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Mobile towers need diesel boost: Ergon

Critical telecommunications infrastructure needs to up the amount of diesel that they keep at base stations to power generators when mains go offline during weather disasters, such as Tropical Cyclone Yasi, according to Ergon Energy's telecommunications manager Andrew Deme.

Critical telecommunications infrastructure needs to up the amount of diesel that they keep at base stations to power generators when mains go offline during weather disasters, such as Tropical Cyclone Yasi, according to Ergon Energy's telecommunications manager Andrew Deme.

Speaking at the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)'s RadComms conference in Sydney on Friday, Deme recalled watching the power and telecommunications networks fail as Tropical Cyclone Yasi beared down on Northern Queensland earlier this year.

"We were trying to work out what part of our telecommunications network would collapse as part of the power network, and then we're trying to figure out where the public carrier networks would collapse because the loss of the public carrier networks actually creates a massive issue for our organisation," he said.

In the end, 450 Telstra sites went down as a result of the cyclone; however, Deme said that most of these went down on the second or third day, when Telstra's backup batteries and diesel fuel for the generators went out while Ergon's power supply was still cut off to the site.

"Don't let me try to convince you that this was because of Telstra," he said. "They had very little damage from the cyclone itself. This is simply because the power went out."

Deme said that all sites that could be identified as critical infrastructure should have at least a week's supply of diesel fuel.

"If you're trying to convince your customers that they should use your telecommunications services for critically important communications, you might have the best hardware in the world, but if you have a generator, which has one day's supply of diesel and maybe four to six hours of battery, you're refuelling 450 generators every day," he said. "Now you don't have the manpower to do that."

"If we're going to identify critical infrastructure as seriously critical, the number one [factor] we have to understand what the actual resilience of that infrastructure is."

Energy suppliers such as Ergon would also be able to restore power to telecommunications infrastructure more quickly if there were maps provided to energy suppliers that show where the telecommunications infrastructure connects to the power.

"If someone gave me 450 sites geographically it is kind of irrelevant," he said. "What I really need to know is what power lines and feeders they're on.

Deme added that Ergon had to resort to some unusual methods to figure out where telcos needed power restored.

"We actually used social media with our customers to tell us what was out," he said.

Deme said that it took Ergon crews a total of 23 days to restore all power after Tropical Cyclone Yasi.