Victoria State Emergency Service

Victoria State Emergency Service

The Client

The Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES) is the control agency for flood, storm, tsunami and earthquake in Victoria, Australia. It manages responses to these emergencies and helps communities to prepare for them through planning and education.It operates the largest road rescue network in Australia, assists the Victoria Police in search and rescue operations and plays an important support role during major bushfire responses.

The Problem

On the 7th February 2009, a day that was dubbed “Black Saturday” in Australia, deadly bushfires swept through the state of Victoria, tragically resulting in the loss of 173 human lives and much wildlife. A Royal Commission was set up to assess all aspects of the disaster, including the lack of adequate warnings. Sadly, the situation was made worse by the inability of the emergency service’s website to withstand the extreme load placed on it during the emergency.One recommendation was to allocate a significant budget to build robust and reliable means of communicating information during emergency situations. As a result, proposals were sought for a high-availability web solution that had to be accessible by any mobile or desktop device, at all times, in any location. This implicitly acknowledged that in Australia over 83% of adults now go online for most of their information.PretaGov was proud to be chosen from 22 bidders. The project needed to deliver both the organisation’s public website and its extranet for volunteers. The deadline for launch was three months from the contract being awarded. Using its cloud-based content management system (CMS), PretaGov met the deadline with ease.

The Solution

A critical feature of the solution is a robust hardware architecture running the Plone Open Source CMS that can withstand the worst-case scenario that the VICSES could imagine. Its Director of Emergency Management said “If an earthquake was to hit Victoria tomorrow, we could potentially be looking at up to 80,000 walking wounded within 60 seconds, and they would all need information on where to go”.

PretaGov’s hosting solution safely stored the data outside of the state of Victoria, in Sydney and Adelaide, for geographic redundancy. This ensures continuity in the unlikely event that one of the data centres goes down. Dual replicated servers increase performance, and allows load balancing between the two sites. This redundancy, in addition to state-of-the-art CDN technology, guarantees 99.99% availability.

To withstand the anticipated load, the system had to be tested with a level of traffic as close as possible to a live emergency. An automated test environment was set up to simulate a total of 800,000 people accessing emergency information in 15 minutes. The system handled the intense bombardment with flying colours.

Notably, the solution also made the day-to-day management of content much easier for staff and volunteers. Non-technical content managers can easily update content on the site from any location. Role-based workflow speeds up content approvals. Both the website and extranet are administered via one interface, saving time and money.

The extranet allows rapid, online collaboration between all 2,000 volunteers. They can communicate at all times during an emergency situation, in online project areas and forums. They also have access in non-emergency situations to a range of content, such as training materials.

In short, the new PretaGov solution frees the VICSES from managing software, infrastructure and hosting, allowing it to focus on the emergency service needs of the community.