Dodgy phone reception adds to danger in disasters
DISASTER-PRONE regions from the Great Ocean Road to the Great Barrier Reef suffer from a lack of sufficient mobile phone coverage that puts lives at risk in emergency situations, residents and analysts say.
But efforts by Fairfax Media to compare mobile phone coverage with bushfire risk in remote areas have hit a brick wall because of a lack of trustworthy mobile phone maps.
Telecommunications companies publish optimistic maps online that estimate the coverage they offer. But residents from a range of communities prone to bushfire and flood insist the maps do not meet with reality.
Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde, a volunteer in the Rural Fire Service in his community in the lower Hunter Valley, said there were cases in which the maps were clearly inaccurate.
''We live in country NSW and we know the signals they indicate are not correct,'' he said.
Representatives of major telecommunications companies stood by the maps.
''Telstra uses predictive modelling tools refined over many years to generate our coverage maps,'' a spokesman said. ''This is backed up by extensive drive surveys that confirm the accuracy of our mapping.''
An Optus spokeswoman said networks were being tweaked constantly to help regional areas deal with tourist numbers or crisis situations.
The spokeswoman said the maps were ''more conservative than actual coverage''. She said the model for generating maps took into account not just position, but local topography and ground cover.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority, which regulates telecommunications for the federal government, does not generate its own coverage maps, a spokeswoman said.
Areas of fire risk are mapped by local councils.
Simon Pockley, who lost a home in the Warrumbungle Mountains this year during fires that broke out around Coonabarabran, said poor communication into and out of the area made it hard to obtain good information during the crisis.
''It was utterly impossible to get any information about what was happening,'' he said.
''Once we knew it [the fire] had been through, the key thing we wanted to know was when we could get back out there. We kept getting misinformation about roads being closed … [and] everything was third-hand.''
The problem extends across the country and into remote areas subject to flooding.