Australia Some residents went without access to emergency information for up to an hour during the recent Carwoola fire due to poor radio and mobile reception.
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro called the lack of coverage a public safety issue and said he would work with the federal government towards a solution after years of failed local lobbying.
Carwoola mum Alexandra DeValentin said she was not calling for luxury but an essential service, as she shared her experience of February 17.
The fire front was chasing her as she fled her Captains Flat Road home to her friend’s property in nearby Hoskinstown, where the fire continued to circle her.
“The radio hadn’t worked in my car, so when we got to my friend’s we tried the old shed radio, the modern radio and the boom boxes,” she said.
“My phone died, so luckily we eventually found my friend’s laptop to get onto the internet, although soon we lost power.”
Ms DeValentin spent about 45 minutes not knowing the direction of the fire and struggling to access ABC Radio Canberra.
While Ms DeValentin’s frustrations were shared by several residents, others said they never received emergency text messages their neighbours got.
Mobile phones in or travelling through the threatened area should have received a text warning it was too late to leave, Ben Shepherd from the NSW Rural Fire Service confirmed.
Carwoola resident Anthea Kerrison said the text message was never delivered to her phone, despite watching the fire race down the mountain towards her property.
A Facebook post by former councillor Peter Marshall citing the poor reception garnered comments from residents saying they could not reach the emergency broadcaster either via radio or mobile.
The Palerang community had lobbied for adequate telecommunications infrastructure for years.
While the federal government said it would fix the mobile coverage in the Eden-Monaro electorate through its $100 million blackspot program, Mr Barilaro said the issue of radio reception had slipped through the cracks.
He said the NSW government was willing to pay for a radio transmitter in the Palerang area to extend the coverage of ABC Canberra, but the cross-border arrangement went against federal regulation.
“It is ridiculous that a community a stone throw away from the Australian capital is having these problems,” he said.
“But the telecommunications act does not allow us to build a transmitter because ABC is in Canberra and not NSW, and that’s the blockage we are trying to work through,” Mr Barilaro said.
“Given the recent problems, this is something I’m prepared to take on as the state member and speak to the cross-border commissioner to ensure it’s back on their agenda. We need a bipartisan way to get a result once and for all.”
But federal communications minister Mitch Fifield said the problem fell on the responsibility of the ABC.
“Broadcasters are responsible for the provision of transmission equipment to serve regions within their coverage areas,” Mr Fifield said.
An ABC spokesman said there were a number of reasons small communities sit outside the ABC’s coverage, but it did not receive any complaints about radio reception during the Carwoola fire.
The spokesman said emergency information was broadcast through a range of platforms.
Palerang Council considered paying the national broadcaster for a repeater station in 2013, but these plans were still being worked through, a council spokesman said.
“After the Sandhills fire in 2013, Council made representations to the ABC in regards to the emergency broadcasting and the impact that the poor AM radio reception had during the fire,” the spokesman said.”Council understands there may be some legislative requirements to work through, however further investigation is required.”
Mr Sheppard said the NSW Rural Fire Service would welcome a new transmitter to improve the coverage but federal regulation would not allow it.