The federal government will push ahead with a new tender for Australia’s triple-zero emergency call service, despite an official review warning changes should be delayed until location capability technology is implemented and co-ordination problems are resolved.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield called for expressions of interest from service providers on Thursday, saying he expected a new tender would help Australia keep pace with technological advancements developed since the call-only system was established in 1961.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has called for expressions of interest for Australia’s triple zero emergency service.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has called for expressions of interest for Australia’s triple zero emergency service. Photo: Andrew Meares
As part of the announcement, Senator Fifield said the government would separately seek a provider who can track the location of emergency calls made from mobile phones.
A government review in 2014 found about two thirds of calls to the national triple-zero operator now come from mobile phones.
More than two thirds of emergency calls in Australia come from mobile phones.
More than two thirds of emergency calls in Australia come from mobile phones. Photo: Paul Rovere
Australian or overseas-based providers could win the contract, but 85 per cent of triple zero calls must be answered within five seconds and 95 per cent must be answered within 10 seconds.
The review found improved speed and accuracy in locating people in need of emergency assistance was required and considered expanding the service into non-voice calls, including SMS and video calls.
Location-based technology to speed up responses could be delivered through existing smartphone applications that send location co-ordinates to operators and responders, but the review found other countries had so far failed to find a reliable solution.
The United States and Canada began work on location-based information for 9-1-1 callers in 2014, while Britain is developing new services to better pinpoint emergency callers using smartphones’ co-ordinate information.
Released in 2015, the review report warned a new tender process would be hampered by Telstra’s “firmly entrenched” advantage as the current operator, as well as concerns about a lack of transparency in the current triple zero cost structure.
“On balance, the review recommends the Commonwealth should seek to postpone the 2016 tender for the [operator] for up to two years while any co-ordinate-based information capability is agreed and implemented, proposed triple-zero governance and co-ordination arrangements are resolved, and there is greater clarity on the desired future directions of triple zero,” the report said.
“Holding the 2016 tender process for the [operator] without such clarity may place at risk the current successful delivery model and could also result in a protracted period of negotiation with the successful bidder, the current operator and other jurisdictions to agree a new model and successfully transition to it.”
Mr Fifield’s office has been contacted for further comment.
“The review of the national triple zero operator had a specific focus on ensuring the triple zero service could keep pace with technological advancements and respond to changing consumer expectations,” he said in a statement.
Australia’s triple-zero service has always been provided by Telstra, currently via funding from the federal government and a telecommunications industry levy.
The review found 91 per cent of respondents who contacted triple zero in the past two years were satisfied.
On technological improvements, 93 per cent agreed specific location co-ordinates should be automatically provided to triple zero, while automated alert devices and smartphone applications both had above 70 per cent support as alternative methods to contact the service.
More than 50 per cent of respondents said they supported SMS or video call capability.
The most calls received by triple zero in any 24-hour period in the past five years was 30,028, coming during severe flooding and winds across south east Queensland and northern NSW in January 2013.
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