It may seem that Australia’s disasters are seasonal, as summer months are punctuated by bushfires, floods and cyclones. But did you know that Telstra’s emergency teams work year-round around the clock to prepare for such emergencies? Here’s how we prepare for disaster season.

Preparing for disaster

In our long history we’ve had many years of first-hand experience dealing with disasters, which helps up prepare for future events before they even happen. If disasters hit, our plans are already in place so as soon as it’s safe, we can jump into action and start restoring services for impacted communities. That way, communities can go about the important work of rebuilding and looking after their community’s wellbeing.

Our regular preparation for the summer months, where we’re more likely to experience extreme weather events, starts months beforehand when we test our network redundancy and develop plans.

Our national Emergency Management team works with local Emergency Service Liaison Officers (ESLOs), who all take part in large and small-scale exercises to test communication and collaboration between our field staff and emergency services on the ground. We use the lessons from these exercises to continually adapt and update our procedures.

We’re always watching the weather around the country. When we have advance notice of a strong weather event like a cyclone we can take action like sandbagging at-risk exchanges and roadside cabinets to reduce the risk of water damage, as well as moving temporary power generators into staging locations where they are ready to be deployed once safe to do so.

Key to our preparations is ensuring that our national resource pool of temporary network solutions consisting of MEOW/COW are operationally ready for deployment at any time. We also manage our teams of field technicians to ensure we have the right people in the right places if they’re needed. They’re often the first on the scene in disaster hit areas after emergency services have declared the area safe.

Our work in the field is backed up by high-tech investment that helps us respond remotely, like our Next Generation Operational Support System (NGOSS) that processes terabytes of network data each day to help us understand the impact to our customers while maintaining overall network stability, throughout events.

Our work in transforming our network using digital platforms and building Networks for the Future also puts us in a stronger position to respond to service disruptions – including those caused by extreme weather – by dynamically adjusting service routes and network bandwidth digitally.

Post-disaster restoration

Every time we respond to a natural disaster we learn from the experience so that we can do it even better the next time.

After the Black Saturday bushfires Telstra developed new technologies to help connect communities and emergency services agencies faster. Since then, we’ve made progressive improvements each year to our emergency recovery capabilities.

The first were the MEOW (mobile exchange on wheels) and COW (cell on wheels) technologies developed for quick deployment to provide temporary mobile, landline and broadband services to communities impacted by natural disasters.

At the height of the more recent January 2020 bushfires, for example, we had around 60 mobile sites impacted across key fire grounds in NSW and Victoria. The majority of those impacts were powerrelated, but at least five were damaged by fire and needed extensive repair work.

It was a mammoth effort from our people that has helped keep communities connected however possible. From day one, our emergency teams and field technicians on the ground were responding to impacted sites – delivering backup generators and batteries, installing temporary mobile cells on wheels, and making repairs to infrastructure wherever possible.

In just a week after the initial fire, we managed to bring the number of impacted sites from 60 down to 15, but difficult conditions over several weeks meant that restoration has been a complex process. Some of our infrastructure – like at Jingellic on the banks of the Murray River bordering NSW and Victoria – were repaired and service restored soon after fires swept through, but then knocked out again days later by returning blazes.

In concert with emergency services and in some instances the Australian Defence Force, we’re able to build on our strong preparations to quickly and safely restore service to affected areas, so we can all get back to the job of rebuilding our physical and digital economies in disaster-affected areas.