Telecommunications services are vital during emergencies to keep communities safe, connected and informed. They are also crucial in coordinating response efforts to get timely information to emergency personnel during natural disasters. However, no communications network is 100 per cent resilient to natural disasters.
In recognition of the critical role that telecommunications plays in an emergency, the Australian Government has invested in a range of measures to improve the resilience of communications networks.
Provision of Satellite Connections to Emergency Services and Evacuation Centres
The Australian Government recognises the essential service that emergency service organisations and evacuation centres provide to the community in times of crisis across Australia. The Government has been providing upgraded connectivity at fire service depots and evacuation centres across Australia to support their essential work and provide emergency connectivity for communities.
The funding has seen NBN Co install Sky Muster satellite connections to rural and country fire service depots and designated evacuation centres across Australia.
While many rural and country fire service depots already have fixed-line connections, the NBN satellite upgrades provide a back-up link if these are severed, keeping our emergency personnel connected and focused on the emergency response.
Providing better communications access at evacuation centres is helping keep families and friends in touch with news updates and each other during these stressful events.
The locations of Sky Muster satellite services installed under the program can be viewed using the Sky Muster Satellite Deployments Viewer.
Improving regional telecommunications resilience
Recognising that most outages are caused by power outages during emergencies, Round 1 of the Mobile Network Hardening Program is funding the mobile network operators to deliver approximately 1,000 projects to strengthen the resilience of regional telecommunications infrastructure.
The first stage of Round 1 of the program is providing $13.2 million in Government funding to Optus, Telstra and TPG to improve network resilience by upgrading battery backup power at 467 base stations XLS: 28 KB funded under the first two rounds of the Government's Mobile Black Spot Program. These upgrades will increase backup operation at these base stations to at least 12 hours. To date, 461 upgrades have been completed with the remaining sites scheduled to be completed in 2023.
The second stage of Round 1 of the program is providing $10.3 million in Government funding for Optus, Telstra and TPG to deliver over 530 resilience upgrades PDF: 331 KB at mobile base station sites across Australia. These upgrades comprise:
- the deployment of new portable and permanent generators to supply additional back-up power during power outages;
- the upgrading of battery systems to increase back-up power capacity;
- the addition of battery extension devices to enhance existing back-up power capacity at key sites within mobile networks;
- the improvement of transmission resilience within regional mobile network clusters to reduce single points of network failure; and
- the physical hardening of sites against bushfire damage.
These upgrades will improve the resilience of regional and remote mobile network infrastructure against outages during natural disasters.
The rollout of Stage 2 projects has now commenced.
As part of the 2022-23 Budget, the Government’s Better Connectivity Plan for Regional and Rural Australia is committing funding for further communications resilience measures including additional rounds of the Mobile Network Hardening Program. Information on the Government’s Better Connectivity Plan is available at www.infrastructure.gov.au/bcp.
Boosting temporary infrastructure capabilities
During the 2019–20 bushfires, Australia's major telecommunications carriers deployed temporary communications facilities to communities and evacuation centres where possible, providing temporary connectivity and a lifeline for many in areas affected by network outages.
The Australian Government has co-invested with the telecommunications industry to purchase portable communications facilities such as cells on wheels (COWs), mobile exchanges on wheels (MEOWs) and NBN Road Muster trucks, which can be positioned in disaster affected areas to allow communications services to be restored quickly.
The investment means that temporary communications infrastructure is ready to hit the road when needed, allowing Australians to keep in contact with family and essential services, and making sure essential food, water and fuel purchases can occur.
Funding has been provided to NBN Co to purchase 5 extra Road Muster satellite trucks and 12 portable satellite kits to provide connectivity where needed during emergencies. These have all been delivered and stationed at strategic locations around Australia to better respond to emergency events.
Improving community awareness
Research has been carried out into the public’s awareness of telecommunications during disaster events. This has been used to tailor information and advice for communities and businesses about how to keep connected during emergencies.
The program will emphasise the importance of having a communications plan in place for emergency situations and not relying on one form of technology.