There was a little confusion on Friday night as the cyclone approached.
Everything Geraldton published the alerts that were relevant from DFES, and announcements from local authorities, businesses, and organisations as they became available. The response from the City of Greater Geraldton team was also very thorough, providing sand bags and warnings to the community.
Given the massive reach of the internet, many people now stay alert to unfolding things like this online and through their iPhones than through legacy methods like radio and TV.
But there was some confusion over the YELLOW ALERT status. Since the incident there have been inaccurate media reports on what YELLOW ALERT means, and businesses who chose to follow Police instructions, and those who did not follow Police instructions have publicly responded.
We did some digging during and after the YELLOW ALERT to make sure the information we shared was accurate, and this is what we have discovered.
According to DFES:
- Blue Alert means prepare for dangerous weather
- Yellow Alert means take action and get ready to go to shelter
- Red Alert means go to shelter immediately
DFES has a large list of things to do at each level of these alerts. For the purpose of this article we won't be covering them all.
However, we will mention that it says for Blue: "Find out when shops and businesses will close, and when to collect your children from school." And for Yellow: "Be aware that shops will now be closing." Announcements on Friday from DFES when we went Yellow said "Be aware shops MAY now be closing."
Note that this is not an explicit statement that all shops must close during a Yellow Alert. Simply that during the Yellow Alert period, shops will/may be closing.
If it was categorically illegal to be open during the Yellow alert period, shops would need to close during the BLUE ALERT stage to make sure they didn't break the law. It IS illegal to be out and about during a RED ALERT stage though, so businesses by definition will need to close at some point during the YELLOW ALERT stage to be ready if RED ALERT happens.
We rang DFES to clarify where they stood on the matter. They couldn't give us a clear answer straight away, but rang back shortly afterwards and stated that there IS a requirement for everyone to be closed during a RED ALERT, but not explicitly during the YELLOW alert stage.
However, there is more information you need before you jump on the Police for telling businesses to close during the Yellow Alert.
Is it true that you can get fined $50,000 for trading during a Yellow alert?
Under the Emergency Management Act 2005 section 71 that covers "Powers of police to direct closure of places and concerning movement and evacuation" states:
For the purpose of emergency management during an emergency situation or state of emergency, the most senior police officer present in the emergency area may direct the owner, occupier or the person apparently in charge of any place of business, worship or entertainment in the emergency area to close that place to the public for the period specified in the direction.
And Section 86 of the same act, which covers penalties, states:
Failure to comply with direction
A person given a direction under section 47, 67, 70, 71 or 75 must comply with the direction. Penalty:
(a) a fine of $50 000;
(b) for each separate and further offence committed by the person under the Interpretation Act 1984 section 71, a fine of $5 000.
A state of emergency was actually enacted by the State Emergency Coordinator at 0900 on Friday, while Geraldton was still in the Blue Alert phase. This means that you needed to follow Police instructions regardless of the colour of alert.
So it's not the fact that your business is open during a Yellow Alert that is the problem per say.
It is when you fail to comply with Police directions during a state of emergency that you can be fined, whether Blue, Yellow, Red or whatever alert is in place.
Police were very clear about their directions to businesses to close.
They posted on their own Twitter account, (which has the authorised blue tick so you know it's them), that all businesses needed to close. Their message was re-broadcast through Everything Geraldton's website, social media channels and app, and the Geraldton Guardian's Facebook page. AND the Police got on the phones and rang as many businesses as they could.
The Everything Geraldton Facebook post ALONE reached over 38,000 people. Police couldn't have reached more people if they had gone live on every TV and radio station in the Mid West.
Given the devastation that the cyclone had just had on Carnarvon, authorities weren't taking any chances with people's lives as the cyclone was bearing down on Geraldton.
Thankfully, Geraldton got nothing more than a strong breeze, a bit of rain and some lightning. Because we avoided destruction some folks have responded with claims that the level of preparation for the storm was over the top.
But once a cyclone is on your doorstep it's too late to start preparing.
Had anyone been injured or killed because they were traveling home when the cyclone hit, those same complainers would have demanded more had been done to avoid tragedy.