Living in what is considered a fire prone area, though I don’t think it’s as bad as some make out, especially considering that just about every location in Victoria including suburbia is now regarded as being fire prone to one degree or the other, you need to be aware of what’s happening in your area during the fire season and be prepared. Ultimately, you can’t rely on others for your safety, but you do rely on others for information and support that allows you to make sound judgement calls, if or when a situation arises. This leads me to an issue about timely warning, appropriate information sources and how government views their role in providing these services in this modern mobile world.
A while back, we had relatives visiting during the height of Summer and their mobile phone was pinging every so often. I thought it was just Facebook or such, as this is what my wife’s phone does all the time, but it was in fact a Department of Emergency Services FireReady app on their iPhone that was delivering up to date alerts on fires in the area. Intrigued, I went searching for same for our phones, which are Windows phones as I wrote about previously. Well, it happens that this FireReady app is only available for iPhones and Android phones, not Windows phones. Nothing really unusual about that for general apps, but I did expect that for such an important and very topical issue, this app would also be available for a Windows phone, especially when we are talking about government departments delivering essential services to the taxpayer.
To that end, I contacted the CFA via their website seeking information on when/if such an app was to be made available for Windows phone, and the response was more or less ‘Go and buy an iPhone or Android phone’. That stirred the hornets nest somewhat, so I contacted my local member Danny O’Brien MP, asking if he could assist in getting a more appropriate response, rather than one that most likely originated from the IT department (with the IT staff probably chortling that someone actually owns a Windows phone). Now Danny O’Brien is one excellent representative, always taking concerns with due attention and following them through to the best that he can (not the first time for me). In this instance, he approached the Minister for Emergency Services with my issue and, in due course, I received a response that included a copy of a letter from the Minister.
Now I fully anticipated what the response would be, having dealt with both State and Federal governments in the past and, I think I correctly predicted every aspect of the Minister’s response. The most substantive being that the Department of Emergency Services considered that it wasn’t important enough to produce such an app for Windows phone because Windows phone didn’t have the ‘market share‘ of iPhones or Android phones. Talk about dismissing a minority group! However, if ever there was a bellwether, one only has to look to banks and, if they deem that Windows phone has sufficient ‘market share’ to produce a banking app, perhaps it indicates a degree of relevance. But then, Government always knows best.
The Minister went on, suggesting that the Emergency Services website provided a fully ‘…mobile-enabled…’ service, ‘…specially designed and tested for quick and easy use…’. My first reaction was, if this is true, why develop a separate app for iPhones and Android phones? Ah, but the Devil is in the Detail.
A website requires you to constantly be on-line, monitoring developments; whereas, the FireReady app ‘pushes’ warnings etc to your mobile phone, regardless of where you are, day and night. Now I have no idea if the website and the app are directly connected when it comes to real time information, but it doesn’t really matter as one is proactive, the other is reactive. The other things mentioned in the Minister’s letter were that one can also easily find out information by using the CFA Twitter and Facebook accounts, all well and good if you have a Twitter or Facebook account (which I don’t, don’t want, and not everyone in Victoria has either). Also mentioned were ABC radio, SKY TV (great to promote pay TV when you rely on Free to Air TV) and calling the Victorian Bushfire Information Line.
Seriously? If all of these services are available for all Victorians and deemed to be quite sufficient, why did the Department of Emergency Services find it necessary to implement an app for iPhones and Android phones? But also pushing Twitter and Facebook? Does the Department of Emergency Services have full time staff ‘Twittering’ and ‘Facebooking’? I certainly hope not. I suspect that the Minister is also being fed pork pies by her IT department, especially when the same department can produce an Emergency+ app for Windows phone that relies on the same GPS and mapping information that would be used for the FireReady app. Obviously some differences would be involved, but maybe the department needs more diversely skilled IT staff or maybe they need to study somewhat if, as suggested, ‘…this functionality would require extensive technical work…’.
No, The Hon Jane Garrett MP, this information does not assist in addressing my concerns. It is a shallow, condescending and boilerplate response that typifies what is so wrong with government and their incumbents; always preferring the easy path. Far from being a minority group, Windows phone has 7.4% market share in Australia and growing (not 0.87% as it once was), which equates to around 1.8 million people (in a simplistic calculation, with distribution unknown). Since when were 1.8 million Australian citizens considered not worthy of support? This applies to all the states. I also stumbled across a site that had discussed this very issue some years earlier:
The possibility of it eventually coming to Windows Phone:
…..next iteration does provide an opportunity for the consideration of the Department of Justice and Fire Services Commissioner for expanding it to a third version to accommodate Windows users, however, there would need to be significant support and demand for this to occur given the many other ways that people can get information. – Craig Lapsley 2014
Exactly what level of interest is required? If a recognised community minority group were using Windows phones, for whatever reason, I’ll bet the department would be scrambling to introduce an equivalent Windows phone app and then delivering it with great fanfare.
I could have made a formal rebuttal to the Minister’s response; however, I think all that it would do is generate more obfuscation and stonewalling; therefore, so much better to list my grievances here, in an open manner, for all to see (and record in perpetuity). And thanks once again to Danny O’Brien for the effort that he put in to convey my concerns, doing rather than seeming.
Update 1: An interesting turnaround, as I pointed out in my other post about the CFA, at least Minister Garret has stood up for the CFA, resigning her post when the situation became untenable. However, perhaps becoming an independent would have been a stronger move, sending a much clearer message to both the government and the CFA. I suspect that she would have had significant support, unlike what she received from the Premier.
Update 2: Well guess what? We have an all new Fire Ready app, but there’s no guessing as to what was left out.
Update 3: And it’s not as if Windows phones aren’t being used around the world:
We’ve already seen the New York Police Department deploy Windows Phones to officers here in the U.S., and now it looks like a German police department is ready to give them a shot as well. The police of Saarland are now part of a pilot program to test Windows Phones and Surface tablets to reduce errors in recording traffic accidents, Microsoft Germany has announced.