Friday, January 17, 2020
It Is Now Clear That Our Rather Non-Resilient Telecommunications Infrastructure Is A Problem For Digital Health and A Lot More Besides.
This appeared a day or so ago.
January 11, 2020 — 12.00am
Australia's unprecedented bushfire crisis has exposed the vulnerability of phone and internet networks, prompting Communications Minister Paul Fletcher to warn telecommunications giants to prepare for increasingly severe disasters.
As dozens of mobile towers went dark during this summer's catastrophic bushfires, people have been cut off from contact with emergency services and in some cases unable to pay for essential supplies. Telcos have scrambled to bolster their networks and respond to the outages, rolling out satellite trucks, portable reception towers and restoring disabled mobile base stations.
Telstra is working to get telecommunications back up and running in fire-ravaged communities in Victoria.
Telstra revealed its network experienced "critical damage" as 36 mobile towers were knocked out in bushfires in rapidly-changing conditions, but more than half of those were now back online.
Mr Fletcher welcomed the rapid responses by Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and the government-owned national broadband network (NBN) but said questions need to be asked about the long-term resilience of telecommunications infrastructure critical to Australians' safety during emergencies.
"It will be important to take a careful look at this and see what the lessons are and see if there are steps that should be taken to further improve network resilience, particularly as we expect bushfires to be more severe, the bushfire season to be longer, as all of the expert advice is suggesting," he said.
Mr Fletcher said ideas to consider included tougher network infrastructure, adding more back-up options during outages and increased use of satellites and Wi-Fi spots.
He also said instances where the EFTPOS network was unavailable during emergencies when mobile reception dropped out was an emerging problem as people moved away from cash.
"Are there options for greater resilience in the EFTPOS networks and could satellite have a role to play there?" he said.
Mr Fletcher has spoken with the chief executives of the country's major telcos about the impact of the fires, praising their emergency efforts but urging them to look at improvements because networks were "not impervious" to growing threats. He said telecommunications resilience would be a key part of the government's own review.
"Whatever form that takes, certainly the resilience of the telecommunications networks will need to be part of that along with a range of other issues," he said.
The majority of mobile network outages have been caused by power loss. After the main supply fails, back-up power kicks in but soon requires re-fuelling by technicians who have to wait until it is safe to access the sites.
This is one of those classic situations where digital enablement and service are great until they are not and you can’t access them.
Loss of voice and mobile coverage and internet connectivity now has a profound effect on the safely and capabilities of most citizens.
Some are hit harder than others and most especially during fires with a really worrying example being those on Commonwealth Benefits Cards for which access to EFTPOS is the only way to access essentials like food and medicine. Equally ATM failure is a major problem during such disasters.
Even more worrying in the fires is the loss of the ‘Fires Near Me’ app functionality – and the situational awareness they provide.
The need for a battery powered AM/FM radio is pretty high in any fire at-risk location! A search for “battery powered am/fm radio” finds all sorts for $20 and up so there is no excuse!
All this just goes to highlight how a small card in the purse / wallet with the crucial details is the way to go.
This is not useful information from Twitter when the phones and internet are not accessible (tweeted 10/1/2020):
If you’ve been affected by #bushfires, please check your @MyHealthRec as your healthcare provider may have uploaded your medications list so any pharmacy can access them. If you need help with My Health Record, we are available 24/7 on 1800 723 471. http://bit.ly/MED_INFO
Really, if the bushfires have got you I suspect you may have other more immediate concerns!
With all that said, a post fire review of all our networks makes a hell of a lot of sense! I note there are increasing reports that the NBN may not have been built to the standards needed going forward with both fire and flood. That will be something to keep and eye on....
Posted by Dr David G More MB PhD at Friday, January 17, 2020