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. 

Keep up to date with Connectivity Innovation Network’s future events, projects and calls for proposals by following on LinkedIn, and joining the mailing list. 

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 HaskinsCOO 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