From steel wool to complex maps, keeping rural Aussies connected takes some work

From steel wool to complex maps, keeping rural Aussies connected takes some work

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Telstra's transmission and internet equipment has provided a perfect warm environment for damaging mice to live in. Up to 50 mice live in a space as big as a bedroom closet. Picture: Telstra.

Telstra's transmission and internet equipment has provided a perfect warm environment for damaging mice to live in. Up to 50 mice live in a space as big as a bedroom closet. Picture: Telstra.

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From mouse plagues to bushfires, keeping phones working across rural Australia can be a challenge.

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From mouse plagues to bushfires, keeping phones working across rural Australia can be a challenge.

Our big communication companies have revealed their reliance on low-tech fixes like steel wool or the years spent developing complex fire maps.

Telstra says while farmers have felt the impact of the plague the worst, its network across southeast Australia "has also been feeling the impacts".

Mice are chewing their way through everything from phone exchanges to cabling in homes and businesses.

Meanwhile, Optus says it has teamed up with the CSIRO to figure out where there is risk of damage to its network and where upgrades could reduce vulnerability to future bushfires.

Researchers have collated information on topography, fuel load, vegetation type and local bushfire weather severity to pinpoint danger spots.

Optus is already moving on the recommendations at two of its sites in Victoria, Seville East and Dixons Creek, to also be demonstration sites "to help other infrastructure owners understand the learnings".

Telstra said its field teams have been working tirelessly this year to prevent mice entering and damaging its infrastructure and buildings.

Unfortunately for Telstra, copper and fibre cabling provide perfect chewing targets for mice.

" ... it can be quite easy for mice to enter buildings - whether it's simply coming straight under the front door, squeezing through cable entry points or coming through the wall-mounted air conditioner units," the telco said.

Mice droppings can also cause short circuits and faults in its electrical equipment.

Telstra workers armed with steel wool, silicone and foam filler have been devising methods to keep mice out of its buildings and infrastructure.

They have been blocking light fittings, vent holes, cable points and conduits.

"Once our facilities are all sealed up, we set eco-friendly bait and traps throughout the building, leave the mice inside and come back later to see if we've had success," the company said.

"Properly sealing everything can prove quite difficult, and it can often take two or three visits to get it completely right.

"Once that's done, we finish up with a big clean-out of the facility (goodbye stench) with the help of our health and safety team before repairing equipment."

CSIRO and Optus took part in a joint nationwide project to improve bushfire resilience of critical telecommunications.

The research analysed where there is risk of damage to the network and where upgrades could reduce vulnerability to future bushfire events.

They have collaborated on a study of the potential impacts of embers, radiation and flame on and around Optus' sites with telecommunications equipment.

RIGHT: An aerial map showing how Optus infrastructure at Dixon's Creek, Victoria, is assessed for fire threat or building loss potential. Graphic: CSIRO and Google Earth.

RIGHT: An aerial map showing how Optus infrastructure at Dixon's Creek, Victoria, is assessed for fire threat or building loss potential. Graphic: CSIRO and Google Earth.

"Optus continuously aims to improve our network's resilience as we know communities rely heavily on our services, especially during natural disasters and extreme weather events," Optus managing director (network) Lambo Kanagaratnam said.

"Our collaboration with CSIRO has provided us with the analysis to allow us to target the best ways to protect the network where it could be most vulnerable."

These bushfire hazard and planning maps are early examples of the types of products being develop by CSIRO's National Bushfire Intelligence Capabilities project.

The project is developing bushfire hazard mapping products for a wide range of infrastructure types ranging from residential housing to critical infrastructure.

In addition to using the findings to identify and invest in the most impactful upgrades, Optus has developed in-house training and site assessment tools to increase employees' awareness of the threat to landscape and improve response preparedness.

It has started training its contractors to improve future design work or to advise existing site concerns.

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