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‘Tis the season to be prepared

Telstra News

Posted on December 20, 2013

5 min read

November to March each year is typically peak season for Telstra’s Operations team. This is because this is the time of the year when our field crews and support teams can find themselves managing a variety of major, customer-impacting events caused by cyclones, bushfires, flooding, lightning strike, and whatever else mother nature has in store for us.

Keeping connected, something most of us take for granted during the best of times; is of utmost importance during the worst of times. And our Ops team have the skill, experience and knowledge to deal with whatever peak season throws our way. We have a well-proven, solid peak load strategy to back us up.

Our strategy is based on five R’s; Ready, Respond, Restore, Repair and Reconstruct. Here, within this Blog, I’ll focus on Telstra Operations’ ‘Ready’ or preparation phase.

When preparing for peak load weather, the Operations teams’ preparations cover their people, customers, infrastructure and business.

Preparing and caring for our people

  • Telstra Major Incident Management has participated in state and municipal exercises that test communication, collaboration and processes between the organisations involved in emergency situations and also continually update procedures to ensure the best support for impacted communities.
  • Telstra’s Emergency Services Liaison Officers (ESLOs) provide an interface between Telstra and emergency services and also participate in state and regional exercises as requested. During emergencies, ESLOs support the communications requirements of emergency agencies by co-ordinating requests including: restricting staff movement in the affected area by applying ‘no go’ zones (for safety reasons); the identification of infrastructure at risk; organising additional products and services as required and prioritising fault management for critical emergency and utility sites.
  • Our field workforce is well prepared as there is a strong focus on Health, Safety & Wellbeing reminders and work practices during this time. These are discussed one-on-one or during team meetings leading up to peak season.
  • We manage resources to have the right number of techs on the ground in the right places.
  • Our operatives are equipped with the latest technology such as smart phones and their vehicles have GPS-tracking to ensure their safety. Depending on the situation, our field operatives can also have access to satellite phones.

Preparing our customers

  • We have a variety of customer outreach mechanisms (social and traditional media) where we share tips, advice and, during a disaster, we provide progress reports around what we are doing to assist communities. During this time we also promote the availability of our Network Status page.
  • The Telstra Operations team collaborates closely with other Telstra teams and with external agencies to provide assistance for our customers, see details of Emergency Alert example below.

Preparing and protecting our infrastructure and assets

  • We proactively protect our core network by testing network redundancy, having plans in place to protect critical infrastructure and have power and access strategies sorted.
  • We sandbag potential at risk infrastructure (including exchanges).
  • We check our emergency power plants are all functioning correctly and are refuelled.
  • Business continuity is another consideration and by identifying staff who can continue their roles by working from home. Where necessary we may move functions performed by staff to other locations.
  • We’ll strategically move our Mobile Exchanges On Wheels and Cells On Wheels (MEOWs and COWs) to states/locations where telecommunication infrastructure is at risk.

After managing through major infrastructure impacting events, the Operations team conducts a Post Implementation Review to learn from their experiences. Often these reviews spark ideas, which result in technological innovations. Telstra COWs, MEOWs, SatCOWs, Emergency Communication Kits and the Network Status page are all ideas driven by learning from past experiences.

Be assured we have a plan to care for our people and customers and to protect our infrastructure and business continuity. When things do go wrong, due to weather impacts at this time, our people will be there to make sure we keep our customers connected.

About Telstra’s emergency alert system

The recent early bushfire season in NSW highlighted the importance of reliable and responsive communications to help keep communities safe. We are now facing a very long season ahead for our State and Federal Emergency Services, and during any times of disaster, it’s Telstra’s Operations team at the ready – with the provision of essential warning and communications through the Emergency Alert (EA) system.

The EA system, developed by Telstra’s Network Applications & Services (NAS) and monitored and supported by their Operations team, is a telephone warning system that emergency services can use to send information to communities via landline and mobile telephones, such as during bushfire emergencies. The EA system became operational on 1 December 2009, and to date, EA has been used on over 490 separate occasions nationally, with over 7 million messages being issued for a range of emergencies, ranging from natural disasters, chemical spills to missing person emergencies.

During the NSW bushfire emergency, 76 separate campaigns (a set of messages sent to an area of threat) were completed by NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) and approximately 338,000 individual alert messages (both SMS and voice) were sent out.

As these messages are intrusive (that is, you do not opt in or chose to receive them) they can be used to contact a whole community of people rapidly – such as the communities in the Blue Mountains NSW. This is especially useful in rural and remote communities who remain on high alert over a series of days – it’s an effective way to communicate to wide region if a situation deteriorates rapidly. This was the case during the disaster season last year when many fires and floods were impacting regional and rural NSW.

The EA systems provided is critical service that supports the fantastic job the RFS, Ambulance, Police and other services provide to help ensure public safety and minimise loss of life in these situations.