Common Alerting Protocol Used in Response to October 2013 Fires in Australia

Research shows that in an emergency situation, the most effective warnings are those that are delivered consistently over multiple channels. When people hear the same message from different sources, they are convinced it is real and are motivated to take action.

However, with so many diverse warning technologies available, it has been a challenge to develop a standard format that can be used to distribute a consistent message successfully by all systems.

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) has addressed this challenge by developing the Common Alerting Protocol, or CAP—a message standard to support the automatic exchange of consistent alert and warning messages among different types of communication systems. CAP increases warning effectiveness and minimizes the complexity of notification since the CAP format is used by a variety of different systems.

As a software developer and a partner in OASIS standards development, I am proud to see the benefits of CAP coming to life through actual use in emergency management situations. This year, we saw it used during the unfortunate series of wildfires in New South Wales, Australia.

The CAP Australian Profile defines the set of rules and managed lists of values that are recommended for CAP use by Australian hazard alerting systems and by those systems that seek to interoperate with Australian CAP systems.

CAP-AU was used during the 2013 wildfires in the following ways:

  • The national telephone alerting system (called Emergency Alert) uses CAP-AU to prepare the content of alerting messages that go to mobile phones as text messages and to landlines as recorded voice messages. This system has been used multiple times to alert communities of impending dangers and to encourage them to move to safe locations. More details can be found here.
  • The NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) also promulgated all their fire alert messages in multiple formats including the CAP-AU format (

Watch this video for more details on CAP and other OASIS standards.


Author: Dr. Patti Aymond, Senior Scientist