 16 out of 18.

Unfortunately building an emergency warning system is not an easy task. The first problem is to have enough information to be able to issue timely warnings and the second to be able to transmit them. The Victorian Government successfully trialled a Community Information and Warning System in 2005. The system calls all phones in an area with a voice message and also makes a not of those phones which received and did not receive the message. There is a 118 page "The Report of the Trial and Evaluation" available from the Victorian Department of Justice (2006).

It should be noted that the NSW government installed an Emergency Warning and Intercommunication System (EWIS), but only for the Sydney CBD. The NSW Government could have chosen to install a less elaborate system covering the whole state at the same cost.

The Sydney CBD also as an opt in SMS emergency service for building managers. Unfortunately SMS systems have problems. In 2007 I discussed the use of SMS with the staff of Turkey's tsunami warning centre.
Executive Summary

The CIWS Trial has been the first opportunity in Victoria to comprehensively evaluate the responses and behaviour of communities to
a public emergency warning system which integrates innovative telecommunication and data transfer technology with the public warning procedures and GIS mapping operations of Victoria’s emergency services.

The findings of the evaluation concluded that for community warning systems such as the CIWS to be effective, the following elements were required:

• Telecommunication and geo-spatial technology needs to be seamlessly integrated within the operations of emergency service organisations and to be incorporated as a component of state and national emergency management arrangements.
• The emergency services’ knowledge of community engagement, culture and demographics and public safety principles needs to be included within their community warning communication procedures and decision making.
• The development and delivery of a public safety awareness campaign must enable individuals and communities to understand the purpose of community warning and information procedures and the means to access emergency and safety information.

This will reinforce the public safety messages advocated by Victoria’ emergency services.

The CIWS Trial – partnerships and process The Offi ce of the Emergency Services Commissioner (OESC), in partnership with Telstra, ABC Radio, DSE, Victoria’s emergency services and the Shires of Yarra Ranges and Northern Grampians and their respective communities, trialled and evaluated the effectiveness of innovative spatial and telecommunications technology.

The trial was designed to incorporate Victoria’s emergency management arrangements and to deliver timely public warning information simultaneously to large numbers of households and businesses.

This spatial and telecommunications technology became known and referred to as the Community Information and Warning System (CIWS).

The CIWS Trial and Evaluation project commenced in October 2004, with the establishment of the steering group and the development of the trial’s parameters and proof of concept technology. As the project gained momentum, the Victorian emergency services including the Country Fire Authority, Victoria State Emergency Service, Metropolitan Fire and
Emergency Services Board and the Department of Human Services were requested by the steering group to form a Data Transfer Sub-Group. This sub-group worked to enable the trial to set-up and test enhanced data transfer capability for downloading images and mapping. It was intended that this data could be transmitted between notional in-field Incident Controllers and an Emergency Operations Centre.

The trial and evaluation developed over the following six months with the project being officially launched in May 2005 and monthly ‘emergency’ telephone messages being delivered to the 664 participating residents of Mount Evelyn, Stawell and Halls Gap, from May through to September 2005.

The evaluation process continued throughout the trial, with all data collected by November 2005.

It is important to note that the CIWS Trial and Evaluation was completed prior to the Mount Lubra wildfi re which occurred in January 2006 and which directly threatened residents from both Halls Gap and Stawell.

CIWS Trial and Evaluation Goals

The key goals for this CIWS Trial and Evaluation were

• to confirm the knowledge about the effectiveness of public warning information technology and its links to public safety and
• to integrate the ABC Radio network as the trial’s major secondary information source in order to exercise Victoria’s ABC Radio and Emergency Services Memorandum of Understanding developed in 2005.

CIWS evaluation methodology

The research findings from the community components of the evaluation methodology, the semi-structured interviews with the emergency services and the observations of the trial provided a robust base of evidence for the design of a Program Logic Model and the conclusions drawn from the evaluation’s findings. The Program Logic Model has
been an innovative and major output of the project’s evaluation and was developed to map the application of the CIWS technology and to integrate this map with operational response decisions about risk communication and community behaviour.

The conclusions from the evaluation findings discuss public safety decisions and behaviour and the CIWS activation. The findings have identified a combination of elements which are likely to contribute to the effectiveness of a telecommunication system of public warning communication.

The influence of CIWS on public safety

The CIWS evaluation findings concluded that:
• When people have a level of planning and preparedness knowledge about emergency events, combined with a realistic perception of their risk and a multi-faceted communication network, then a telephone emergency warning message is more likely to trigger appropriate decisions and behaviours, the results of which are likely to increase their safety and confirm their self reliance to be prepared.
• If a telephone ‘warning’ message is only partially heard, its value for an informed and prepared community would still be high because it represented only one source of trusted information and planning within that community’s total approach to information and community safety preparedness.
• People with limited understanding and awareness of their emergency risk and community safety, and who had not considered preparation and planning for emergency events, were consequently more likely to be wholly dependent on a telephone emergency warning message to determine their subsequent responses and behaviours.
• Consequently, in these situations, rather than triggering increased self reliance and informed decision making, the telephone message is more likely to become a source of information which could increase their uncertainty, lack of preparedness and reduce their ability to contribute to having a shared responsibility of safety with the emergency service organisations.

The CIWS, IPND and community privacy

The CIWS Proof of Concept model was set up to enable development of the telephone and property database from IPND (Integrated Public Number Database) data. Currently however, the IPND licensing agreement on data security prohibits the implementation of this component and consequently Telstra was not permitted to use the IPND database for the trial. Instead the CIWS Trial sought the participating residents’ permission to use their telephone numbers and property addresses for the development of the CIWS Trial database.

The participating residents’ expectation about the protection of personal information by government and organisations was based on trust and agreed rules about how their personal information would beaccessed and used.

If the CIWS were to operate as a national or statewide system using the IPND rather than asking residents to opt-in to supply their names and addresses, then the development of such a system would require security and privacy protocols, the ability for emergency service agencies to identify
themselves as part of these protocols and the support of a public awareness and education program.

Incorporating the ABC Radio network as the CIWS secondary information source

The ABC Radio network was successfully used as the major secondary information source which participating residents were encouraged to access following delivery of the CIWS trial’s automated telephone messages. The progressive development of public emergency warning information systems and, in particular, the use of Victoria’s ABC Radio and
Emergency Services Memorandum of Understanding will continue to develop the predictability of a communication system which people will expect in order to access emergency information and to make decisions about their safety.

The CIWS and the communication needs
of marginalised communities

The analysis of the information gained from the consultation and workshops with both cultural and linguistically diverse communities (CALD) and hearing impaired people from a Vic Deaf social group provided the CIWS Trial and Evaluation with a set of provisional principles which could be incorporated into the future development and implementation of public warning communication systems.

• The delivery of automated telephone messaging to communities which include hearing impaired and CALD groups must provide for their ability to receive and understand the message communicated by the telephone call.
• The secondary information sources incorporated into a CIWS communication process need to be diverse in order to address the communication requirements of marginalised and special needs sectors of the community.
• The evaluation of the CIWS Trial established the importance of further consultation and research to confirm the communication and information needs of culturally and linguistically diverse communities and of people who have impaired hearing.

The CIWS as a combination of technology organisational and social factors

The CIWS evaluation findings and the conclusions have demonstrated the relationship between the CIWS technology and human factors. The Program Logic Model has highlighted the importance of emergency services’ decision-making processes to activate the CIWS in order to disseminate telephone messages to the public. The introduction of the Program Logic Model has, for the first time, identified the procedures, decisions and context necessary for the design and implementation of a technologically based and integrated public emergency information and warning system.

The evaluation’s conclusions clearly found that the effectiveness (perceptions of increased public safety) of public information and warning system design and delivery is linked to the incorporation of knowledge by emergency services personnel about a community’s culture and their level of risk awareness and preparedness. This knowledge needs to become an essential component within the organisational processes of public risk communication.

The CIWS Trial and Evaluation has made an important contribution to the importance of risk communication, public warning technology design and future decisions about the incorporation of such technology systems into state and national emergency management arrangements.

The rigorous implementation of the CIWS Trial and Evaluation can provide the emergency management sector with the confidence to continue developing integrated public warning systems which incorporate telecommunication technology, public safety and public risk communication procedures. ...

From: "The Report of the Trial and Evaluation", Victorian Department of Justice (2006).

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Free computers for bushfire victims

The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), with Computers Off Australia and the Australian Computer Society are coordinating the provision of free computers to Victorian bushfire areas. ICT companies have been asked to register support the AIIA website.

Unfortunately when I went to register my company, the site returned "404 Not Found". So one service I could provide is web site testing. I designed the AIIA's first web site, while I was on a course at the Melbourne Business School in 1995.

More seriously I would like to offer the people of Victoria what assistance I can with dealing with this and future emergencies:
There may also be some scope for modular computer equipped classrooms to be deployed to replace burnt out schools, libraries and other facilities.

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ICT at Victorian February 2009 Bushfire Royal Commission

On 9 February the Premier of Victorian announced a Royal Commission into the weekend bushfires. The inquiry will be a large undertaking. As with the ACT Coroner's investigation into the 2003 Canberra Firestorm, computer based systems are likely to be extensively used in the investigation.

ACT Coroner's court bushfire setup

The ACT Coroner's court was equipped with about fifteen large LCD screens, on the desks for the legal teams, for the Coroner and for the witness. The screens display electronic documents in evidence and a continuous transcript of what is being said. There was an operator at the front controlled what documents were displayed and had an electronic document camera to scan new documents.

While most screens were displaying the same evidence, individuals could use a web browser to view other documents and carry out searches. Large wall mounted flat screens displaying the same electronic documents as on the LCD screens. A video monitor showed what cameras were recording of the Coroner, the witness, the general room and the document display. At the back of the room were two people monitoring the video, audio and text recording.

There were problems with the room layout. The large LCD screens blocked sightlines to the bench and witness. The wall mounted screens were not readable from the back of the room.

There were microphones at each position. However, a witness reported having difficulty hearing what was being asked, as did the observers. The screen on the witness stand was at the side, so when asked to examine a document the witness had to turn away from the room and towards the side wall. In this position they could not see the person asking the question, nor could the microphone pick up their answer.

It appears that documents were scanned in from paper originals. This worked well for text, but not maps (important for an inquiry about where the fire and the firefighters were). There was a paper colour map at the back of the room, but the electronic one used appeared to be a monochrome scan of an A4 page. The maps had been scanned at too low resolution, so they could not be digitally enlarged.

The process for calling up documents was cumbersome: the person asking the questions was working from paper notes and had to ask for a particular document to be displayed on screen. This involved reading out a long reference number to be transcribed by the operator at the front of the room. So there were delays in getting the right document up.

The adversarial nature of the inquiry process also resulted in the technology not being able to be used fully. The evidence had to wait for a verbal question and answer process. Legal objections result in a delay in the process while the possible consequences of a question yet to be asked might be. An online system could be used to greatly speed the inquiry by allowing much of the process to be carried out without the parties being physically present in one room or at the same time.

Where the hearing room is still used, the process might benefit from the use of an interactive electronic whiteboard. This could be used to display and directly interact with the evidence, particularly maps. Witnesses could point to locations on the map and where they were pointing electronically recorded. This would cut out the time wasting process of someone verbally describing a map location, them responding and then the questioner trying to interpret what they said verbally for the record.

UN Oil For Food Program Inquiry

The computerised hearing room used for the 2005 inquiry into the UN Oil For Food Program also provides some lessons. The inquiry used a similar hearing room arrangement to the ACT bushfire inquiry. There were approximately 20 desktop computers and laptops in the room. Two wall mounted projection screens (with projectors ceiling mounted) were used to display evidence to the observers.

The commissioner has three screens on his bench: one at the front and one on each side. This maked it convenient to see a screen, but resulted in the lawyers and observers in the body of the room being unable to see the commissioner much of the time. Similarly it must have been difficult for the commissioner to see the lawyers and observers. Screens placed lower could be used. Also Teleprompter screens, as used for speeches, may be useful in this application. These would have an LCD display flat on the desk, with a transparent screen reflecting the image to the user. The room would be able to see the commissioner through the screen.

The witness had a screen in front of them, overcoming the problem which the ACT Coroner's Bushfire Inquiry had where the witness had to turn away from the screen displaying the evidence in order to answer questions from the Coroner.

Exhibits from the inquiry are available in electronic format via the inquiry's web site. This included printed paper documents, handwritten notes and drawings which have been scanned, as well as email messages. Much of the inquiry depended on this information, with witnesses being asked "Did you read this email or not?" and "You were provided with the web address were you not?".

Each exhibit appears was in the form of a single PDF file. Documents scanned from paper have a barcode sticker on them with a reference number and a barcode. Email messages, such as EXH_0305 AWB.5020.0262 have a reference number in the header and footer. Some email messages have been scanned from paper, as indicated by the bit mapped text of hand written notations, binder holes and skewed text. However, most are from a digital source, as indicated by character encoding (rather than bit mapped image). The PDF document properties indicate that Acrobat Distiller (6.0.1) was used to create the email files.

The email documents are inefficiently encoded. As an example a 3kbyte email message is stored as a 12 kbyte PDF document, with most space taken up by embedded fonts. No embedded fonts should be needed, as the text of the email messages could be displayed using the inbuilt Courier font in PDF.

In some ways the storage of the email messages is too good. The PDF is hyperlinked with email addresses. Placing the cursor over an email address in a document and clicking will result in a mail message being created addressed to that person. This could cause inconvenience and embarrassment to both the sender and the recipient and would be better if this was disabled.

While digital copies of mail messages are provided, they appear to have been edited. Only the From, Sent, To and Subject header fields of the message are provided. Other fields normally included with a message, particularly Message-ID, References and Received, are not provided. These could be useful in checking the authenticity of the messages and how complete the set of messages is provided. As an example the Reference field could be used to help verify that one mail message is actually a reply to another.

The scanned documents are relatively efficiently encoded as black and white (two color) bitmaps at 300 DPI. However, some cases there are coloured covers on documents where text is barely discernible.

Volume of Evidence

One issue which should inquiry brings out is the volume of material which someone may receive in a working day and how much they can reasonably read. At such an inquiry a witness may be asked if they had read an email message addressed to them. Given the volume of messages someone would receive in a day, it would be reasonable to say that you were not sure you had read the whole of a message, if if the system indicated you had opened it. But this sounds evasive in a court-like setting. Perhaps future email systems will record what parts of a message the user accessed and how long for.

Role of ICT in Emergency Management

One topic for the inquiry will be how effectively was ICT used and could be used in the future. Of relevance may be:

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