The Vodafone Foundation has deployed a team of specially trained personnel with communication equipment to establish an Instant Network and assist with recovery in Fiji, in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Winston.
At the request of Vodafone Fiji, the deployment goes ahead following an initial assessment of the damage to the communication network infrastructure.
While cell coverage remained largely intact in the capital Suva and several major towns around the country, the cyclone caused damage to a number of sites around the country - a mains power outage also impacted cell coverage.
Vodafone Fiji has now restored services to larger towns like Nadi and Sigatoka and the repair to cell sites and restoration of services in smaller towns and communities is now the focus of activity.
The re-establishment of a communications network is critical for the recovery efforts, particularly as many of Fiji’s outer island communities are completely cut off and yet to receive aid.
“Our first priority is to establish a communication link between Fiji’s islands to help officials and relief coordinators assess and report on the damage,” says Lise Mackie, Instant Network team leader, Vodafone Foundation.
“This will also support a communication link back to family throughout the Pacific, in New Zealand and Australia, which will hopefully alleviate anxiety for many who still don’t know whether their family members are safe.”
Mackie says Instant Network, contained in a series of suitcases and supported by a mobile generator, is capable of supporting a local communications network (mobile and internet services).
According to Mackie, it is able to be set up and switched on almost immediately and operates by connecting via satellite.
The New Zealand-based Instant Network team is comprised of staff from all part of the business, who are specially trained for emergency and disaster situations.
The Vodafone Foundation Instant Network team includes Mackie as team leader, and network engineers Rob McLennan and Callum Ferguson.
Mackie says the team came together late on Monday night to coordinate equipment and flew out early on Tuesday on one of the first Air New Zealand flights to resume operations into Nadi.
The team landed safely in Nadi and transported equipment on to Suva, connecting with Vodafone Fiji representatives.
Mackie says Suva will serve as the party’s operations base where they will test equipment and satellite links before making a full assessment of the final location of the Instant Network.
Mackie says the rapid deployment of the Vodafone team and equipment would not have been possible without the full support of Air New Zealand.
“Air New Zealand made sure the team were on one of the first flights to Fiji and prioritised personnel, luggage and cargo,” Mackie says.
“Air New Zealand has also committed to assisting with travel arrangements for a subsequent team of personnel, to be deployed later this week.”
Additionally, a team of five people will head to Fiji to work closely with Vodafone Fiji and focus on longer term infrastructure needs.
Three of the team members from Vodafone have previous experience working in Fiji and provide electrical expertise as well as radio engineering and microwave engineering expertise.
In addition, two Downer team members will support the team as riggers, capable of climbing the cell sites and conducting repairs.