How we rebuild our network after a natural disaster

In the event of a disaster, repairing our network and reconnecting our customers as quickly as possible is our top priority. Here’s how we do it.

We have a whole team of people dedicated to natural disaster planning and recovery. Planning for our response begins months before a natural disaster occurs so that repair and recovery work begins as soon as it is safe to do so.

Before disaster strikes

Even when there’s no disaster on the horizon, our network experts capture and monitor our network and physical infrastructure to make it more resilient.

We take measures such as hardening physical cables against fire and flood damage; ensure that batteries and generators are suitable for their use; and maintaining helicopter landing sites at many of our telephone exchanges to ensure we can access them by air if we need to.

In some instances, such as when we see a cyclone developing out to sea, we have time to ransack at-risk telephone exchanges and roadside cabinets to reduce the risk of water damage, as well as move power generators temporary in assembly places where they are ready to be deployed quickly.

During the summer, we expect to encounter bushfires and severe storms, so we make sure our emergency equipment is ready to go. The same goes for our group of highly trained and dedicated technicians, as we put them on standby for the days and weeks to come, when it is safe to do so.

But as we’ve seen in the ‘rain bomb’ that has besieged southern Queensland and northern New South Wales in recent weeks, despite the best planning, inclement weather can still damage electricity, l water and even telecommunications infrastructure.

First phase: information

When disaster strikes, our “Mission Control” springs into action quickly.

It’s called the Global Operations Center (or GOC), and it’s staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, with network professionals who monitor the health of our network in Australia and around the world.

If connectivity is lost or a community is taken offline by a disaster, alarms will sound in the GOC, alerting the team to issues.

This team then begins to quickly assess the situation, with the safety of our customers and employees being the top priority.

Gathering information on what is happening on the ground is crucial in this phase. Failing to plan is a plan to fail, so we need to be clear about who we are going to send to the field and what they need to do when they get there.

Construction crews are lined up; equipment is allocated and emergency equipment – ​​such as cells on wheels (COWs) and mobile exchanges on wheels (MEOWs) – is deployed once it is safe to do so.

Then, after this intense planning, the real work begins.

Phase two: logistics

Access is the key to network restoration. If a site is still cut off from roads, underwater, on fire, or in the shock of a cyclone, we cannot safely access it to begin restoration.

The scale and severity of recent floods in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland have shown just how important this work can be.

The “rain bomb” and the flooding it caused was unprecedented in that water kept coming. This not only caused extensive flooding, but also prevented emergency services and our technicians from accessing the damaged sites.

Exchanges were underwater, roadside cabinets were flooded, and in some cases entire mobile towers were destroyed.

Worse still, landslides and landslides wash away parts of our fiber and copper networks. Bridges and roads were washed away, often taking our network cables with them.

In the event of a disaster, we know how important the mobile network is. The mobile network relies on underground cables to transmit data and signals. So when supporting infrastructure such as our exchanges and cables are destroyed, even the most resilient mobile network cannot function properly.

With flood waters continuing to cut off access to our infrastructure by road, we worked with the NSW Telco Authority and the State Emergency Service to enter the disaster area. With one of our crew able to do a helicopter ride, we were able to do an aerial reconnaissance to find out what equipment was still in place and had been taken away.

Once the water started to recede and we got a view of what was left, the process of clearing and reconnecting began. Getting things back online isn’t always as simple as flicking a switch.

As well as the process of removing all snakes and small animals from inside our cable pits, who use them for shelter from the elements.

Phase 3: make it work

As anyone who has experienced a natural disaster knows, the process of reconstruction and restoration can be long and arduous. The same goes for restoring our network.

To make sure we’re doing it right, we’re taking a two-pronged approach: how can we get it working as quickly as possible, and how can we make sure it’s stronger for next time?

The floods in Lismore, for example, submerged the entire lower level of our telephone exchange. It was a lot of important equipment used to keep people in the area connected.

Instead of just drying it out and turning it back on – which can cause it to break down later – we will instead be replacing the equipment with new, more modern equipment, which we can store on the second floor of the building for better flooding. proofing.

Our technicians will then work to restore cable connectivity to the surrounding infrastructure that powers interstate connectivity and local mobile service.

It’s going to be a laborious process this time around, as our techs scramble to find cable cuts large and small while trudging through an ever-flooded jungle. Think old-fashioned Christmas tree lights where you have to track down a faulty bulb to make it work, then multiply it through rain, floods, and thick brush.

Where the cables have been completely washed out, we have simply laid new cables above ground, next to the damaged infrastructure to restore service, before determining how we can rebury them and secure them safely for a future use to make the fix permanent.

Mobile towers that have been hit receive the same treatment. We will restore what we can as quickly as possible, before determining how to make it more resilient to future disasters. Some towers can even be completely destroyed and a reconstruction can take weeks or months.

It’s then a series of logistical sprints by our teams to get things done, as we rotate technicians from all over the country to come and lend a hand to unravel and rebuild our network.

Connectivity is vital in an emergency, and we work around the clock to restore it after a disaster. We know everyone wants it restored as soon as possible, and so do we. When we rebuild after a disaster, we want everyone to know that we appreciate your patience and that we are working as quickly as possible.