Telecommunications in emergencies and natural disasters

Communications networks can go down quickly in an emergency or natural disaster.

Telecommunications services are reliant on power

The infrastructure that makes our telecommunications services work can lose power in a natural disaster. If that happens, telecommunications services may not be available and your devices will not be able to make or receive calls or access the internet, even if you have power.

Don’t rely on any single form of communication to see you through, as it could become unavailable. For tips on how to prepare for a telecommunications outage in a natural disaster, watch our video.

If telecommunications are unavailable, you may not get a warning

Emergency Alert is a national telephone warning system used by emergency services to send voice and text messages to people in areas affected by likely or actual emergencies.

However, the system depends on telecommunications networks to send messages, so it cannot be guaranteed.

Emergency services may not be able to contact you if telecommunications are unavailable, so don’t wait for them before taking action to keep yourself safe.

Telecommunications networks can become overloaded during an emergency

In an emergency, most of us rush to contact friends and family or seek out information. This creates large volumes of calls, messages and internet usage, which can overload the network and stop critical calls from getting through. The extra load on the network can also exhaust backup power supplies.

Try to only make voice calls if it’s urgent, like calling triple zero for help, and avoid non-essential use of wireless internet, like sending pictures or videos.

If you do have signal, make sure your phone is AML enabled.

Have a plan for how you will stay informed if telecommunications services go down.

Telecommunications services may not be restored for some time

If a disaster impacts a network, telecommunications carriers will be working tirelessly to restore services as quickly as possible, deploying generators or portable telecommunications facilities where required. But this takes time, and circumstances outside of telecommunications carriers control may cause delays. They may have to wait for conditions to become safe, or for assistance to access infrastructure.

In these situations, it’s important that you have backup options for communication.

Satellite phones are less likely to be affected by on-ground disasters and should be considered by those living and working in remote or disaster-prone areas. Some other options include having a portable battery-operated radio with a spare set of batteries, UHF or personal locator beacon.

However, it is important to remember that no form of communications is 100 per cent resilient to natural disasters. If you are concerned for your safety, prepare and leave early if it safe to do so.

Our devices help us every day, but few of us really know how they work

As part of your planning for natural disasters, get to know your telecommunications services. Who is your phone carrier and internet provider? Think about what their limitations are and the alternatives you should have in place.

Here are some other examples:

  • During a natural disaster, your mobile phone may not be able to make or receive calls. However, if your home internet connection is still operating, you can possibly make a phone call over WiFi using your mobile device.
  • Learn how much battery your devices have. For example, find out how long your personal devices, such as mobile phone, tablet or laptop, would last without being charged. Find out whether your home internet connection has a battery pack up.
  • Some forms of communications are resilient to different types of disasters. For example, satellite phones are more likely to work during a land base disaster such as a bushfire, flood or cyclone. However, satellite phones may not work if there is space weather.

It is important to note that no form of communications technology is 100 per cent resilience to natural disaster, so don’t wait for a warning in an emergency.

Follow advice from emergency services personnel and any Emergency Alert messages you receive.

While you can, monitor radio and television stations, emergency services websites and social media for up-to-date warnings and information.