Australian Officials Meet on Network Resiliency in Wake of Bushfires
Friday, January 24, 2020 | Comments

Australia’s government officials and industry leaders gathered to discuss network resilience during the country’s severe bushfires, noting that access to power was critical. Most network outages following the bushfires were because of loss of power, not direct bushfire damage to network facilities.

Paul Fletcher, Australian minister for communications, cyber safety and the arts, said in a blog the meeting addressed both the immediate response to the impact of the bushfires on communications services, as well as longer term initiatives to bolster network resilience.

The roundtable convened Australia’s major telecommunications company executives including Telstra Chief Executive Andy Penn, Optus Chief Executive Allen Lew, Vodafone Chief Executive Iñaki Berroeta, NBN Chief Executive Stephen Rue and TPG Chief Operating Officer Craig Levy. Senior representatives from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), Communications Alliance, the NSW Telco Authority and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) also attended. Emergency management organizations including the Bushfire Recovery Agency and Emergency Management Australia were also in attendance.

The telcos also identified the difficulty the bushfire situation created in accessing some mobile infrastructure sites to assess damage and install generators. Participants discussed initiatives to improve network resilience in the future, including further clearing of bush around mobile base stations and transmission facilities to create larger firebreaks.

Information sharing from the energy companies on the availability of power to enable telcos to prioritize the deployment of generators was also discussed. The group noted the importance of enabling telecommunications operators to access emergency fuel stores to support refueling diesel generators providing backup power to mobile base stations.

ACMA, working with Communications Alliance and AMTA, will conduct an industrywide review into the impact of the bushfires on telecommunications networks, and how the operators responded. Communications Alliance will lead, on behalf of industry, the development of a national common operating model for telecommunications disaster management to underpin efficient interaction with state government lead agencies. AMTA will work with industry to ensure emergency coordination agencies have better information about the location of critical mobile infrastructure.

The industry will also work with the government to investigate options to increase network resiliency in the future and to improve the continuity of services to Australians, examining issues such as industry coordination of advice to residents in affected areas, options for greater network redundancy to support critical services in areas affected by natural disasters, ways to make better use of Wi-Fi and satellite services to provide connectivity in areas where mobile networks are down, whether there is a need for additional temporary facilities such as cells on wheels (COWs) to replace damaged facilities and whether network resilience could be further improved.

“While no telecommunications network is 100% impervious to damage from natural disasters, Australians naturally want to be confident our communications networks are as resilient as possible during times of emergency,” Fletcher said. “We are better placed than 20 or 30 years ago; the combination of mobile, fixed-line and satellite connectivity combined with mobile COWs and temporary satellites on the NBN that can be deployed means we now have greater back-ups and options to keep our vital communications networks up and running.

“This bushfire season is not over yet and may continue into 2020. The telecommunications industry is working hard to help affected communities and is well positioned to react quickly to any future bushfires.”

The roundtable followed a visit by Fletcher to fire-affected areas in Moruya, Batemans Bay and Malua Bay where he inspected network facilities and met with local residents.

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