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.
However, in recognition of the critical role that telecommunications plays in an emergency, the Government is investing $37.1 million through the Strengthening Telecommunications Against Natural Disasters package to improve the resilience of communications networks.
Better connectivity for the fire service depots and evacuation centres
The Government recognises the essential service that rural and country fire services provide to the community in times of crisis, across Australia. That's why the Government is putting forward funding of $7 million to deliver upgraded connectivity at fire service depots and evacuation centres across Australia to support its essential work and provide emergency connectivity for communities.
The funding will see NBN Co install 2,000 Sky Muster satellite connections to rural and country fire service depots and designated evacuation centres. Up to 100 critical sites will also have batteries and solar panels installed.
While many rural and country fire service depots already have fixed-line connections, the NBN satellite upgrades will provide a back-up link if these are severed, keeping our emergency personnel connected and focused on the bushfire response.
Providing better communications access at evacuation centres will improve safety and help keep families and friends in touch with news updates and each other during these stressful events.
Improving regional telecommunications resilience
Recognising that most outages are caused by power outages during emergencies, the Government has announced the $18 million Mobile Network Hardening Program.
Stage 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 funded under Rounds 1 and 2 of the Government's Mobile Black Spot Program. These upgrades will increase backup operation to at least 12 hours. The resilience upgrades are expected to be completed by the end of 2021.
The competitive assessment process for Stage 2 opened on 17 June 2021 with a call for proposals from Mobile Network Operators, Mobile Network Infrastructure Providers and Network Management Providers to improve the resilience of regional and remote mobile network infrastructure.
Up to $6 million is available under Stage 2 of the Program which will support a range of hardening measures at high priority locations to prevent telecommunications outages during natural disasters. This includes:
- upgrading power capacity to a minimum of 12 hours
- emergency power solutions, including generators, to rapidly restore services during or after a natural disaster event
- expanding or enhancing a protection zone around a site to increase its resilience to a natural disaster threat
- provision of redundant backhaul, and
- other hardening measures to increase the resilience of a site, such as flood elevation and physical hardening of sites.
Under Stage 2, Commonwealth funding is available for up to 50% of the capital costs of the upgrades with the rest to be provided by the grant recipient.
Providers are encouraged to apply for funding by 5pm (AEST), 29 July 2021.
Further information on the program and the application process may be found at: www.grants.gov.au.
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.
$10 million will be allocated 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 bushfire affected areas to allow communications services to be restored quickly.
The investment means that temporary communications infrastructure will be ready to hit the road when needed, allowing Australians to contact with family and essential services, and making sure essential food, water and fuel purchases can occur.
Given the success of these deployments, $1.7 million of this funding will be provided to NBN Co to purchase 5 extra Road Muster satellite trucks and 12 portable satellite kits to provide connectivity where needed during emergencies.
The remaining funding will be allocated under a competitive grants process, with the telcos to own the portable facilities but give commitments to Government about their use during emergencies. The Government will work with NBN Co and carriers on co-contributions for the new equipment. Of the competitive grants component, NBN Co and carriers will contribute up to 50% of the capital costs of the facilities and will be responsible for the operation, maintenance and replacement costs of equipment purchased.
Improving community awareness
As part of the package, a $2.1 million public communication program will be delivered over the next two bushfire seasons to provide practical 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.
Find out more
These measures form part of the Government's $650 million National Bushfire Response Package: