Phone issues worsened situation

Headshot of Shannon Smith
Shannon SmithAlbany Advertiser
Redmond volunteer firefighters Pieter Mostert' John Stoney and Phil Dunkley.
Camera IconRedmond volunteer firefighters Pieter Mostert' John Stoney and Phil Dunkley. Credit: Picture: Laurie Benson, Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

Redmond fire control officer Pieter Mostert remembers how the lack of phone coverage complicated the fight against the May, 2018 bushfires.

During the emergency, he struggled to contact volunteer firefighters to recruit them, those who were already fighting, control centres in Albany or the community at risk.

Since then, Telstra has activated 13 new mobile base stations across the Great Southern as part of the Federal Government’s Mobile Black Spot Program.

Napier, where a home was destroyed, will have a dramatically improved phone signal when a new tower opens soon.

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In addition, several volunteer fire brigades in the region have acquired antennae and devices to boost coverage at the fire sheds, at the homes of fire control officers and in their trucks.

The Redmond Volunteer Bushfire Brigade received mobile signal boosters from Telstra late last year.

Mr Mostert said a triple zero call last week proved the difference a better signal can make.

“These upgrades have dramatically reduced the response time to the call-outs that we get, which reduces the amount of time we need to spend at an incident,” he said.

“We had a triple-0 call at 10.30pm recently, and having the booster at the homestead, we could relay messages even when we were in the patches where we dropped out of the fire-network radio.

I could pass the messages on to other crews so they knew we were responding to the incident and work better together.”

Looking back on last May’s fires, Mr Mostert said operations did not run smoothly, with a lack of phone coverage causing confusion.

“Although we had landline at the shed, everything was going through mobile and I had to walk away from the command radios to be able to receive calls from the control centre in Albany,” he said.

“I would miss incoming calls about what was happening.”

Telstraregional general manager Boyd Brown said telecommunications could be crucial before, during and after a natural disaster.

“Every second counts in an emergency and mobile coverage does play an important role in supporting regional communities with access to information, as well as providing a communications link for our emergency services,” he said.

“This is a very fire-prone district and the teams required reliable coverage to co-ordinate firefighters as well as accessing data to help plan their strategy on fighting a fire.”

Mr Brown said Telstra’s preparations for the fire season began months in advance, including network testing.

“If disaster strikes, we will be on hand to work with emergency and essential service organisations to restore any impacted services as quickly as possible,” he said.

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