- Community emergency networks: who to rely upon for information and help in your local area
- Individual emergency communication options: satellite phones and emergency beacons
- Government and Telcos: Australian and State government responses, investments and inquiries
Telecommunications plays a critical role within natural disasters and over the past few years there have been some significant failures and lessons in this area for both government and telcos. Often it is not the tower itself that gets impacted by the disaster, but the lack of power to the tower when the electricity goes down that prevents it from operating. Government and telcos are investing significantly in both their own management models to better assist them to provide local support, as well as infrastructure such as batteries and generators to provide back up support for the towers, as well as satellite connections and portable telecommunications hubs. It is important to have more than one way to communicate and get information in times of emergency, as one or more service can become unavailable.
Community emergency networks
It’s important to identify trustworthy organisations in your local community who can assist you in getting accurate and up to date emergency information, including fires, flooding and evacuation calls. We have provided the following list of organisations as a guide:
- Local Councils: access your local council via their website and social media accounts. Local Council websites have a disaster dashboard function which offers a one-stop function for emergency information in your area.
- Triple Zero: call 000 if you are experiencing or witnessing a life threatening emergency.
- NSW Rural Fire Service: use their website and social media sites to find out information about bushfires, burning off, fire danger ratings and warnings, as well as other useful information such as how to plan and prepare for fires, and how to locate your local brigade.
- State Emergency Service (SES): For emergency help in floods, storms and tsunamis. Use their website and social media pages for up to date information.
- Live Traffic NSW: Put your address into the search function to find out if any roads near you are blocked.
- ABC local radio: listen to Coffs Coast ABC or ABC Mid North Coast for their emergency broadcasts. Listen on analogue or digital radio, through their app, live from their website, or visit their social media pages.
- Hazards Near Me: An update of the previous Fires Near Me app, the Hazards Near Me app is a collaboration between Services NSW, the NSW Rural Fire Brigade and the SES.
- Bellingen has set up a Neighbourhood Care Network, which is a neighbours-helping-neighbours system, with households who live near each other signing up to give and receive assistance. Each hyper-local group has a volunteer coordinator, and everyone is connected via a website and SMS messaging to a central information hub. Members receive timely and reliable SMS alerts about emergencies and severe weather events, such as flooding and bridge closures.
Individual emergency communication options
For people who need to be connected wherever they are, in all conditions, then satellite phones are an option. They require an investment of $500-1500 per handset, often needing a separate service plan with associated monthly costs. Before purchasing a satellite phone, it is important to research the coverage and pricing options available to ensure you select the best option for your needs and you are aware of the call costs (often you pay for incoming calls as well as outgoing, and prices range form a few $ per min to $5/min). Telstra also offers satellite phone services.
An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is a distress beacon used in emergency situations to transmit a distress signal to search and rescue authorities via satellite. EPIRBs are typically used by mariners, aviators, and outdoor enthusiasts, and are designed to help rescuers locate individuals in distress quickly and accurately. EPIRBs are equipped with a GPS receiver, allowing search and rescue authorities to locate the exact position of the distress signal. When activated, an EPIRB sends a signal to a satellite, which relays the signal to a ground station, which in turn alerts the appropriate rescue authorities. EPIRBs are an important tool for ensuring the safety of those who venture into remote or hazardous environment, as well as people who live in areas prone to natural disasters. Their prices range from $300 (with no ongoing costs other than battery replacement every 5-10 years). Each device must be registered to a user, it’s as small as a mobile phone and easily carried on your person while on farm or driving.
*If you are in an isolated or disaster prone area, make sure you have spare batteries, a flashlight and an analogue radio.
Government and Telcos:
- The Australian Government is working to improve telecommunications resilience in the regions, providing satellite connections to emergency services and evacuation centres, including better connectivity for fire stations and evacuation centres, improving resilience of the network in emergencies by funding telcos to upgrade battery backup power at selected base stations (stage 1), and resilience upgrades at selected mobile base stations (stage 2), as well as buying more mobile communications facilities which can be deployed into areas which have experienced network outages. Read here to find out more information about all of these projects.
- Optus has recently announced a significant transmission upgrade for Mid North Coast residents, which will reduce large scale mobile outages and single points of failure, and increase reception across areas with poor coverage. Optus has also rolled out backup battery solutions to the community, ensuring that mobile sites remain connected to power for 10-20 hours after the power grids fail.
- Read here to find out how Telstra provides disaster relief and assistance for their NSW customers. Telstra aims to have 250 sites backed up with either generators or batteries by the end of 2024.
- 2022 NSW Flood Inquiry: In March 2022, the NSW Government commissioned an independent expert inquiry into the preparation for, causes of, response to and recovery from the 2022 catastrophic flood event across the state of NSW. The Full Report has now been published.
- The NSW Government has a key part to play in emergency communications and response. Click on the links for Storm and flood care information, the NSW Government response to the 2022 NSW Flood Inquiry, and information about the new NSW Reconstruction Authority which is replacing Resilience NSW.