Please note this a first draft and will be updated and improved. If you have a useful contribution or suggestion please leave a comment below. Thank you.
I’ve been thinking about this since February. How do we make a small community such as Silkwood more resilient in the aftermath of a major natural disaster such as Cyclone Yasi? The same conclusions would apply to all the other small outlying villages.
People that have spent some time in the Wet Tropics know the basics for personal survival and coping in the immediate period after such an event but a few things could be improved for the community as a whole.
The first thing that is key to these improvements is better communications.
Voice and Data
One thing we learned from Yasi is that telecommunications can withstand a big hit but only for a while. I’m told that Telstra used to have standby generators at rural and regional exchanges. The keys to operate these were given to a trusted local along with a supply of fuel. Apparently this was discontinued some years ago and now the exchanges rely on back-up batteries that are only good for a few days. I need to confirm this with Telstra.
Many people have friends and relatives outside of the affected area and contacting them to communicate their survival is vitally important.
We found ourselves in the situation where we had Internet access via a Telstra Mobile Broadband 3G modem for a few days but this stopped when the exchange finally ran out of power. The ABC’s Far North Queensland radio station was a real boon for getting fresh information into the disaster zone but radio can only do so much. You can’t print out a radio show and pin it to a community notice board.
Our Telstra 3G dongle wouldn’t let us send email from a non-Telstra account and we don’t have a Telstra email account. Telstra needs to look at SMTP blocking when a disaster has just struck.
One solution would be some kind of satellite phone unit that has Internet/data capabilities. This would enable us to get information out as well as information in. Such a unit could be housed by a community hub such as the Post Office, the pub or the Police.
Ergon Energy appeared to have an improved strategy for restoring power with lessons learned from Cyclone Larry in 2006. Their response was magnificent especially when the fact that their engineers had already been through the previous month’s problems along the coast. Major congratulations to Ergon and the other companies that assisted them.
In the Voice and Data section I mentioned a satellite communications unit. This would require power for at least two weeks. Whether this is supplied by a portable solar PV unit or a generator is a matter for others to decide but one needs to be located alongside the satellite unit.
Local Government Information
This was a major problem after Yasi. The Cassowary Coast Regional Council was almost invisible and silent for what seemed like days. Eventually they started to publish a newsletter but didn’t distribute it. I had to drive to Tully every few days and get 100 copies printed out for people in Silkwood. It was then hand-delivered to community hubs such as Silkwood News, the local police office, the pub and the servo.
The system mentioned above can improve the distribution but the content needs to be more timely and more relevant and also with the ability to ask questions and request help where needed.
Lots more to come later. Please feel free to contribute.