Facebook to send bushfire emergency alerts

·2-min read

Australia's bushfire response is set to be bolstered with social media giant Facebook to provide local emergency alerts.

Approved state fire authorities will be able to send urgent notifications to people who follow their Facebook pages using the Local Alerts tool.

The tool, which also allows posts to be marked as alerts so they stand out in a user's news feed, will be extended to Australian fire services by the end of the year and to other eligible state and local government departments throughout 2021.

Most state fire services already have geographically-based SMS emergency alerts and ways of disseminating information through traditional media.

Resilience NSW commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, who led NSW's response to the deadly bushfires that ravaged much of Australia last summer, said fire services were investing considerably in new communication systems.

"We were using social media and Facebook as an information-gathering tool," Mr Fitzsimmons said in a statement on Tuesday.

"It all helped build our intelligence and ratify our understanding of where things were up to. We learnt extraordinarily through that period that the more we provided, the more people wanted to know, and the more people were happy to share."

The Black Summer bushfires raged across 10 million hectares, took 33 lives and destroyed 10,000 homes and other structures.

More than 80,000 head of livestock were killed and millions of native plants and animals were lost.

Facebook's local head of policy programs Alisha Elliott said Australians were increasingly turning to social media to find information.

"We're thrilled to be the second country globally to expand Local Alerts and provide local fire authorities and emergency services with another avenue to relay vital information in affected areas," she said.

"As we approach another tough summer, Facebook will continue to support communities and keep them connected."