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Every day, the team at BAI Communications are keeping people connected with information, entertainment and each other – even in the most challenging environments.

At Broadcast Australia (a BAI Communications company), the task of maintaining a network of broadcasting services across the vast Australian continent is further complicated by the country’s harsh weather patterns. In this video, the team discuss emergency preparedness and the rewarding nature of keeping people connected – rain, hail or cyclone.

This is the first in a series of case studies delving into our teams’ capabilities across the globe.

team bai

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Daniel Goldsworthy

Hostworks, Australia

Read Daniel's Story

“Many of our projects are quite complex and require meticulous planning.”

Phil Gruber

Program Manager, Infrastructure Services

Broadcast Australia

Read Phil’s story >

“We are always looking at ways to improve and get better outcomes for the customer.”

Tom Brook

Customer Liaison Manager, Network Operations Centre

Broadcast Australia

Read Tom’s story >

“In times of crisis, Australians know they can tune into the ABC local radio service.”

Sarah Baker

Account Director, Public Broadcasting

Broadcast Australia

Read Sarah’s story >

“We are committed to keeping ABC Local Radio on air before, during and after an emergency.”

David Henry

District Supervisor, Northern Queensland

Broadcast Australia

Read David’s story >

Peter‘s story x

Broadcast Australia's network spans the breadth of the vast Australian continent. This large and complex network requires extensive management and maintenance. Peter Lambourne and his Service Delivery Unit are responsible for the network, and in times of crisis that becomes a challenging task.

"Throughout the year we can face cyclones, floods, fires, snowstorms - and sometimes these things happen all at the same time, in different parts of the country," Peter says. "When you're working with multiple situations at the same time, that's a challenging environment and it keeps our people exceedingly busy."

"It's vitality important for local communities to be kept informed in the event of a natural disaster. They need to make life or death decisions at any point in time. The ABC through its local radio service is the key service provider of emergency information and therefore it's vitally important that our services stay on air to be able to provide that information and keep people safe."

The team at Broadcast Australia work closely with the ABC to prepare for emergency situations and thoroughly test our emergency procedures. "We put in a lot of time and effort with the ABC to ensure that we provide a seamless service in any situation. Each year we run a number of exercises to test our systems and process, to ensure they're fit and ready for purpose. We run through various disaster scenarios, and this is done in conjunction with the ABC to ensure we have the end-to-end process in place."

Maintaining a broad network, year-round

"We reach 98% of the Australian population through our broadcast sites," Peter says. "We have to respond to faults any time of the day, anywhere in the country."

He says the team at Broadcast Australia take much pride in maintaining the network and getting things right. "When communities are able to receive our services twenty-four hours a day, without ever seeing a problem - that's the definition of success for us.

"Broadcast Australia employs 275 people and they are providing services ranging from the design and building of new transmission facilities for our customers, through to the maintenance and operation of those services."

In order to service over 600 sites, the maintenance team are dispersed across eleven bases around Australia. Meanwhile at Gore Hill in Sydney, the Network Operations Centre is the central monitoring point. "It's crucial to have that 24 hour monitoring and forward-control, to make sure we can get services back to air as quickly as possible," Peter says.

"As technology enhances, we are able to offer even better services. We've recently installed 'IP to site' across our entire network, which enables a technician to log-in to site from home or on the road to diagnose a fault, enact a bypass or potentially repair the problem remotely rather than having to travel to the site. That's a great outcome for us. We can resolve faults more quickly, whilst giving our people a better quality of life."

In addition to our broadcasting services, our sites are used by many mobile telephony services and the NBN network. "These are services people expect to have access to every day, that people take for granted as being part of the way they live now, such as using their smart phones or iPads to access content wherever they are," he says.

"Broadcast Australia's network infrastructure plays a vital role in keeping people connected."

What it means to "Be courageous"

"As an organisation, and as a person, it's always important for us to keep changing and keep improving," Peter says.

"It's important to be able to stand up and say, 'I know a better way we can do this. I know how we can be a better service provider, how I can make my job and your job easier'. We really want to encourage that at Broadcast Australia, so that everyone can make a difference to the way the organisation works and how we then lift and improve the business to become even better at what we do."

Phil’s story x

While an emergency situation may occur over a period of days or weeks, the team at Broadcast Australia proactively prepare all year-round. Preventative inspections and maintenance at our broadcasting sites play a major role in our ability to keep services on air. Phil Gruber and his team are among those who facilitate projects at Broadcast Australia.

“Broadcast Australia’s assets are designed to last, and therefore rarely need updating,” Phil says. “When they do need to be replaced, it can be a huge undertaking.”

“We recently replaced an AM radio mast at Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory. The site was so remote that we had to ship all the equipment in we needed to complete the works and install the mast via helicopter, as there were no cranes large enough to complete the works in the region.”

With more than 600 sites across Australia, deciding when and where to conduct upgrade works is a major task in itself. Decisions about maintenance activities are made based on an assessment of safety, risk, customer needs and the potential for services to be impacted.

“The Rigging team maintain a continuous inspection program throughout all of our sites in the network,” he says. “Sites are assessed on a one, three or five year basis, depending on the geographic risk - for example, salty coastal locations with exposure to corrosive winds are inspected more frequently. We identify what maintenance needs to be undertaken and run a parallel maintenance program to conduct treatment and ensure the reliability of our structural assets.”

“We are currently working on major refurbishments of some of our larger structures,” Phil says. “These projects can take up to ten months to complete.”

“We are also replacing a number of large switchboards at our sites. We are upgrading this equipment so that we can use new technology to synchronise our standby generators with the mains network, which allows for seamless cutovers.”

“It’s quite complex and requires meticulous planning to successfully deliver these projects. My team work closely with customers to plan appropriate times when we can complete the work on site, to prevent or minimise disruption to their services.”

The Infrastructure Services team

Phil’s team includes a project delivery arm with three Project Managers, a Project Officer and a Solution Developer. “The Project Managers are responsible for pulling everything together and ensuring our projects are delivered on time, on budget and to the required quality,” Phil says.

“We work with the Network Services team and Account Management team to develop solutions and deliver the best outcomes for our network and our customers.”

He also manages the Rigging team, which is made up of eight people including the rigging manager, rigging team leaders, riggers and a climbing electrician. “The Rigging team is key when it comes to the upkeep of our structural assets. When they’re not out inspecting and maintaining our structures, they are completing structural upgrades to accommodate new customers on our sites. They all work together as a team to determine the best solutions for our network and our customers.”

Phil says he enjoys working on new and challenging projects throughout Australia. “At Nhulunbuy for example, we had to deal with the challenges of the remote location, weather - and keep an eye out for crocodiles during the works.” He gets a sense of pride from knowing that their work matters. “The team are very important to the network and the availability of our antennas and transmission infrastructure.”

Customer installation projects

As well as providing fully-managed broadcasting services for the ABC and SBS, Broadcast Australia provides site leasing and associated services to commercial broadcasters and telecommunications customers. These companies benefit from the efficiency and value of using our established broadcasting sites to bolt-on their own transmission requirements.

“Over the last few years, we’ve seen some fantastic growth in new builds on our sites,” Phil said. “This is typically due to our sites’ proximity to supporting infrastructure such as mains power and roads, as well as realising the benefits of using our pre-existing sites rather than trying to establish a new site. Planning applications, environmental impact studies, cultural and heritage assessments, and other challenges can make establishing a new site a difficult and lengthy process.”

While the concept of Site Sharing sounds simple, the works required to prepare a site for a new leasing partner can become quite complex. The customer relies on Broadcast Australia’s expertise to efficiently deliver the works required. “We handle the geotechnical engineering assessments, footing designs, structure designs, the actual build, testing and certifications - and everything else that goes into a new build.”

What it means to “Do what matters”

“For me, doing ‘what matters’ means listening to the customer and delivering their needs,” Phil says. “A great example of that is the Optus project we are currently undertaking, where we have a very short time period in which to get a lot of work done. It involves everyone pulling together to get the job done.”

Tom’s story x

From October to April, natural disasters are a real possibility and continuous engagement with the customer is vital. Tom Brook runs the Customer Liaison team who facilitate operational matters for Broadcast Australia’s customers.

“During the emergency season, our communication with the ABC in regards to emergency management is daily,” Tom says. “Our aim is to be transparent in our approach and build on the relationship.”

Technically, the ABC will advise Broadcast Australia when they are about to commence transmitting an emergency program - but as Tom points out, the team at Broadcast Australia are already prepared and are expecting the call.

“We’ve been doing this for a long time. Our teams in the field have local knowledge and they tend to know about events before they happen.”

Receiving notification from the ABC formally kick-starts the emergency management process. The Network Operations Centre (NOC) will record that a particular site is under “emergency management” and capture details about the emergency. They will stay in regular contact with the Field Services team, who will monitor the status of the site. In most emergencies, interruptions to the site’s power supply is the main concern, so the Field Services team will check that backup power generators are well fuelled and report on any anticipated interruptions to the mains power.

The continuous communication between Broadcast Australia and the customer is mutually beneficial. Not only are our team reporting to the ABC about the status of their transmissions, but the two organisations can share information about the local emergency conditions on the ground.

“We will continue to manage the service closely until we are advised by the customer that the emergency event has passed,” Tom says.

Tom recalls the ingenuity of our maintenance teams in responding to adverse events, such as in June 2016 after flooding impacted parts of North Queensland and cut off access to Broadcast Australia’s site at Mount Cleveland.

“Flooding had washed away the bridge near the start of the access track,” he explains. “The site had suffered a mains power failure and ABC’s digital television and radio services were off. Initially we thought we would not be able to reach the site until the bridge was rebuilt, which would take several weeks.

“However, after the adverse weather conditions had subsided, a technician from the Field Services team managed to reach site using an ATV quadbike. This enabled the services to be restored within a matter of days, rather than the expected time frame of several weeks.”

About the Customer Liaison team

The Customer Liaison team proactively manages the network, with the aim of maximising service availability. The team consists of six people - two in the Planned Outage team and four in the FACT (Fault Analysis Customer Team).

“We analyse the network’s fault and alarm data, looking at trends and acting on minor events before they progress into issues for our customers,” Tom explains. “At the same time, we identify process and system improvements that can minimise errors and increase efficiency.

“The FACT is the operational go-to for the customer. We work hand-in-hand with the customer to roll out new technology and upgrades. For example, we are currently rolling out the DVN2 platform for SBS.”

The Planned Outage Team coordinates all site access and outage requests across the network. Maintenance and new service installations require careful planning and risk assessments to ensure the safety of the people on site, and to prevent or minimise any disruption to our broadcast transmissions. “There are many variables in the process,” Tom says. “The team tend to encounter changes in programming, changes to the scope of works, adverse weather conditions and challenges that can arise around resource availability.”

As Customer Liaison Manager, Tom manages the team and is responsible for identifying and managing any issues that impact the customer’s broadcasting service. “For me, a typical day involves getting feedback from my team on any current matters with which we are dealing, attending meetings with internal and external stakeholders, looking at process and system improvements, discussing matters of concern with our customers, providing analysis and reports on the team, and working with the Operations Manager and the NOC Management Team to improve the NOC as a whole.”

“There is a feeling of satisfaction when you can resolve a complex or long-standing issue for a customer. It gives you a buzz, knowing that the team has really made a difference.”

What it means to “Be courageous”

“I think we could deliver more for our customers by not being afraid to reach out and get to know other people in the organisation - learn what they do and understand how everything fits together,” Tom says.

“I know it can be a bit daunting to pick up the phone and talk to someone new; it’s easier not to do that. But in doing so you learn, you build relationships, and that can only be a good thing.”

Sarah‘s story x

Sarah Baker is responsible for Broadcast Australia’s relationships with the ABC and SBS, Australia’s public broadcasters. Sarah and her team work closely with the broadcasters to ensure that their needs are met and that we are delivering essential services, especially during an emergency.

“To withstand Australia’s harsh environment, we need a resilient and flexible transmission network,” Sarah says. “We design, build and maintain our sites with resilience in mind.”

Local community relationships are crucial to the emergency management process. “We have excellent relationships with local emergency services, and they recognise the vital role broadcast plays in disaster prevention and response. Broadcast Australia’s sites are listed as critical infrastructure and the local emergency services work with us to protect our sites from damage, as well as helping to provide us with safe access to our sites.”

Across the entire Broadcast Australia organisation, the team work together to maintain broadcasting services throughout the year. “We have a dedicated Network Operations Centre (NOC) which remotely monitors and controls our services 24/7,” she says, “and our local Field Service teams respond immediately to network issues that can't be resolved from the NOC.”

“We can remotely control and reconfigure services, and rapidly deploy portable ruggedised equipment to ensure communities can continue to receive emergency broadcasts in times of need.”

Of particular importance is the ABC Local Radio service. “In times of crisis, Australians know they can tune in to ABC Local Radio for emergency broadcasting, which provides lifesaving information on what to do before, during and after a disaster. Our people at Broadcast Australia understand this, and their commitment is demonstrated time and again by their willingness to do whatever it takes to keep services to air.”

“At the end of the day, Broadcast Australia exists to seamlessly deliver our customers’ programs to their audiences so that they can focus on what they do best, which is creating great content.”

Account Management at Broadcast Australia

“The Account Management team are the customer’s voice within our organisation,” Sarah explains. “It’s our job to ensure that our customer’s expectations are exceeded across all facets of their contracts with us.”

“My team consists of three Account Managers looking after the ABC and SBS Broadcast accounts.”

The team pride themselves on maintaining open and honest partnerships with customers. Ensuring we understand each customer’s needs and creating the right solutions. “We tailor our service to suit the customer’s own unique requirements and preferences,” she says. “We are here to make sure Broadcast Australia understands the challenges the broadcasters face so we can provide smart solutions.”

Why public broadcasting matters

Broadcast Australia’s services ultimately benefit the people who watch and listen to the ABC and SBS programs. This is especially true in remote parts of Australia.

“In remote communities, the television and radio programs we transmit may be the only contact people have with the outside world that day,” Sarah explains. “People rely on our networks to keep them in touch with the world.”

Sarah acknowledges that Broadcast Australia’s achievements are somewhat silent, with people working hard behind the scenes to deliver a seamless service to the end user. “We’ve succeeded when the broadcaster is seamlessly connected to their audience; who don’t even know we exist.”

What it means to “Be courageous”

“When the Broadcast Australia team is at its best, we work together to achieve a defined goal,” says Sarah. “Often we are at our best when time is short and failure is not an option - that’s when people are totally free to be courageous and suggest creative solutions, forgetting the bureaucracy and just doing what matters.”

“We are at our worst when we focus on internal cost related KPIs and lose sight of why we exist, which is to deliver value to our customers.”

David‘s story x

David Henry leads a team of specialist broadcast technicians committed to keeping our broadcasting services running smoothly in the north of Queensland. It’s a rugged territory, and particularly prone to fires, cyclones and flooding during the Summer season.

“During an emergency, the public rely on vital information being broadcast by the ABC,” David said. “We are committed to keeping people connected in these situations.”

“In the north, we are aware that cyclones and flooding are a real possibility, so we tend to maintain and operate our facilities with this in mind.”

David says Broadcast Australia’s emergency protocols are essential. “Leading up to the cyclone season, we prepare in several ways. We prepare our staff and ensure we have sufficient spares of our equipment on hand. We visit sites to service and test our generators; check equipment and check that we have good telemetry to sites; inspect the site for any building or infrastructure concerns; and we remove any loose objects that could become missiles in cyclonic winds.”

Often the biggest roadblock to restoring services during a natural disaster is, quite literally, a roadblock. Vehicle access becomes tricky when major flooding or cyclone activity causes roads and bridges to be impassable for several days.

There have been several instances when David’s team have responded quickly to restore services. Sometimes this involves a “fly away’ radio transmitter: a portable transmission kit that can be used to provide temporary broadcasting services during an emergency.

“After Cyclone Yasi in 2011, the ABC requested we deploy the fly away transmitter to the small devastated town of Cardwell. Our team was already prepared to respond in the aftermath of the cyclone, so we immediately mobilised our rigging staff from the cableway to meet up with myself and technicians from the Townsville office. Together we loaded up the ABC fly away satellite dish and transmission equipment and travelled to Cardwell where we installed the equipment and had it on-air and operational the following afternoon.

“The fly away transmitter provided vital information to local residents about the emergency support services in their area.

“I feel particularly proud around cyclone season knowing that we are maintaining vital communications services that the public rely on.”

The Northern Queensland Team

Maintaining the network across such a large area requires comprehensive management and planning. “My district maintains around 200 active transmissions systems across 70 sites throughout nearly half of Queensland,” David says.

David manages a team across two locations. At his main office in Townsville, David works with five broadcast technicians. There is also a small outpost office located at the Mt Bellenden-Ker Cableway, south of Cairns, with three cableway maintenance operators and another two broadcast technicians.

“Our cableway staff are trained in cableway maintenance and operations: they and are all qualified senior riggers with additional training in rescue at heights in addition to their trade qualifications in electrical and mechanical fields.”

So what does it mean to be a District Supervisor? “My role is ultimately to ensure broadcast services stay on the air,” David explains. “I manage the North Queensland maintenance and operations workforce and as a team we are responsible for maintaining a variety of transmission systems and associated infrastructure.”

“It’s never dull in broadcasting,” he says. “There’s always something happening in this business, whether it’s new equipment installations, maintenance via helicopter or complex major projects. Whenever I drive around town I can always look up at the large broadcast tower and feel proud that my team maintain these broadcast services for everyone to see and hear.”

What it means to “Be courageous”

The concept of being courageous reminds David of the tragic events at Thredbo in 1997, when a landslide destroyed a Ski Lodge and eighteen people lost their lives. “I recall listening to several news reports and people coming out of the woodwork saying they “knew this was going to happen 10 years ago”. And I remember thinking to myself, “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I decided I never want to be like that, and if by speaking out I can help prevent something going wrong or offer something useful I will. And I have practiced that philosophy ever since.”