When Eurobodalla residents faced the approaching flames of the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires, the situation was made even more dangerous by the loss of radio and phone reception.
Eurobodalla Shire Council has now pleaded with the NSW Government to take urgent action to prevent a repeat of the loss of communications by improving the region’s critical infrastructure.
The government has not promised a complete upgrade of infrastructure on Mount Wandera, but it says the site has been temporarily repaired while a new one for emergency services is being completed nearby.
The main telecommunications infrastructure for the whole Eurobodalla Shire is on Mount Wandera, near Moruya.
It transmits radio for police, ambulance, fire services, ABC radio and commercial stations, as well as television and mobile phone services.
The facility was severely damaged during the Black Summer bushfires, resulting in the loss of emergency services’ radio networks, ABC radio broadcasting, and other telecommunications including those from council.
“In speaking to members of the community, volunteers and emergency services agencies about the bushfires and the things impacting them, this comes up in most conversations,” said Eurobodalla Shire Council’s infrastructure services director Warren Sharpe OAM.
“The damage this infrastructure sustained in the fires, and the resulting loss of communications caused major stress in the community and significantly impacted response efforts.
“It also required us to send volunteer escorts, visiting technical specialists repair crews and our own staff into the fire zones during the response.”
The infrastructure has been repaired since the fires, but it remains vulnerable. Burnt power poles leading to the facility were replaced with timber, and the tower is surrounded by prolific regrowth as well as dead, dying and fallen trees.
Mr Sharpe said urgent funding is needed to replace the timber power poles with more resilient composite poles, as well as for maintenance around the tower, and to establish a larger asset protection zone.
“The tree [removal] work would be to increase separation between the bushland and the main telecommunications tower, including the wires holding up the tower,” he said.
“Many of these are severely bushfire impacted.”
Mr Sharpe said this work is relatively low-cost compared to the benefits for the whole community.
“Mount Wandera is home to the most critical telecommunications in the whole Eurobodalla region, yet the resilience of the power supply and the care of the site is poor,” he said.
“We’re asking the NSW Government to act immediately and allocate funds to address these deficiencies as a matter of urgency.”
A spokesperson for the NSW Telco Authority, which Region Media contacted regarding the issue, said its authority is responsible for the Public Safety Network (PSN).
This network provides radio only for frontline responders, essential service organisations and other government agencies.
The spokesperson said the PSN site at Mount Wandera was located on carrier infrastructure that was destroyed in the fires.
“The site has been temporarily repaired while a new site is completed nearby,” said the spokesperson.
They said the authority is introducing resilience measures such as 16 hours’ worth of battery backup including emergency service equipment at Mount Wandera, a generator with five days’ of backup for such equipment, and redundant transmission to reduce the risk of site failure.
Member for Bega Andrew Constance was contacted for comment but did not respond.