Lessons from Warrnambool exchange fire being implemented

Media Release, 04 June 2014

Telstra today released a report into its progress implementing the recommendations arising from the investigation into the Warrnambool exchange fire.

The exchange, which re-opened in October 2013 following the fire, is now a case study for Telstra in reducing the risk of fire in other exchanges as well as lowering electricity use to power them.

Telstra Country Wide South West Area General Manager Bill Mundy said of 22 recommendations made in a March 2013 report into the cause of the fire and aftermath 11 had been completed including:

  • Better disaster recovery plans for Telstra exchanges
  • Better management and development of clear procedures for Telstra incident responders to major outages
  • Better processes around ensuring appropriate training for people entering Telstra exchanges
  • Improved use of mobile back-up technologies to provide a service to customers and communities should a similar event happen again
  • A review of thermal imaging and smoke alarms within exchanges

Mr Mundy said Telstra had learned significant lessons from the fire which were being implemented across the country.

“The fire has been a catalyst for change across the whole organisation in managing our disaster response and reducing the risk of future events at our exchanges,” he said.

“We are committed to minimising the chances of such an event occurring again as well as the impacts on people and organisations from natural disasters that depend on our services.”

An additional learning from the exchange recovery was the opportunity to save power in our buildings by changing the way Telstra treats old infrastructure. As a direct result of the learnings from Warrnambool, a project team has developed processes to remotely identify and then turn-off this equipment.

Telstra has turned off enough equipment across Australia to save more than $1 million in power costs over five years and we have built a further set of plans that could extend these savings to $15 million over the next five years.

Mr Mundy said Telstra was working closely with stakeholders and the community to fully implement the remaining 11 recommendations.

“Most of these will be completed by the end of this year and relate to redesigning systems including power isolation. We are also boosting the number of mobile exchanges we have.”

To date Telstra has paid more than $8.6 million in compensation to businesses in the South West. Businesses still have the opportunity to lodge a compensation claim until 22 November 2015.

Mr Mundy said Telstra was continuing to work hard to restore the faith of affected communities.

“I can’t apologise enough for what happened but can guarantee communities lessons have been learned – and implemented to better our response in the future.”

A summary of Telstra’s Fire recommendation implementation progress report is available here.