We’ve been watching today the developments in Far North Queensland in relation to Tropical Cyclone Ita. Yes, you might think “this isn’t Android news”, and no, it isn’t, but it is news affecting a good number of Australians, and we care about things like this.
Without going into all the background of what’s expected (head over to the ABC for that), FNQ is looking at a category five cyclone making landfall sometime tonight (11 April) with winds as high as 285 kph, causing flash flooding, wind damage, and goodness knows what else.
One of the most valuable things you can have with you in such a weather event as this is your mobile phone. Of course, if the mobile networks get knocked out, they’re not much good, but unless/until that happens, staying in touch with the world and what’s happening when all hell is breaking loose outside is probably wise.
Emergency services recommend (and we echo this) keeping a battery powered radio handy, and tune it to a local station — ABC Local is a good idea, but any local radio station will broadcast the important things.
We’ve started seeing news coming in from the carriers on their disaster preparation plans, and we want to share that with any of our readers who might be in an affected area. We’ve not yet received advice from Optus but we’ll update this post when and as that information becomes available.
There’s some general advice too:
- Charge your phone. Keep it on charge until/unless the power goes out, and that way you’ll have as much battery life as possible.
- If you don’t have a portable / battery powered radio, go get one now if it’s safe to do so. A good emergency kit is also a good idea — at the minimum, I’d recommend a basic first aid kit, some water, a torch and radio, and your smartphone. Anything else you’ve got, keep it somewhere you can get to it.
- If it goes bananas, don’t go outside. Stay away from downed power lines, and don’t get on the roads unless you have to. Emergency workers will need to get around quickly, and don’t need you in the way.
Vodafone is reminding customers in affected areas that calls to 000 or 112 (emergency hotline) will work regardless of whether your phone has Vodafone signal or not. These calls will go via any available cell coverage in the area (including Telstra, Optus and Vodafone), so if you’ve got no Vodafone service and you’re in danger, call 000 anyway and hopefully it’ll go through.
Non-emergency calls for things like the SES (132 500) and Cairns Disaster Coordination (07 4044 3377) will need a cellular service. If you need them, call, but don’t call unnecessarily.
Vodafone also recommend following @ABCNthQLD on Twitter and keeping an eye on the Bureau of Meterology website, as well as monitoring ABC Local radio.
If you need to reach Vodafone, call them on 1555 from your Vodafone handset, or 1300 650 410 from anywhere else.
Vodafone has gone through its local cell tower sites and identified those that will need priority attention if power is lost or damage occurs. Generators are on stand by and will be available as needed.
Technicians are in the area and, while they’re staying safe — they don’t want to get hurt in a category five cyclone either — they’ll get anything not working back to working as soon as its safe enough to do so. They’ve got extra parts for things that might go boom as well.
Vodafone also advises that its arrangement with Optus for roaming in the area is operating, so if Vodafone sites are damaged or unavailable, phone service may be available via Optus (assuming their sites are working).
Telstra is advising similarly to what Vodafone has said above, noting that loss of mains power is the biggest issue for mobile networks at times like this. Telstra advises people to make sure that, mobile phones aside, people keep a corded landline handset available, as these will work in the absence of mains power (assuming the exchange is still operational).
For smartphones, Telstra echoes Vodafone’s advice — charge your phone now, while you can, and consider alternative power sources should the need arise. Car chargers and AA-battery powered emergency chargers are available from local retailers.
If the mobile network does have issues, Telstra is asking customers to limit mobile use to essential calls and messages only; the network will probably suffer from congestion, and the more calls and messages going through, the harder it will be for real emergency calls to get through, so please keep this in mind.
Telstra has mobile base stations throughout Queensland and in the affected areas ready to deploy of needed.
Telstra’s prepared a top 10 tips which we’ve repeated here in short form:
- Think about a Blue Tick mobile phone – different mobile phones have different capabilities. Telstra’s Blue Tick accreditation program identifies mobile handsets that offer superior handheld coverage performance in country areas.
- Consider a standard fixed phone – power failures will affect cordless PSTN phones and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services that require 240V power to operate. Customers using VoIP should check with their service providers.
- Have a spare mobile battery – it’s advisable to have a spare, fully charged battery on stand-by.
- Carry additional mobile phone chargers – an in-car and a separate AC mains charger are essential in case of evacuation.
- Back-up your business data – information is valuable – makes sure it’s stored safely away from your place of business. Using ‘cloud’ technology, it can be easily backed up in Telstra’s network.
- Keep essential numbers close by – have a list of essential contact numbers close at hand, including local Police, Fire, SES and Telstra’s fault line – 132203.
- Use Triple Zero (000) appropriately – only call Triple Zero in life threatening emergencies. If your situation is not time critical but requires the attention of an emergency services organisation, you should call alternate emergency services’ numbers.
- Keep calls to a minimum – although Telstra monitors the network closely in times of emergency to avoid congestion, it’s advisable to keep calls to a minimum during natural disasters to allow people to call emergency service organisations.
- Gauge the benefits of a satellite phone – if living or travelling in isolated areas, consider purchasing a satellite phone for continuous phone coverage.
- Consider an antennae – having one of these antennas maximises mobile phone reception from your home or vehicle.