Communications Solutions for Emergency and Disaster Events

Continuing the discussion from The "Never Never Broadband Network" - NBN complaints:

This is also worth considering. Telstra submission to the Productivity Commission including measured impacts of previous significant disasters on communications infrastructure.

The latest fire events in Qld Nov/Dec 2018 will doubtless add further to past experience.

Black Saturday Victorian Bush Fires and Tropical Cyclone Yassi are among the referenced events.

One of Telstra’s critical observations is the impact of the loss of electrical power in affected areas. This affects all communications infrastructure. Telstra pointed out the NBN is more susceptible than the PSTN services due to the need to have power at both ends.

In non urban areas most customers outside townships can only have FW or Satellite services. They are able to retain their PSTN service. This may not be widely understood. This would appear to be a better solution than the NBN. For small rural townships where there is FTTN as the option, the node is 99% certain to be in the same location as the local PSTN exchange. It only services the immediate settlement. If the township looses power so does the NBN once backup power goes.

Telstra’s advice to the productivity commission includes for emergency situations improving mobile coverage and network resilience.
This may still hold true once the relevant parties do their post emergency reviews and determine any recommendations.

As the NBN continually reminds us, the NBN is not designed or intended to provide essential emergency contact. We need to also have a mobile phone! Perhaps in a urban environment with many near neighbours that is not so critical. In a more rural environment, everyone I know relies firstly on the mobile phone. It can receive broadcast SMS alerts. It does not need a UPS or mains power. It works when you are not in the house. If one tower goes out you may still have coverage. The lower bands used for 3G services work effectively over greater distances with small handheld phones than the NBN.

There has been a significant effort by the current government to improve mobile phone coverage, blackspots in response to the recognised safety benefits. The NBN other than Skymuster will never have the reach of the mobile phone network. The NBN is only designed for fixed site connections. It is not mobile.

There is some logic to continuing to improve mobile coverage. In a recent local Glass House Mountains meeting with the Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, the most significant concern with communications was lack of mobile coverage. The most significant concern with the NBN was the performance of the NBN.

Maintaining effective communications during disaster or emergency situations is a complex and varied topic. It deserves it’s own space. It is much more than just a topic about the NBN - given the content of Telstra’s response. It is also possibly a very emotive topic, given the substantial impacts such situations have on many thousands of individuals. I wonder if the Choice Community has the in depth knowledge required to understand all aspects of emergency management and how different communication tools meet the needs of those responsible for managing the situations.

Isn’t it important to have all of this input to have an informed discussion?

One outcome may be that the NBN needs to be changed in its implementation in regional and rural areas to provide a better service.

Having witnessed three tropical cyclones in Northern Qld, the challenges are broad and much more significant than first imagined.


Disaster communication is problematic. We are on Satellite NBN which relies on power at our end to work and loses reception in rain or heavy cloud. Because we are on satellite Mr Google gives our location as Forbes or Sydney NSW so we get warnings for there, rather than where we are. There is no mobile signal, but there is enough on a calm day that we can get SMS from a tower 23km away over 2 ranges of hills. It goes on to ancillary power or there is wind (moving trees in the narrow gap) we lose even that. The phone battery goes flat in a day as it is continually searching for a signal

We’ve had some severe events - a storm with mini tornado, large hail etc. The SMS (we registered for alerts) arrived after the storm. Our landline went out for 2 days, and so did the power (no NBN or SMS). In theory our modern technology should be delivering more timely, targeted warnings.


I have just had a good example of a major risk with the NBN rollout. I live in the Pennant Hills area that was hit by the severe storms on Saturday, so we are by no means in a remote area. We lost power which meant there was no internet access. We also lost mobile phone coverage, including emergency calls. Thankfully we still had our Telstra provided landline and phone so were able to make calls to let people know we were okay and to call the energy company occasionally to find out the expected time for restoration of power. Once we are forced onto NBN what will be the communication options in a similar situation? We were lucky this time and had no damage and no injuries. Next time we may not be so lucky. In this situation, the only option would be carrier pidgeon, as driving somewhere to make a mobile phone call was impossible due to road closures and traffic gridlock.

I could not help but be amused by the recorded message each time I ran the energy company. It stated that I should go to their website, url provided, to find out the latest information on the outage situation in my area … just a bit difficult with no power, internet or mobile access!


I haven’t owned a CB radio since the 1980s, but I wonder if UHF CB radio could be an option in an emergency ? There are designated channels for emergency use only, and volunteer groups that monitor them.

Is anyone on the Community a current user that could advise on practicality or otherwise ?


Great call. It is probably the only effective option.

There are a couple …

WICEN - Wireless Institute Civil Emergency Network

ACREM - Australian Citizens Radio Emergency Monitors

VKS-737 Radio Network

… or grab an RFDS radio and licence … HF is the only way to fly :wink: I believe there are other groups who use RFDS frequencies and people often program their sets to cover a few services including RFDS …


Moving the general population onto any emergency services radio network where they could transmit would result in the same extraordinary bad behaviour as assaulting SES, medics, ambos, general hospital staff, and police, but with radio can also block the service through their interference. I suggest this can be a ‘careful what you propose’ area.


I’ve never felt communications for emergency or disaster events were for the general population - for this reason the CB is far less than ideal due to the amount of untrained/unlicenced/un(radio)disciplined people with these transceivers, but possibly useful in a large scale emergency where everyone might be ‘more focussed’ and some level of end-user communication is beneficial. RFDS and other licenced services with more ‘specialist’ transceiver requirements has a tendency of limiting access. WICEN, being run on Amateur Radio, is even more limiting (of random users) and has huge spectrum access. Both RFDS/et al and WICEN have a relatively small operator base, which limits (but not eliminates) the moron factor but limits its scope also. When I was a WICEN member many years ago it was all about managing communications and message handling for other services and the general public, not giving the general public a service they could use.

I wonder how things would work today. In limited emergencies where infrastructure is relatively intact, we’d probably not see much use of these services. In a big emergency where the infrastructure was ‘toast’, things might be different. It scares me how little in-house expertise exists in the emergency services these days, one hopes all the various contractors are contactable and see more than just dollars when there’s ‘two suns in the sunset’ so to speak … won’t be an issue for me :rofl::rofl:



It’s always an option. I’d suggest one of last resort. There are limitations.

The common UHF CB’s are in regular use bu civil contractors, truckies and farmers. My experience with them is that the range is limited. Use for calling emergency support often relies on someone picking up the call and using their resources to contact someone that can assist. It is a much slower chain than direct ‘000’ calls. Users also need to understand the basic use, etiquette, and appropriate channels to use. There is an accepted allocation of usage for many channels. Some channels appear to be etiquette free zones, while others are very busy despite the fact the channels are not intended for commercial or business use.

it’s still a resource that can be used if there are enough users in an area?

p.s we’ve need to rely on Sat Phones and Epirbs in locations where there is inadequate mobile coverage. (?90% of the landmass of Australia?)