Australia’s Bushfire Crisis And Telecommunications: “Lessons To Learn”

Australia’s Bushfire Crisis And Telecommunications: “Lessons To Learn”

Australia’s Communications Minister says there will be many lessons to learn from the impact of recent bushfires on the nation’s telecommunications networks.

Australian bushfires - telecommunications

As the bushfires raged on – and in some places continue to burn – telecommunications became a major problem. The NBN “crapped out” pretty quickly as expected, and more than 100 mobile phone towers were impacted at the height the blazes. This not only stopped those in affected areas from making and receiving calls and texts, but also from accessing important information via the Internet.

While backup power is incorporated into many base stations, the batteries only last so long – anywhere from four to ten hours. For stations with generators, fuel eventually runs out if there’s no-one able to top it up.

Telco staff supported by emergency services and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) worked hard to restore comms, but approximately 30 base stations were still out of action by the end of last week. In some of these cases, Telstra deployed mobile stations, called a “cell on wheels”. NBN Co. sent trucks with satellite dishes and generators into various areas, offering residents wi-fi connectivity along with temporary broadband installations at some evacuation centres.

“Certainly, how quickly networks are restored will be one important issue to consider as we review the lessons from this season’s bushfires,” said Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher. “A second issue will be the physical resilience of the network.”

The situation also highlights the risk to those Australians living in areas without mobile coverage, or where only one network is available.

Preparing For The Future

Minister Fletcher says performance of communications networks will be among the many issues to be considered as part of a broader Morrison Government review of the bushfire crisis.

“We have seen some great work done by our network operators in responding to these severe bushfires – but we must not shy away from asking if we could be even better prepared in future,” stated the Minister.

No doubt many Australians directly impacted will be answering yes. But while all that is getting sorted, all of us should plan accordingly for communications to be potentially cut off in the case of bushfire or other disaster.

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