BAI Communications Australia (formerly Broadcast Australia),  faced its biggest challenge to date after a 1000 kilometre storm front hit South Australia on 28 September 2016, resulting in a state-wide power outage.

Damaging state-wide storm

The weather system, which saw approximately 80,000 lightning strikes recorded, took out 22 electricity network towers carrying 275Kv power lines after being hit with twin tornadoes. The damage impacted 200 television and radio services across 45 sites in South Australia.

Quick assessment and plan of action

Broadcast Australia’s team has faced a number of natural disasters such as floods and bushfires; however, this was the first event which saw power affected across the entire state. Within minutes the team had sprung into action to limit the impact to the network and ensure stakeholders and the community would continue to have access to timely information.

Cooperation and ongoing information sharing between the National Operations Centre (NOC) and field staff were key to keeping broadcasters informed and ‘on air’, plus providing ongoing updates regarding plans to restore services to areas without power.

Network Operation Centre key to critical communications

Broadcast Australia Operations Manager Sash Petreski said the team’s quick coordinated response resulted in stakeholders receiving regular reports and updates on the status of every single service across South Australia. “Information was particularly dynamic throughout this period,” Mr Petreski said.

“With the local team and the NOC working together, and utilising the telemetry that was being gathered, we were able to provide timely reports to our stakeholders about every single service in the state.

“Providing regular updates allowed stakeholders to keep the community in the know about when power was expected to come back on, and be kept up to date with ongoing weather warnings.

Broadcast Australia community rallies

“We had a number of Broadcast Australia staff who volunteered extra time and gave up scheduled leave to continue working to make sure our services were operational and that stakeholders such as ABC News and the Department of Emergency Services could continue to get information out.” said Sash Petreski, Operations Manager.

“Our team always works well together, however this situation really highlighted the unity of the entire Broadcast Australia team and its commitment to ensuring the community always has access to key information – even under the toughest of circumstances.

“The sheer size of this weather event was one we hadn’t seen before, and the team will be taking the lessons learned and strengthening our critical response procedures even more. It’s been fantastic to receive positive feedback from stakeholders on our responsiveness and overall management of this event.”

The storm front wasn’t the only challenge facing the team, with the wild weather continuing for another two days, cutting off access to some Broadcast Australia sites due to fallen trees and flood waters.

Broadcast Australia’s network stood up extremely well during the events with the only major damage recorded at Mt Olinthus, where a direct lightning strike destroyed the phone lines, power meter and two pole mounted electrical supply transformers.

The importance of broadcast during power outage

Broadcast Australia South Australia District Supervisor Paul Pyatt said the weather event highlighted the importance of keeping broadcasters informed, so they could do their job of informing the community. “Everyone knows the important role local TV and radio play during significant weather events to keep people informed, prepared and out of harm’s way,” Mr Pyatt said.

“Our real challenge came two hours after the initial power outage once the OPTUS and Telstra networks began shutting down as battery power ran out – this made communicating with people in the affected areas impossible. Once communication was lost with our Adelaide office, our First in Maintainers (FIMs) were committed to making sure sites in their local area were functioning, and that the generators had enough fuel to keep running.

“Pimpala MF lunch room quickly turned into the main control centre for the district to monitor the 891 Local Radio service, digital radio and television services during the event to facilitate planning, co-ordinating and reporting. Our staff also looked after Mt Lofty and Pimpala MF sites for the duration of the Adelaide outages, while the generators were running. They also ensured Crystal Brook MF stayed live, as it is the backup ABC Local Radio service to Pimpala MF.

“This event really highlighted the capability of Broadcast Australia’s services and its team. When broadcasters aren’t contacting you for information on what’s happening with the services, you know you are providing timely and relevant advice.” Mr Pyatt concluded.

Broadcast Australia received great feedback from broadcasters regarding regular updates and information sharing which contributed to keeping South Australia informed and ‘on air’ during this state-wide weather event.