Last month's Queensland floods have brought out major issues with the National Relay Service (NRS), says the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).
In a report, entitled The Queensland flood disaster: Access for people with disability to phone services and emergency warnings, the consumer body claims that the NRS' main call centre and emergency were out of service during the flooding.
ACCAN chief executive, Teresa Corbin, said without Telstra’s help during the floods, deaf and hearing impaired people with a text telephone (TTY) would have been unable to reach emergency services personnel.
“The swift action taken by Telstra in getting the 106 emergency number operational meant that while the main NRS number was down, deaf or hearing-impaired people with a TTY were able to reach police, fire and ambulance services,” Corbin said.
“But unfortunately, two groups who normally use the NRS via the Internet, or via its specialised speak and listen service, weren’t able to seek emergency help at all for almost a 24-hour period.”
Corbin said ACCAN is calling for an increased commitment from state and territories to ensure emergency announcements are automatically interpreted into Australian sign language (Auslan).
“During the Queensland floods, we had a situation where some television networks included the Auslan interpreter in emergency information broadcasts and unfortunately, some who chose not to,” she said.
“The ACMA needs to work with Free TV, the ABC and the SBS to ensure Auslan interpretations and open captions are included in all emergency broadcasts so that all Australians have access to this vital information.”
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has welcomed the report, with chairman Chris Chapman saying that it provides a valuable opportunity for analysis.
“ACCAN’s report contributes a range of valuable messages about the emergency communications needs of people with disability, in particular for people who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment,” he said.
Chapman said the report can help better prepare the community for future natural disasters.
“In such natural disasters, it is nonetheless important to examine how responses can be further improved,” he said.
“The ACCAN report is an important contribution to that examination by governments, emergency service providers, the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors and the community.”
Follow Lisa Banks on Twitter: @CapricaStar
Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU