YOUR SAY: Why the Bureau of Meteorology is in trouble
The Bureau of Meteorology (the BOM) plays a vital role in the protection of life and property during extreme and natural disaster events. Its expertise and services assist Australians in dealing with extreme events such as drought, floods, fires, storms, tsunami and tropical cyclones.
The radar black spot across Queensland's north-west that allowed this month's flood catastrophe to develop in an information void is a major concern, as isolated rural townships including Richmond, Hughenden and Georgetown had no warning to prepare for the deluge.
This is not the only area of Australia that does not have radar coverage. There have also been long running issues with the Marburg and Mt Staplyton radars in South East Queensland.
A class action taken against the BOM could be on the cards should another unforeseen catastrophe devastate farmers, the agricultural industry, and/or a township or city. In order to prevent this from happening, those working for the BOM (and the general public) need to start demanding more funding and support for the important work the meteorologists perform.
The BOM receives government funding to cover the bulk of its activities. Government equity injections supplement these base funds.
The BOM also receives revenue from independent sources for cost recoverable and commercial services as well as contributions to collaborative projects.
Sadly, in times there have been significant government cuts to the BOM. One immediate consequence of this was the offering of redundancy packages to staff nearing retirement age. Additionally, many regional services run by the BOM were centralised to the major cities.
The quality and reliability of some weather forecasts in regional areas diminished due to the centralisation of the BOM. The BOM has had a brain drain, losing its locally-based highly skilled, highly trained forecasters who were very aware of conditions across the vast land mass.
These forecasters had built up their experience and expertise on the weather patterns within their local area.
Not only is there concern that the BOM is losing its skills and experience through employment restructure, more than half of the Bureau's workforce is 45 years old or older. Graduate entry has not kept pace with separation by retirement.
Recent experience has shown how the BOM is to the limits of its capacity by long running or simultaneous events. The hours worked by some BOM staff during peak periods inevitably leads to concerns about staff welfare and occupational health and safety risks.
Fatigue could also increase errors in judgement or reduced quality in the services provided to emergency managers.
Another issue with the lack of funding provided to the BOM is the potential for hackers. The BOM website is not a secure https internet site, as one would expect from a government site.
Chinese hackers infiltrated the BOM website and potentially had access to satellite imagery over Australia as well the Bureau's data on climate and weather in 2015. Troublingly, upgrading the BOM site to a secure page did not occur following the hacking.
As we continue into cyclone season, it is imperative that the government urgently addresses the funding shortfall for the BOM. A class action against the BOM could be a result of this funding shortfall, and taxpayers will foot the bill for the compensation required.
With an eroded credibility and forecasters with eggs on their faces, the BOM may struggle to maintain its authority as the primary national weather forecaster. This would be dangerous, with real life-threatening weather events and warnings not heeded, and consequently, lives will be lost.