The Inspector-General for Emergency Management recommends that Emergency Management Victoria – in collaboration with the emergency management sector – develop and implements processes to ensure greater dissemination and improved understanding of information for all Victorians, and visitors to Victoria in an emergency event. This should consider but not be exclusive to individuals who:
a) are not familiar with Victoria and its environment
b) find it difficult to understand and respond to emergency information
c) are socially or geographically isolated.
Victoria will look to partner with the Commonwealth and target it’s $37.1 million package to strengthen telecommunications resilience in socially and geographically isolated communities in bushfire and disaster-prone areas. This could include investment in upgrading alternative power sources and improving NBN satellite services in rural and country fires services and designated evacuation areas.
DJPR has partnered with the Australian Government to identify and propose appropriate Victorian sites for the $37.1m Strengthening Telecommunications Against Natural Disasters (STAND) program. The program aims to strengthen telecommunications resilience in socially and geographically isolated communities in bushfire and disaster-prone areas. This program has led to the following upgrades.
National Broadband Network (NBN) satellite services program
Under the STAND program, the Australian Government allocated $7m to deliver 2000 STAND NBN satellite community Wi-Fi services nationally, including 344 sites in Victoria. Satellite community Wi-Fi facilities provide communities with an additional layer of redundancy for communications during emergency events when commercial NBN fixed and mobile networks fail.
As of August 2022 all 344 sites had been resolved, with 343 of the 344 satellite community Wi-Fi facilities having been installed, while one site in Morwell was abandoned.
The active STAND Wi-Fi locations have been integrated into EM-COP. DJPR is also working with EMV, NBN, and the NBN software vendor to integrate real-time status reporting for the NBN satellite community Wi-Fi services into EM-COP.
CASE STUDY – Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions
During the April 2022 floods, Bemm River and Marlo experienced mobile and fixed telecommunications outages. STAND NBN satellite community Wi-Fi services were installed at their local CFAs and accessed by emergency services and other community groups.
Since the 2019–20 bushfires, DJPR deploys emergency management liaison officers (EMLO) when there are telecommunication impacts during an emergency. The local emergency services were aware of the STAND NBN satellite community Wi-Fi services and independently approached the telecommunication EMLO to ask for the services to be activated to their fullest capacity. DJPR was able to assist with this request and liaised with NBN to ensure the services were ready to be used.
In Bemm River, once a generator was turned on and the STAND service brought online, the local Incident Control Centre was relocated to the CFA. Incident controllers used services such as FaceTime to remain connected over the Wi-Fi services for 24 hours until power restored usual telecommunication and online services.
Mobile network hardening program – battery backup for mobile towers
In January 2020 the Australian Government announced the $18m Mobile Network Hardening Program (MNHP) as part of STAND. The MNHP aims to increase the resilience of Australia’s mobile telecommunication networks to help prevent, mitigate and manage outages during bushfires and other disasters, through grants to deploy upgrades to mobile telecommunications infrastructure.
MNHP Stage 1 provided funding to Optus, Telstra, and TPG to improve network resilience by upgrading battery backup power at base stations funded under the Australian Government's Mobile Black Spot Program, including 94 stations in Victoria. In August 2021 DJPR signed MoUs to support applications to MNHP Stage 2.
Under MNHP Stage 2 the Australian Government will provide $10.9m for Optus, Telstra, and TPG to deliver 544 resilience upgrades at mobile base station sites across Australia, including 138 facilities in Victoria. The range of resilience improvements include permanent on-site generators, transportable generators, bushfire hardening, and batteries
DJPR has worked with EMV to update the VicEmergency website with information for communities on telecommunications outages and how they can prepare themselves at these times. This includes written and video information available at emergency.vic.gov.au/prepare/#outages-and-disruptions/ telecommunications-outages