East Coast mobile phone black spot ‘a fire risk’

Poor mobile phone reception will put the East Coast at greater risk of bushfire this summer, Break O’Day mayor Mick Tucker has warned.

The East Coast was identified last week as having the highest bushfire risk in Tasmania this summer.

Despite this, a mobile phone reception black spot throughout much of the region will leave multiple communities without coverage this bushfire season.

Cr Tucker said sparks caused by accidents in remote areas could start fires if people couldn’t call emergency services. 

“If we do have an accident that creates a bushfire, the fire is out of control before anyone is notified of it.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

Cr Tucker fears Mathinna, connected to a landline service by 1.8km of exposed temporary cable near the south Esk Bridge, could be cut off from phone services if the connection was damaged.

In the region’s no-reception zone, only Pyengana and Goshen are due to receive new mobile phone towers under the first round of the federal government’s $220 million Mobile Black Spot Program.

In the event of bushfires, warnings are communicated through text and voice messages to mobile and landline phones via the Telstra network. Warnings are broadcast on local radio. 

‘Phone trees’, developed in collaboration with the Tasmania Fire Service, have also become a method of passing on bushfire warnings.  

Under the model, an ‘activator’ contacts ‘group leaders’, who then contact ‘team leaders’. In turn these contact residents with bushfire warnings.

Telstra Area General Manager Michael Patterson said wet weather has hampered restoration work for Mathinna’s phone cable in the past eight weeks.

“A permanent repair is planned, but it is a big job as we need to rebore the river and excavate wet river flats,” he said.

TFS has developed bushfire response plans for communities at risk, including on the East Coast.

TFS Manager Bushfire Planning and Policy Chris Collins said the plans identify where communications black spots exist. 

“Additionally, each community is advised … of the most dependable means to access bushfire information, and any limitations associated with the receipt of warnings,” he said.

Comment was sought from Regional Communications Minister Fiona Nash.

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