Stand and deliver: Evacuation centres wired for looming disasters
Sixty-two evacuation centres throughout Queensland now come equipped with wifi, which will enable residents seeking refuge from natural disasters to stay connected online during an emergency.
A Sky Muster ground station, integral to the network now equipping evacuation centres throughout Queensland with free community wifi in times of natural disaster. (Image: NBN Co)
The tech upgrade is part of the federal government’s $37.1 million Strengthening Telecommunications Against Natural Disasters (STAND) program, established in response to the 2019-20 ‘black summer’ bushfires where telecommunications outages prevented people from purchasing essential supplies, accessing emergency funds and remaining in contact with family and friends.
Finalised with the support of the Queensland Government, the completion of all NBN Co Sky Muster satellite installations at key evacuation centres in Queensland means people in distress will have free access to community wifi when land-based communications networks are damaged or offline.
Queensland’s Digital Economy Minister Leeanne Enoch said the new STAND assets were a “game changer” for Queenslanders facing threats from natural disasters.
“Access to satellite-based internet services allowing fast and reliable access to social media to contact friends and family as well as insurance companies and government services is crucial when other telecommunication networks may be affected during a disaster,” she said.
The completion of the Queensland phase of the national roll-out comes amid warnings from experts of an increase in frequency and intensity of natural disasters, prompting early trials of the new service during last year’s east coast floods and Western Australia bushfires.
The service was first used during the Ingham floods in January 2021 to assist travellers cut off by flood waters on the Bruce Highway. A further eight Queensland sites were activated during the South East Queensland floods last March at Canungra, Tallebudgera, Helensvale, Bundaberg, Aratula, Tamborine and Kerry, south of Beaudesert.
NBN Co’s regional development manager, Gavin Williams, said the network would not only help those seeking refuge but also the authorities in charge of protecting life and property.
“The assets provide vital connection to help emergency services coordinate their response efforts and, just as importantly, provide a vital lifeline to local communities who may have lost online connectivity,” he said.
Federal Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said access to reliable communications during an emergency could “literally mean the difference between life and death”.
“The Albanese Government is committed to delivering the investments and infrastructure which local communities need to be better prepared for natural disasters,” she said.
“And while no network can ever be 100 per cent disaster-proof, these investments will go a long way towards ensuring local residents can stay connected in the most difficult times.”
Rowland said a further $100 million had been committed by the Albanese Government in the October federal budget towards “communications resilience”.
Funding to the tune of $50 million has also been allocated to the Telecommunications Resilience Disaster Innovation Program (TRDI), aimed at supporting and accelerating the development and deployment of new and innovative technologies to address known communications issues during natural disasters, including telecommunications power resilience, the need for rapid emergency restoration of services, and increased satellite usage.