Regional Connectivity Challenges Symposium: Building Resilience for a Safer, Connected Future in New South Wales
In the aftermath of natural disasters that have wreaked havoc across regional New South Wales in recent years, the Regional Connectivity Challenges Symposium was held at the Lismore campus of Southern Cross University on the 26th and 27th of September 2023. Hosted by the Connectivity Innovation Network (CIN) in collaboration with the NSW Smart Sensing Network (NSSN), the symposium brought together experts, first responders, and local and government representatives to discuss the challenges of building and maintaining connectivity in times of crisis.
The devastating 2022 floods were the highest on record for the Northern Rivers region, with Lismore particularly affected. Southern Cross University was a major community support during the event; hosting medical services, local schools, and creating a local business hub when the CBD went underwater. The Regional Connectivity Challenges Symposium was able to draw on this local expertise by taking place right in the heart of the region at Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus.
The symposium drew a diverse audience of over 50 attendees and featured a line-up of speakers, from those who worked on the front lines during the crisis, to changemakers in the disaster sensing space. Featuring speakers from: Southern Cross University, NSW Smart Sensing Network, Resilient Lismore, Lismore City Council, The Channon Resilience Inc, CREST Northern Rivers, Elands Community Fire Response, NSW Telco Authority, NSW Treasury, Richmond Police District, NSW RFS (Rural Fire Service) NSW SES, Fire & Rescue NSW, Essential Energy, nbn Co., and Northern NSW Telstra
The event was structured around four thematic sessions:
Local Voices: Engaging with the perspectives and experiences of residents and organisers to ensure that solutions are community driven.
First Responders: Shining a spotlight on the challenges faced by those on the frontlines of disaster response and the technologies needed to support their efforts.
Restoration: Exploring strategies for post-disaster recovery and the creation of resilient communities.
Emerging Solutions: Showcasing innovative research and technologies that can address pressing challenges in sensing for disasters.
Special recognition goes to the local representatives who provided invaluable insights into the challenges faced by regional communities; Annie Kia, Elly Bird, Greg Hall, and John Miller.
The discussions at the symposium yielded valuable insights, which will be summarised and shared with the community in the coming weeks.
Some of the key takeaway messages include the following:
- Communications infrastructure including energy supply needs to be disaster-ready
- Rapidly deployable comms systems such as large area WiFi and Cells on Wheels (CoW) are needed when existing infrastructure is destroyed
- Situation awareness is an operational and social necessity
Transparency of real-time data, and close working relationships between local on-the-ground organisers, first responders and telco operators were found to be key to preparing and planning for future climate disasters.
Following the symposium, CIN and NSSN will be announcing calls for proposals, offering funding of up to $150,000 for projects related to sensing for disaster management. Further details and a timeline for this initiative will be provided next week. The dedicated funding from CIN and NSSN will expedite projects focused on sensing for disaster management, resulting in more intelligent and efficient disaster prevention and crisis management.
The Regional Connectivity Challenges Symposium has laid a solid foundation for addressing the critical issues of connectivity and disaster response in regional New South Wales. Through collaboration, innovation, and community involvement, the CIN is committed to making a lasting impact on the region’s resilience and preparedness for the future.
Regional Connectivity Challenges Symposium full list of speakers:
Paul Barnes – Director IT Operations & Communications, Fire & Rescue NSW
Elly Bird – CEO, Resilient Lismore and Councillor on Lismore City Council
Michael Brett – Chief Superintendent, Area Commander, North Eastern Area Command, NSW RFS
Jamie Caldwell – Director Energy Operations, Office of Energy and Climate Change, NSW Treasury
Prof Jay Guo – CIN Technical Director
Greg Hall – Elands community fire response, communications researcher, amateur radio operator, CREST member
Nicholas Haskins – COO New South Wales Smart Sensing Network (NSSN)
Jim Henry – Head Network Operations & Emergency Management, NSW Telco Authority
Joanna Jones – Superintendent, Commander North Eastern Zone, NSW SES
Annie Kia – The Channon Resilience Inc, Coordinator of Terania-Keerrong Flood Safety project
Prof Damien Maher – Southern Cross University
Michael Marom – Regional Lead, Northern NSW Telstra
John Miller – Deputy Captain – CREST Northern Rivers, member – North East Zone SES Capability Unit
Stephen McRobert – Director ICT, Chief Information Officer NSW SES
Paul McWilliam – Operations Manager, Essential Energy
Dr Ian Oppermann – Director CIN
Cameron Scott – National Emergency Manager, nbn Co.
Prof Mary Spongberg – Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research & Academic Capability, Southern Cross University
Greg Swindells – Zone Commander, NSW SES
Scott Tanner – Superintendent, Richmond Police District
Dr Feifei Tong – Senior lecturer, Southern Cross University