04 Jun 2014
By David Piltz

What we’ve learned since the Warrnambool fire


In March 2013, I published the details into my investigation of the fire at the Warrnambool exchange. For almost six months my professional and personal life was consumed trying to determine not only the cause of the fire but also what we could learn from this experience.

My report made a number of recommendations to protect our customer’s services and our network as well as minimise the chance of such an event ever happening again. I also looked at measures to help us recover more quickly should a similar exchange ever be damaged to the same extent.

Of all the things that we have learned since the fire, one of the biggest surprises actually came after we had restored the Warrnambool Exchange to full working order. In the months following the restoration we noticed a significant drop in the consumption of power at the site which was something that we had not been expecting.

While we were able to consolidate our equipment into fewer rooms leading to a reduction in our requirements for air conditioning, it was the removal of the obsolete and redundant equipment from our network that made the biggest difference.

As a result of this revelation, a number of projects have sprung up across the company as we completely re-think how we power-down redundant equipment.

Not only is our power consumption being reduced, but by removing unnecessary equipment we are also minimising the risk of electrical faults and fires. The equipment is left in situ for spare parts which improves the availability and accessibility to spare parts in our exchanges.

We also reviewed our fleet of Mobile Exchange on Wheels (MEoWs) and Cells on Wheels (CoWs) which has led to adding two new units to the fleet. A State Mobilenet Radio Cell on Wheels (SMR COW) and, what we are affectionately calling, a ’Big Cat’ MEoW.

Improvements implimented at the Warrnambool Exchange
Pictured above: The re-built Warrnambool Exchange. Bottom: The Big Cat MEoW and the SMRCoW under construction.

The Big Cat MEoW will be the largest MEoW in Telstra’s fleet. It will be able to provide 2000 PSTN lines, 768 ADSL2 lines and three sectors of 3G850/LTE1800 mobile coverage and include room for further technology expansion. Both units are expected to be completed and ready to deploy by 30 June 2014.

With a number of other recommendations now incorporated into Telstra’s normal business processes, I’m pleased to say that we have already completed approximately half of my recommendations and we are well on track to complete the remainder. A summary of our progress is available on the About Telstra website.

While we would have preferred the fire at Warrnambool not to have occurred, the lessons we’ve learned will stand us in good stead for the future.


Posts: 6


  1. During the early morning circa 2:24am of the fire, I couldn’t sleep and was online, as my connection failed over about 20minutes, only learning next day what had occurred. The later reconnection of Portland direct to suburban Melbourne (exchanges) by-passing Warrnambool doesn’t seem to have occurred without a cost to our service. Aside from the recovery period where delay was unavoidable, we haven’t regained full use. In my view a bottle neck somewhere is limiting all users at times. That and deteriorating copper junctions which affected by moisture, corrosion and humidity add to the burden. As such, Telstra’s ADSL is of unmerchantable quality. Without NBN standards and being low on the priority list: cities and towns outside metro and NBN Co’s profitable early trajectory, we are withering and dying. Many businesses can save operating costs be decentralising to regional and rural Australia. However, to achieve real world efficiencies, a metro quality speed and critically, up time -standard of reliability makes it one of the binding economic and infrastructure decisions on come here, or if local whether to stay or go.
    Besides NBN political machinations vital redundancy hubs should be placed rurally to provide counter support to metros, if the reverse were to occur. With eCommerce and digital life well passed the novelty stage of 1995, we need bandwidth to stay open, be genuinely broad and fast and one liable 24/7, like water or electricity. The current service in Portland is patchy and I speak for all regional Victorians who wish to live and raise families. The regions are needed to enable metro populations to eat. Connectivity is vital for education, commerce and health and we will be more reliant in future. Get rid of copper fast. Fix the bottle neck to Melbourne or connect via Warrnambool too. You’ve got less traffic into Warrnambool your power drop would reflected by that. I have portable Telstra 3G modems and 2 mobiles with Telstra and Optus to private limited connectivity when the ADSL2 street connection goes on the blink. Thank you!

    • David Piltz says:

      I am sorry to hear that your internet connection is not as good as you believe it should be and I would like to look into the problem. Can you please send an email to outlining the problems you are experiencing plus your address, account number and contact details.

      I look forward to hearing from you.

  2. Myles says:

    So after all this time has Telstra replaced all the old ‘Node’ computers in Telephone exchanges?
    The ancient computer that started the fire was typical of all the AXE exchanges across Australia, they were installed to upload commands to the AXE.
    Having a fan on for all those years as they were just left running, the monitors were turned off.
    No wonder the fire started.

    I can remember staff who went around powering down obselete equipment and disabling alarms, they were staff inline for retrenchment.
    The power savings would have been enormous had the work been completed.
    Sadly not everyone had the knowledge to be able to determine what was not in use, like me.
    Glad I have retired after 46 years with Telstra.

    • David Piltz says:

      Thanks for your comment. Despite four separate investigations it is still unclear what started the fire at the Warrnambool exchange. But it is believed to most likely be an electrical fault in the ceiling above the maintenance control room. The fire investigation found no evidence of an ancient computer starting the fire.

      I note your comments about switching off obsolete equipment. In the past two years Telstra has removed a significant volume of obsolete technologies with the resulting energy savings estimated to be around 1.435 million KW/h annually. We will continue this program of work as additional technologies become obsolete.

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