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Wujal Wujal's new wifi brings vital communication link during wild weather

By Casey Briggs, Wednesday December 13, 2017 - 06:43 EDT
ABC image
The technology allows council and emergency services to share warnings. - ABC

In cyclone-prone far north Queensland, a new community-wide wifi network has been installed in the state's smallest shire in a bid to solve problems during severe storms that often leave the town of Wujal Wujal completely isolated.

Wujal Wujal on Cape York Peninsula suffers major challenges during heavy rain, with all roads out of town routinely cut off, and the Bloomfield River often flooding and dividing the town.

In addition, the phone service in the Indigenous community was unreliable during severe weather.

The new Wujal Wujal Emergency Management Network aims to solve those issues allowing residents to receive emergency warnings if the mobile network failed.

Functioning like a home wireless network, it has been designed to withstand extreme weather events with contingencies in place if an access point goes down, meaning the network can remain up.



Mayor Desmond Taley said he was "very relieved" the Australian-first system had been installed in time for cyclone season.

"I think the community will be very happy … people are very used to using telecommunication," he said.



"When the first rains come in our landline goes out … [and] even in the dry season, we get high cloud cover and that always creates a problem for telecommunication.

"It's going to change the way we do communication within this community."

The project included a community noticeboard that council and emergency services could use to share warnings.

Residents could also use it as a forum to communicate with each other and the council about anything they wished.

Another benefit — because everyone is connected by a high-speed network — phone calls could now be made to other members of the community for free.

"Some of the younger kids now … they would be very excited about using this system," Cr Taley said.

Other councils watching on

Authorities are watching keenly, with far north Police Chief Superintendent Brett Schafferius calling it an "absolutely outstanding initiative".



"I can only see benefits for this system — it is going to assist everyone in that community," Superintendent Schafferius said.

"This displays how effective the preparedness and planning is within Wujal Wujal and its an absolute credit to everyone involved to get this up and running.

"It shows a real insight into the issues that affect the community and to seek out solutions to better place the community to get back on their feet."

He said he was "extremely keen" for other councils to consider a similar project for their communities.

Town 'crippled' after severe flooding cut communications

Wujal Wujal Council chief executive officer Eileen Deemal-Hall hoped the network prevents a repeat of a crisis experienced when the Telstra tower servicing the town failed this year during severe flooding.



"It also crippled us in terms of people being able to buy electricity cards, and also food because the EFTPOS system went down," Ms Deemal-Hall said.



"It happened pretty much overnight, so for eight days community was crippled and we weren't able to communicate at all — the only thing that did work was the old fax phone."

Ms Deemal-Hall was excited about how the network would revolutionise the way council worked with residents.

"Instead of being disrupted, which would normally happen, we're actually becoming the disruptors," she said.

"We're shaping the future of how we interact with technology and making it more customised for our areas."


- ABC

© ABC 2017

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