Stay connected in an emergency

Internet and voice services allow you to keep in contact with others before, during, and after emergencies or natural disasters.

Power outages are common in emergencies, so it is important to have a range of options available to make sure that you can stay connected.

This page provides some suggestions, and links to other pages, to plan and prepare for emergency situations.

Preventing damage to equipment

  • If an electrical storm is coming, turn off mains-powered devices and unplug them to stop them being damaged in a lightning strike or other power surges.
  • Use surge protectors on important equipment – they can help with surges in power, generally by grounding any excess voltage. These can be bought from hardware stores and most electronics stores.
  • Try to wait until the storm has passed before turning mains-powered services back on.

Communications in emergencies

To help you stay safe and connected during an emergency, here are some easy steps you can follow to prepare for unexpected outages:

  • If communication networks go down and you’re concerned for your safety, don’t wait to be told to evacuate – prepare and leave early.
  • Follow advice from emergency personnel on the ground and Emergency Alert phone messages if received.
  • Plan ahead and don’t rely on a single type of communications technology to keep connected. Consider how you will communicate if your mobile, landline and/or internet services are not available.
  • Include a portable radio (solar powered, crank-charged, or with a spare set of batteries) in your emergency kit so you can stay up-to-date with emergency information.
  • While you have power, monitor your local ABC and commercial radio and television stations, as well as local emergency service websites and social feeds if possible, for up-to-date warnings and information.
  • Keep your mobile charged and have a backup power source, like a battery pack. Even without a mobile plan or SIM card it is possible to contact 000 with a charged mobile phone, in mobile reception areas.
  • Write down contact numbers and email addresses for family and friends so you have these available even if your phone or other electronic devices aren’t available or working.

Tips from the Australian Government Communications in emergencies page.

Have an emergency plan

First and foremost, it’s important to have an emergency plan in place before an emergency arrives on your doorstep. That way, you know the actions to take, the things you have to pack, the equipment to prepare, and how to manage the people and animals at your location.

Most of the state-based fire services now have bushfire plans, for example, that you can use as a template for all kinds of emergency planning. Type this into your search engine to find them all and choose the one that works for your location:

bushfire plan site.

Business.gov.au also has a template for an emergency management plan for businesses, which may help for business emergency planning.

Alternative connection options

We strongly recommend having as many backup voice and internet options as possible for use in possible emergency situations. One connection may work while another is offline in the same situation, and no one technology or connection is guaranteed reliable in every situation.

  • If you have certain Telstra services (either voice or internet), you can use the Telstra Air This may give you free internet via “hotspots”, if you have to evacuate from your house. Contact Telstra to find if you have access to Telstra Air.
  • Mobile internet “dongles” are small, battery-powered, and very portable. They can give you internet access wherever there’s access to your mobile network. If you have one, connect it to a mobile service regularly to ensure it stays activated.
  • If you have a landline phone connection, you should keep an ordinary handset that plugs directly into the phone wall plug; one that works without power.
  • Print out your Provider Contact Sheet so you have your provider and account details handy.
  • If possible, activate Wi-Fi Calling over your mobile phone. This allows you to make voice calls and send texts from any Wi-Fi-based internet connection.
  • To conserve battery power on your mobile phone, place in airline mode until you know you’re definitely in range of a network.
  • Consider downloading and installing internet call services such as Skype, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Signal, Zoom, Teams, and the like.
  • A satellite phone is an expensive, but reliable, backup service if kept just for emergency use.
  • There’s an increasing number of “dongles”, such as the Thuraya SatSleev or Zoleo mobile communicator, that will allow you to access both ordinary mobile and satellite phone services as need be.
  • Consider purchasing a hand held UHF/CB unit to be used in emergencies. Keep it fully charged, with contact channels of local organisations and neighbours written nearby (write them directly on the unit).
  • Wi-Fi internet may be available at a local evacuation centre, provided by nbn (through the nbnDisaster Satellite Services, or the nbn mobile Road Muster trucks) or local service providers.

Use the “emergency calls” page to learn about the many different ways to contact emergency services.

Internet access

  • Wireless internet connections (which include nbn™ Fixed Wireless, satellite, nbn-nbn Fixed Wireless, and mobile internet) can be slowed down or interrupted by weather conditions such as heavy rain.
  • Strong wind and lightning can move or damage external systems such as satellites or antennas.
  • Congestion caused by many people trying to use the local mobile services all at once can cause them to become unusable.
  • Local internet suppliers may also be affected by the emergency, so your internet service could go down.
  • Traditional landline phone service generally continues to work in emergencies. . Keep a traditional phone handset nearby and plug directly into the wall when you need to.
  • If you evacuate to an evacuation centre, you may have access via temporary portable internet services.

If you have internet access, you can use it to contact emergency services, via voice call or app (for example, the Emergency+ app).

Portable backup power

Camping, auto, electronics, and disposal shops carry a wide range of portable power systems that use your car battery, solar power, mains charge, or ordinary batteries to run.

Having a variety of these can give you enough power, either at your property, in your vehicle, or in case of an evacuation, to keep you in contact with the people and information you need in an emergency.

  • Keep car chargers and connectors for all your mobile devices in all your vehicles.
  • Rechargeable battery packs charge from mains or car power. They’re small and are very effective for charging up mobile phones. They must be charged beforehand.
  • Solar-powered battery packs have a rechargeable battery run off a relatively small solar panel. Some also have a radio and lights or torches.

Generators come in a wide range of prices and power. These run off petrol, diesel, or solar. You can get ones big enough to run an entire house if required; speak to an electrician to set this up.

Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)

An Uninterruptible Power Supply is a mains-power charged battery that provides anywhere from 30mins to 4+ hours of power to the devices plugged into it, if the main power to your premises is lost.

In the event of an outage, the UPS instantly switches to its internal battery, meaning that the services plugged into it are not interrupted at all. Computers don’t shut down, medical devices aren’t interrupted, internet services don’t need restarting.

You can get UPSs for general purposes, or ones designed to support a very particular sort of device. The more specific the UPS is, the longer its internal battery will last.

An everyday UPS cannot support the needs of an entire house; you’re better off looking at a petrol or diesel generator for that, particularly if you live in an area prone to power outages.

A UPS can, however, give you vital communications services such as:

  • Modems to access nbn™ services.
  • Modem/routers that have backup mobile services (such as the Telstra Smart Modem, Optus Ultra Wi-Fi Modem, Vodafone Wi-Fi Hub, or Tangerine 4G backup modem).
  • A mobile repeater (such as a Cel-fi) to continue mobile phone/internet access.
  • Necessary computers or routers.

After the emergency has passed

Contact your service provider if your internet services won’t or can’t be restored.

Some providers may waive fees or cancel connections without penalty, depending on your situation.

Do not try to restore or fix supplier-installed external equipment such as satellite dishes or fixed wireless antennas.

Links to useful resources

Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM)

MetEye – “your eye on the environment”

Telstra Regional: How to prepare and stay connected during disaster season

Emergency Alert: Australian Government website with central emergency information. Select your state to find all the emergency service websites.

Digital Earth Australia hotspots (replaces Sentinel Hotspots)

Bushfire.io. Integrated bushfire, plane deployment, weather and road closure information.

SkyMesh: how to track bushfires on the internet. This page lists the Australia wide, and then state-by-state, resources that may help in a bushfire situation. They require access to the internet to operate.

nbn blog: In case of emergency: be prepared

nbn blog: Preparation key to staying connected in an emergency