Each year, around November through to March, Australians deal with natural disasters where lives, homes and livelihoods are often on the line. Typically, storms, floods, cyclones and bushfires feature prominently during this time. Within Telstra we call this time ‘peak load’ due to the impacts on our customers and communities with regards to keeping them connected.

The unprecedented weather events of summer 2010/11 brought home how, even though the majority of our network is buried underground, unfortunately it’s not immune to damage when significant natural disasters strike. So, each year we evaluate and take precautions to minimise damage to our underground and aboveground network assets to ensure communities stay connected.

One way we do this is to have key Telstra Operations’ Service Delivery team members participate in a national annual peak load preparedness workshop. This year the workshop was held this week in Brisbane. During the two day workshop the team reviewed processes and discussed current preparation status and plans across all regions, country-wide.

Additionally, every two years Telstra Operation’s Emergency Services Liaison Officers (ESLOs*) also come together to ensure our disaster response processes and policies are in synch with emergency agencies. The last time the group gathered was August 2011, where many learnings were shared from weather events of the summer 2010/11.

During times of crisis, we work closely with emergency service agencies to ensure priority is given to ensuring emergency services have the communications they need to get the job done; this can include priority phone connections and high speed broadband data at emergency control centres and providing mobile phones to emergency services staff.

We also deploy emergency network equipment, such as portable telephone exchanges and mobile phone base stations, when significant network damage occurs.

One image from short ‘Boots &All’ video: Peter O’Loughlan, wading through water caused by Lake Boort overflowing and inundating the Yando/Boort area (29/01/2011)

Photo: One image from short ‘Boots &All’ video: Peter O’Loughlan, wading through water caused
by Lake Boort overflowing and inundating the Yando/Boort area (29/01/2011)

However, it is field teams on the ground, across Australia, who are the key to keeping our customers connected during these times and who always step up to meet the challenge. The most recent example I’ve heard of was how one team managed when bushfires on the Central Coast impacted services last week.

Acting team leader Justin Harper, in the location of Wyee advised his local ELSO of the situation and then worked with the local deployment team in Wyong to ensure all our communication technicians and potential customer tasks were accounted for.

The fire had caused damage to some Integral Bearer Cable (IBC) runs (IBC is aerially strung cable) which was customer impacting. So when the team got the green light from emergency services, they door knocked on 30 homes throughout the region, investigating the level of communications each residence had.

Additionally, our communication technicians tested every pole over a distance of two kilometres and scoped out the cable requirements for our Construction & Maintenance team, who were onsite very quickly to restore the damage.

A standout for me was when I heard Justin, our acting team leader, who knew of an elderly person on one of the adjoining streets to the fires, jumped in to help him with his livestock and material around his backyard. While Justin was doing this he was obtaining updates from the fire officers and keeping his manager informed of his location every hour.

When telling Telstra folk about Justin’s story on Yammer, Area Manager Central North Niall Carey pointed out that this was a “great act of courage and humanity”.  Well done Justin.

I encourage all readers to take the time to look at short video below. These are images from peak load period 2010/11 and show that Justin’s efforts are not just a one-off – we have over 5,000 communication technicians across the country that are ready to assist our customers in times of disaster.

Our ‘5R’ disaster recovery framework

The Telstra Operations team manage major, customer-impacting incidents in accordance with their ‘5R’ disaster recovery framework:

  1. Ready: Prepare our people, customers, infrastructure and business.
  2. Respond: Determine the impact on our people, customers’ infrastructure and businesses.
  3. Restore: Prioritise the restoration of service in co-ordination with emergency service organisations;
  4. Repair: Develop solutions which restore services as quickly as possible to isolated communities – this may involve temporary fixes.
  5. Reconstruct: Work to permanently repair or rebuild infrastructure damaged by the event.

Boots & All video:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hY0dG9XhlN0

*About the role of our Emergency Services Liaison Officers
Telstra’s Emergency Services Liasion Officers (ESLOs) provide the interface between Telstra and emergencny service organisations during an emergency such as flood, fire, cyclone, etc. ESLOs are field managers from Telstra Operations’ Service Delivery team and are supported by a state and deputy ESLOs as well as Telstra’s Global Operations Centre. During emergencies, ELSOs support the communication requirements of emergency agencies by co-ordinating requests including: restricing staff movement in the affected area by applying ‘no go’ zones (for safety reasons), the identification and preparation of infrastructure at risk, organsing additional products and services as required, prioritising fault management for critical emergency and utility sites, and the temporary and long-term restoration of communication services.

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